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Soweto Gospel Choir: Blessed

Woodrow Wilkins By

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In the spirited tradition of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, these young singers and musicians are spreading their love of God and life from their South African base and sharing it with people around the world. The Soweto Gospel Choir began a two-and-a-half-month/44-city US tour immediately after the January 24 release of Blessed, the group's second recording.

The 26-member choir won over audiences with its January 2005 release, Voices from Heaven. The album hit No. 1 on the Billboard World Music charts. The choir earned the 2004 American Gospel Music Award for Best Choir and the 2004 Gospel Music Award for Best International Choir. In November 2005, the group performed with Diana Ross and Christina Aguilera as part of the "Unite the Stars concert to benefit Nelson Mandela's Children's Fund and the United Against Hunger charities.

Blessed definitely provides food for those who are hungry for good gospel music. Like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the choir exhibits exceptional vocal harmony, delivering songs in six of South Africa's eleven official languages, including English. "Joko Yahao, a traditional song featuring Sibongile Makgathe as soloist, is one of the more charming tracks, aided by a more-than-competent rhythm section. Guitarist Joshua Mcineka offers a delightful intro and solo on "Njalo, another traditional song, which features Bheki Nene as lead vocalist. The choir pays tribute to Ladysmith Black Mambazo with "Lelilungo Ngelakho, which was written by Ladysmith's Joseph Shabalala.

"Oh Happy Day, perhaps the most popular gospel recording to make pop and soul radio playlists, is covered in exceptional fashion by the choir. With solos by Vincent Jiyane and Makgathe, aided by Lucas Bok's funk-inspired bass line and Mpupile Mathibe's wailing alto sax, this track does honor to the original while adding a personal touch. Bok, who doubles as vocalist, and Vusumuzi Madondo take lead on the spirited "Swing Down, which is sung mostly a cappella. Thembisa Khuzwayo and Lindo Makhathini sing lead on "Mbube, which is known internationally as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight. This is less a pop tune and more a spiritual/folk piece as the choir sings a cappella, backed only by a percussionist.

This eighteen-track disc provides just under an hour's worth of music. At times somber, at other times vivacious, the Soweto Gospel Choir scores another hit with Blessed. Comprised mostly of singers and musicians in their twenties, the ensemble is poised to charm and inspire audiences for many years to come. With Blessed, it's well on its way.

Track Listing

Shewane; Asimbonanga/Biko; Joko Yahao; A Place in Heaven; Njalo; I Bid You Goodnight; Lelilungelo Ngelakho; Oh Happy Day; Noyana; Masigiye

Personnel

Soloists: Mulalo Mulovhedzi, Lindo Makhathini, Lehakwe Tlali, Sibongile Makgathe, Noluthando Mgqunge, Bheki Nene, Vincent Jiyane, Lunigisani Mhlongo, Thembisa Khuzwayo, Sipokazi Luzipo, Nkosinathi Hadebe, Vusumzi Madondo, Lucas Bok, Bongumusa Mabaso; Musicians: Lucas Bok: bass; Joshua Mcineka: guitar; Mandla Modawu: drums; Vusimuzi Shabalala: keyboards; Sipho Ngcamu: percussion; Bongumusa Mabaso: percussion; Mpupile Mathibe: saxophone.

Additional information

Title: Blessed | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Shanachie Records

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