FEELING IN SONG
They take South Africa’s complex history to an international stage and connect with audiences on a level all about the feels. They are Soweto
When Shimmy Jiyane joined the long audition queue for the Soweto Gospel Choir 14 years ago, he never expected to be accepted let alone remain for years.
“The show really changed my life in ways I never expected,” Jiyane says.
“It brought new challenges in my life and opened up so many things for me. On a wider level, it made people pay attention to us as a nation and to the choir.”
Jiyane, 42, is now the choir master of the Grammy awardwinning choir despite joining as a dancer as a 28-year-old.
He now creates much of the choreography for the show that has performed more than 1,000 times around the world.
“To be honest, dancing will always be my first love ... because I’m a qualified professional dancer, but now I love singing too,” he says.
“When I got to the audition I had to dance and sing at the same time. Luckily I knew how to sing and they loved my voice.”
Singing comes from the soul for the Soweto Gospel Choir. They sing to remember their past and to celebrate the future. Jiyane still lives in Soweto, 10 minutes from where Nelson Mandela lived, and he is proud to call the former shanty town his home.
“When you see us on stage and what comes from us, it is exactly what we feel when we sing,” he says.
“It’s emotions linked to where we come from as a nation and we bring people closer to what we have seen and felt through song.”
It was one of his career highlights to perform for Mandela, along with the likes of Desmond Tutu, the British royal family and US President Barack Obama.
On their Australian tour they will perform some songs from their new album, Faith, and their repertoire includes gospel, traditional South African music, international classics and freedom songs.
“The choir right now is on another level and we’re so happy to be coming to Australia because we regard it as our second home. Australia is where we got our first sense of what we could achieve because we had so much encouragement.”
Shimmy Jiyane fronts the Soweto Gospel Choir.