One of the many wonderful elements of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the instant access to a wide variety of multi-cultural performances. Being in the company of Soweto Gospel Choir is like being transported to South Africa, with all of the colour, smiles and sunshine (well, the sun may not be actually shining in the venue, but the tangible warmth of the performers makes it feel as if it is).
The choir are ebullient throughout and they do far more than just sing. Carnival-like dance and drumming ensues, as well as entertaining scenes, where the cast have us giggling on many occasions. It’s well paced too: big, loud, African a capella numbers are interspersed with the occasional familiar song sung in English and gentle moving pieces. Their ability to perform almost exclusively without (non-percussion) instruments is phenomenal, as are the utterly beautiful sounds that resonate from them. Each singer has an excellent voice and there’s a variety of harmonies, tones, timbres, and rhythmic, in addition to dancing in bright costumes and fun characters that makes it fascinating for the eyes as well as the ears.
What is so particularly special about this Fringe show though, is the way it makes you feel. Watching this isn’t just marvelling at something technically clever or artistically and culturally effective, it’s a live performance that brings an experience of infectious joy to everyone in the audience. It’s also pretty humbling given the challenges, history and sociopolitical climate of the choir’s home and our awareness of this overcoming of adversity makes it all the more moving. The choir members work very hard and are utterly committed to making us smile, clap, sing and generally feel good – and they succeed. At the end of this show the standing ovation was the most immediate, long and unanimous I’ve seen, and justly deserved for a thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting show.