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Combining rich vocal performances and athletic dancing to spread African-flavored inspirational music is the mission of the 26-member Soweto Gospel Choir, which will make Conway its first top on a 47-city U.S. tour. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, and Friday, Feb. 2, at the University of Central Arkansas’s Reynolds Performance Hall.
Introduced to American audiences three years ago, the Soweto Gospel Choir has amassed a growing international fan base, performing to sold-out audiences around the world and alongside such icons as Bono, Peter Gabriel, Diana Ross and Jimmy Cliff. This tour coincides with the Jan. 30 release of the choir’s third CD, “African Spirit,” released by the Shanachie Entertainment Corp. label.
The choir, whose members are mostly in their 20s, was created in 2002 by Beverly Bryer, a South African producer, and David Mulovhedzi, the choir’s musical director. Show producers are Andrew Kay and David Vigo. (“African Spirit” is dedicated to late co-founder and producer Clifford Hocking, who died last June.)
Bryer and Mulovhedzi held auditions in Soweto to form an all-star “super-choir” and created a powerful aggregation made up of the best singers from Mulovhedzi’s own Holy Jerusalem Choir, as well as from various Soweto churches and the general public.
Africa in general and South Africa in particular have long and diverse histories with gospel music. When Africans came into contact with European missionaries and churches, they quickly absorbed their religious music and blended it with local traditional music to come up with unique styles and repertories of spiritual songs.
Mulovhedzi said African gospel music is different from the African-American gospel style, which consists mainly of singing and playing instruments. “We sing [and perform] gospel music with the African traditional beating of drums and dancing,” he said.
Mulovhedzi noted that it was very important for African-American and African musical artists — no matter what genre they perform — to unify and make music that entertains while addressing issues such as AIDS, poverty and economic empowerment that affect the Diaspora and Africa.
“We would like to work with African-American artists like Kirk Franklin [and others] to sing and perform music with a strong message. We sing music that has a message, and we want people to learn from our music,” Mulovhedzi said.
The choir also lives its positive message, sponsoring a charity that raises funds for AIDS orphan establishments that receive no government or private funding, and supporting individuals who are less fortunate by helping to feed and clothe them.
Mulovhedzi said the choir’s goals for the future include continuing what they started — spreading the word of God. “We consider ourselves a musical ministry to the world,” he said.
Tickets for either show range from $12 to $35 and can be purchased and reserved by calling the UCA ticket office at 866-810-0012 during regular box office hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on weekdays. Conway residents should call 450-3265. Tickets are also available online at www.uca.edu/reynolds.