Joyous Celebration still hitting the high notes after 25 years

The choir is a quarter century old, but still has a long way to go

MTN Joyous Celebration and Lebo Sekgobela brought Soweto to a standstill their Worship show at Soweto Theatre. Veli Nhlapo
MTN Joyous Celebration and Lebo Sekgobela brought Soweto to a standstill their Worship show at Soweto Theatre. Veli Nhlapo
Image: Veli Nhlapo

While longevity in the music industry can be hard to achieve, award-winning gospel group Joyous Celebration has proven it is very much possible.

The choir, which was founded by Dr Lindelani Mkhize, Jabu Hlongwane and Mthunzi Namba in 1996,  has occupied an exalted place in Mzansi’s music scene for 25 years.

“We are ecstatic about the full circle we have just undergone – 25 years is no child’s play. It requires hard work, longevity and consistency,” says Sylvester Funani, Joyous Celebration singer and ambassador.

Reflecting on his own journey as a member of the choir, Funani is filled with gratitude for the challenging yet beautiful road the choir has travelled over the years.

“I was a fan for many years before I joined the choir as a wardrobe consultant. On Joyous I4, I was afforded the opportunity to sing on stage. Since then, I have seen enormous growth in the choir. Internally, we can see the strides, growth and innovation,” he says.

Moreover, Funani’s time in the choir has been filled with many fond memories which he cherishes to this day.

“I will never forget the very first time in Joyous 15 when I was given the opportunity to lead a song. Nervous as I was, the reception was overwhelming. Over 4,000 people were in the Durban ICC, the venue was filled with an overwhelming sensation even before I could start singing. The support from the fans always means a lot. Having people recognise you and identify with you makes it worthwhile.”

Innovation in changing times

Throughout the years, Joyous Celebration has constantly re-invented itself in order to remain relevant and keep up with the times. It is this consistent innovation that has contributed to the choir’s longevity. According to Funani, the changes have all been strategic and aligned to the vision of Joyous Celebration.

“The Bible says that where there is no vision, people perish. Having people who are vision-driven has helped us get to where we are. What’s critical to us is never losing our African sound. We might adopt a little bit of what they do in the US but we keep our signature,” Funani says.

Additionally, the team of leaders, creatives and visionaries have also been very careful not to innovate at the expense of their loyal fans.  

Still We Rise

Joyous Celebration’s 25th album is titled Still We Rise and was released shortly after they signed under Universal Music and Motown Gospel in the US. Through this album, the choir aims to inspire hope in the ability to rise against all odds.

“In Joyous 25, we are saying it has been 25 years of gospel ministry and still we rise. But it’s twofold.  The rising is not only for us as a foundation. It’s also for our people. It’s also for SA and the world. Amidst the pandemic that we’re trying to recover from, still we rise. Life must continue,” says Funani.

Indeed, 25 years is worth celebrating not only for the choir’s longevity but also because of the significance which the number carries for Joyous Celebration and its loyal supporters.

“It, 25, is a significant number to us. According to Biblical numerology, five is the number of grace. 5x5 is grace upon grace. One of the things which will be critical in maintaining Still I Rise is the grace of God. Through Joyous 25, we are encouraging our people to come as they are and receive the grace of God. There is grace available for everybody,” says the choir ambassador.  

Where to from here?

Joyous Celebration has managed to identify raw talent and groom artists into their authentic selves, producing many stars throughout the years. More of this can be expected as a junior choir is on the cards.

“The concept has always been there, it’s being developed and one of these days you’re going to hear about it,” Funani says.

Still going strong after 25 years, the choir continues to explore new sounds and new techniques. With the aim to take gospel music into spaces people have never seen, Joyous Celebration looks forward to celebrating even bigger and better milestones in the future.

MTN Joyous Celebration brought Soweto to a standstill their Worship show at Soweto Theatre.
MTN Joyous Celebration brought Soweto to a standstill their Worship show at Soweto Theatre.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

Milestone and new opportunities

Down memory lane with Joyous Celebration as the choir celebrates 25 years in the music industry.

  • In 1996, Joyous Celebration held their first live performance at the Wits University Great Hall. After the concert, which was not recorded, Joyous Celebration 1 was then recorded at DownTown Studios, Johannesburg.
  • Choreographer and media personality Somizi Mhlongo joined the choir earlier than most people think. He was part of the production of Joyous Celebration 3. As such, it was  fitting to have him as the choreographer when the choir celebrated its 20th anniversary.
  • A great amount of planning and hard work goes into picking outfits for each album. The group’s costumes range from beautiful traditional attire to brightly coloured ball gowns and tailored suiting. In some instances, the conceptualising can  take up to a year. Trips have had to be taken abroad to look for particular materials and to meet with international designers.
  • The choir does not shy away from the use of handheld percussion instruments ranging from tambourines  to beat cushions. On Joyous Celebration Volume 16 the choir, led by musician Khaya Mthethwa, featured a track titled I Beat Medley where they are clapping the yellow cushion percussion instrument along with the audience.
  • Last year, the group recorded Joyous 24, which saw them  perform their first virtual concert titled The Rock. The show was made available to diehard fans to livestream from the safety of their homes. The first show was such a resounding success that the organisers hosted a second virtual experience in November.
  • One of the most loved songs by the choir is Yesu Wena Ungum’hlobo, which is part of Joyous 23. While the song was recorded two years ago, it is still a chart-topper.  
  • The choir’s biggest milestone recording took place at Moses Mabhida stadium for Joyous Celebration 20. Being an outdoor recording, it was  challenging as there were  difficult acoustics in the half-filled stadium. However, it was a huge success. The recording was also saw  Joyous Celebration alumni and current members working together.

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