Grammy and Emmy Award-Winning Soweto Gospel Choir has been performing to audiences all over the world for the last ten years.
The South African choir kicks off an 11 week North American tour, stopping in Toronto for one night only February 21. The list of artists they have collaborated with reads like a who's who list of the music industry, from Bono to Stevie Wonder. ByBlacks talked to Shimmy Jiyane, about what it takes to be the Choir Master, Tenor, Dancer and Choreographer for one of the most successful choirs in the world.
You’re one of the founding members, what was the inspiration to create the group?
We wanted to take African gospel around the world and to showcase our South African cultures and talent.
What was the hardest part about bringing this group together?
There are quite a few different cultures in the group so we had to make sure we could all work and travel together. It’s also been very hard having to leave our families for so long when we travel.
Have you had any challenges along the way?
Our greatest challenge has been when our founding musical director and some choir members have passed away. These times are always the saddest for us.
How did the passing of Nelson Mandela affect you, and the rest of the group?
We were on stage in France when Madiba passed away. Ironically we were singing our tribute song in the show, almost the same time as his passing. After the show, the promoter told us the news and the pain was unbearable. We had a meet and greet and didn’t want to do it, but we managed to get through it and then go back to the hotel to mourn.
You did a wonderful tribute to Madiba in a local Woolworth’s store. The video went viral with more than 4 million views. Can you tell me the story behind it?
The initial campaign with Woolworths was with Operation Smile, to get donations for children who needed cleft palate operations. We rehearsed a song for this campaign, James Brown’s “I feel good’, the night before we heard about Madiba’s passing. But the next day when we came for a second rehearsal, having heard the sad news, we decided to do the video as a tribute to Madiba instead, the next morning in the store. So it was an instinctive decision and not planned at all.
How long have you been in the arts?
I’ve been in the arts for about 15 years. I started my career as a dancer before being selected for SGC.
Who has been your mentor in the entertainment business?
My dance teacher from my early years, and the director and late musical director of Soweto Gospel Choir.
Is there an artist that you would love to have performed in your group?
Aretha Franklin – we wish!
What was it like working with Bono?
It was an amazing experience. Bono is probably our favourite artist that we’ve worked with. He is always so friendly to the choir and is genuinely excited about our talent
What is it that keeps you performing?
My love of singing, my love of the choir, and travelling around the world meeting so many different people.