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    Soweto Gospel Choir to Present ‘Songs of the Free’ Honoring Nelson Mandela

    The spectacular two-time Grammy Award winning Soweto Gospel Choir (SGC) soon returns to Northern California with a special concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of their rainbow nation father, Nelson Mandela (1918–2013).

    Mandela, an anti-apartheid revolutionary who spent 27 years in prison, became South Africa’s first Black president in 1994. A popular leader, he declined a second presidential term in 1999. Through the Nelson Mandela Foundation, he instead worked to combat poverty and HIV/AIDS. The Foundation (https://www.nelsonmandela.org/) lives on, as does Mandela’s legacy concerning democracy and social justice.

    SGC helps to carry the torch. Hailing from the town of Soweto (South West Township), the birthplace of South Africa’s democratic movement’s struggle for freedom, the Choir has thrilled audiences around the world with a unique blend of African gospel, freedom songs and international classics.

    “Songs of the Free,” to be performed at Carmel’s beautiful Sunset Center on October 11 and at the Art Deco landmark Paramount Theatre in Oakland on October 13, will offer a fitting tribute to Mandela on his centenary. SGC performed for Mandela on many occasions during his life, and even sung at his State funeral at home in South Africa as well as at his commemorative service at Westminster Cathedral in London. Combining earthy rhythms and rich harmonies, this special occasion promises to be a moving performance that will uplift the soul. 

    Ahead of the California shows, we enjoyed catching up with soprano Mary Mulovhedzi, a lead singer, dancer and percussionist with SGC. Born in Soweto in 1980, she started singing in church at the age of 8 and has been singing gospel ever since. Her audiences have included not only Mandela, but also Michael Jackson and the Chinese Prime Minister. Hopefully you too will soon be able to enjoy Mulovhedzi and the rest of the SGC for “Songs of the Free.”

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please share what Mandela’s legacy means to you personally, and how it has influenced both the choir and this special collection of songs.

    Mary Mulovhedzi: Nelson Mandela was a hero and courageous man. He sacrificed his life and went to prison for 27 years just to see all South Africans free and united. He taught me and the choir to spread the message of love, peace and unity through music.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What lessons do you think that we can all learn from Mandela’s important work?

    Mary Mulovhedzi: The lesson we have learned from Mandela’s important work is to stand for your rights and what you believe in. Now it is our hands to make the world a beautiful and a safe place for all.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What are some of the highlights of “Songs of the Free” that audiences can look forward to experiencing?

    Mary Mulovhedzi: The songs that the audience can look forward to are songs like “Asimbonanga,” which was written by Jonny Clegg. It means we don’t know how Mandela and other freedom fighters are doing in prison. (Editor’s Note: The lyrics are at http://www.metrolyrics.com/asimbonanga-lyrics-johnny-clegg-savuka.html) My second favorite is “Jikijela.” It is a song that was sung by women. They were fighting against apartheid oppressors and they decided to use stones as their weapons. We also finish our show with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” of which we have made our version, to give thanks to Nelson Mandela for the peace he has brought to South Africa.

    We have 11 official languages and we sing in 6 of those. We also support a charity foundation called “Nkosi heaven Vukani” that supports HIV and AIDS orphans in South Africa. 

    San Francisco Bay Times: Have you visited the San Francisco Bay Area/Northern California before? What are you most looking forward to seeing and doing, both in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the Carmel/Central California area?

    Mary Mulovhedzi: I have been to San Francisco before, but I don’t recall going to (other parts of) the Bay Area. I look forward to taking pictures for my kids and obviously to performing and spreading the message of forgiveness and unity through music.

    See the Fall Arts Preview for additional information about the Northern California performances of “Songs of the Free.”