South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir returns to Tucson for a show at Centennial Hall on Friday.
Choir director Shimmy Jiyane gave the skinny in a recent phone interview from Seattle.
Tucson is the second-to-last stop for the group. The 45-piece ensemble will finish its run in Scottsdale on Saturday, on a tour that has been going on since early February.
While the group is still giving its all, Jiyane said, “We are looking forward to going home. We miss our families. I’m looking forward to seeing my beautiful girlfriend, my mom and my brother.”
The tour is, in part, to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela. The Soweto Gospel Choir was performing in France when it heard the news of Mandela’s passing in December.
“We were told he was gone as we were coming offstage,” Jiyane said. “We were floored. We couldn’t hold back our tears. It was a huge blow for us.”
Mandela will continue to be a hero to South Africans, Jiyane said.
“He was in chains for many years,” he said, “but he came back with no anger. He said, ‘Let me build this nation. Let me make it work.’”
The group stopped in New York City in February for a Mandela tribute with former President Bill Clinton and Morgan Freeman. The event was held at Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The choir sang a selection that included the Johnny Clegg classic “Asimbonanga,” which called for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison when it was written. It was the second time Soweto performed for Clinton, who gave his own talk at the memorial about his relationship with the South African leader.
“It was an amazing experience,” Jiyane said. “Everyone was so humble.”
There’s also an album. Soweto’s original intent for the tour was to promote its 10th anniversary album, “Divine Decade,” released in January on Decca Records. The project features collaborations with a series of high-profile artists from all over the world, including Clegg, U2 and Robert Plant.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu provides the audio intro.
“It was always our plan to have an album that featured many of the artists that we’ve worked with before,” Jiyane said. “We couldn’t get everybody, but we felt it was a success.”