Gospel truth about choirs

ANGELIC VOICES:The Soweto Spiritual Singers.
Circa.September 2009. © Unknown.
ANGELIC VOICES:The Soweto Spiritual Singers. Circa.September 2009. © Unknown.

THE country now has two prominent choral outfits sharing the same history.

THE country now has two prominent choral outfits sharing the same history.

While the Soweto Gospel Choir has been accumulating awards, including two Grammys, another choir from Soweto is quietly establishing itself internationally.

The Soweto Spiritual Singers, a well travelled outfit thar is conquering musical heights, was ironically started by the same people who founded the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Why they left and how is a story for another day. Suffice to say it was not without acrimony.

But as fate would have it the Soweto Spiritual Singers are proving to be a hit on international stages.

Nkululeko Vilakazi, who is a co-founder and director of the new 30-member vocal ensemble accompanied by a six-piece band, tells the story of how the Soweto Spiritual Singers is steadily scaling the musical heights.

"We've just returned from a successful month-long tour of Europe and are scheduled for a return tour to Asia and Scotland from October to December 2010," Vilakazi says.

"We would like to unequivocally state that we are not a copy or duplicate of anybody else. We are merely doing what comes naturally to us, like parents who give birth to a first son and then have a second child.

"We were part of the birth of many gospel outfits in the country. In fact, since 1994, every milestone or new gospel outfit has had a Vilakazi."

His story sounds a bit like a family member boasting but is factual .

For example, Family Factory, one of the country's most prominent gospel outfits had siblings Vicky and Gift Vilakazi as part of its formation. The outfit was later managed by Nkululeko.

That is not all. Joyous Celebration, arguably the most prominent choral outfit in the country, had Vicky and Gift as founding members. Nkululeko joined it later and featured in both Joyous Celebration 3 and Joyous Celebration 4.

The genesis of the Soweto Gospel Choir was to a large extent influenced by the Vilakazi family. The story of how the gospel choir was formed, according to Nkululeko, is that Gift met Beverly Bryer, producer of Soweto Gospel Choir, in Australia and they discussed the idea of working together.

On her return Bev met Nkululeko and Vicky and discussed the way forward. When Gift returned to South Africa he handled auditions and became the choreographer. Nkululeko became the musical director.

"This history, which is not known, inspired us to establish the Soweto Spiritual Singers, which was founded on equity and ownership," Nkululeko says.

The founders are Nkululeko and Vicky Vilakazi, Thabo Ledimo and Gift Vilakazi-Ledimo.

"We want it known that there are two choirs with the name Soweto. Soweto Gospel Choir and the new Soweto Spiritual Singers were formed by the same individuals, who are in full control and ownership of Soweto Spiritual Singers after they resigned from Soweto Gospel Choir," Nkululeko says.