Soweto Gospel Choir: Freedom

The Power of Song

Listening Post 204. The 2018 centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birth delivered an outpouring of tributes and memorial initiatives in the form of education and anti-poverty projects, dialogues, celebrations, exhibitions, films, books, concerts, and an album appropriately titled Freedom. Few major world figures have as extensive a soundtrack attached to their biography as Mandela, from homages written during his imprisonment, to the songs he and fellow inmates sang to keep their spirits up, to the anthems that energized the anti-apartheid movement. The story of the man who became South Africa’s first president elected through universal suffrage has long attracted his country’s leading artists—including Hugh Masekela and Johnny Clegg—and the Soweto Gospel Choir is the ideal ensemble to initiate the second century of his legacy; the group has earned countless honors and also performed on several occasions for Mandela himself. Freedom, the choir’s sixth album, features the broad, lush harmonies that are the foundation of the group’s success. The album’s 12 tracks—a liberation saga performed in Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and English—evoke struggle, memory and faith. Umbombela (The Train Song) echoes the notorious restrictions that forced black South Africans to travel long distances as migrant workers (video 1). Asimbonanga/Biko is a pairing of poignant tributes to Mandela, who survived 27 years in captivity, and Steve Biko, who was murdered in prison (video 2). Ibambeni Webafana (Be Brave Young Men) calls on new generations to emulate the preeminent anti-apartheid leaders (video 3) and Bawo Thixo Somandla (Father, God Almighty) laments humanity’s sins and suffering. The collection also includes powerful renditions of Miriam Makeba’s Mama Ndiyalila (Mother, I’m Weeping) and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. “Music is a great blessing,” Mandela once said. “It has the power to elevate and liberate us.” As the Soweto Gospel Choir demonstrates, it also motivates us—in oppression and in freedom—to learn and remember. (Shanachie)

Note: The Soweto Gospel Choir won the Grammy in the Best World Music Album category for Freedom, presented at the 61stAnnual Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on February 10, 2019. It was the third Grammy for the choir, which also has—among many other prizes—three South African Music Awards and an Emmy.

Freedom – album credits
Musical director: Diniloxolo Ndlakuse
Singers: Nombuhle Dlamini, Shimmy Jiyane, Mlungiseleni Jones, Thembisa Khuzwayo, Sibongile Makgathe, Victor Makhathini, Jeanette Mazibuko, Lungisani Mhlongo, Mazwe Mhlongo, Siyabolela Mkefa, Lindo Mkhathini, Thabang Mkhwanazi, Thabiso Molefe, Kenosi Moshe, Original Msimango, Mary Mulovhedzi, Mulalo Mulovhedzi, Maserame Ndindwa, Zanele Ngcamu, Phumla Nkhumeleni, Portia Skosana, Lehakoe Tlali
Musicians: Diniloxolo Ndlakuse, keyboards; Sipho Ngcamu, percussion

 

Umbombela/The Train Song
Lyrics & Music: Welcome Duru

(from the Xhosa lyrics)
The train is departing/It is departing at dawn
The train is departing/Oh Lord it is leaving me  

Shuku shuku shuku shuku/Shuku, it’s leaving me
Shuku shuku shuku shuku/Oh Lord it’s leaving me  

The train is departing/It is departing at dawn
The train is departing/Oh Lord it is leaving me  

Shuku shuku shuku shuku/Shuku, it’s leaving me
Shuku shuku shuku shuku/Oh Lord it’s leaving me 

It is leaving it is leaving/The train is departing
It is leaving it is leaving/Oh Lord it’s leaving me  

Train, do not leave me behind/Do not leave me behind
Oh Lord it’s leaving me 

 

Asimbonanga-Biko
(from the Zulu and English lyrics)

Asimbonanga/We Haven’t Seen Him
Lyrics & Music: Johnny Clegg
We didn’t see Mandela/We didn’t see Mandela 
We didn’t know where he was and we didn’t know where he stayed 

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey/Look across the island into the bay
We are all islands till comes the day/We cross the burning water

A seagull wings across the sea/Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance/Between you and me

Hey you/Hey you
Hey you, and when will we reach our destination 
But we didn’t see Mandela

Biko
Lyrics & Music: Peter Gabriel
September ’77/Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual/In police room 619
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko/Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead
The man is dead

When I try to sleep at night/I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white/With only one colour dead
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko/Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead
The man is dead
You can blow out a candle
But you…

You can blow out the candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko/Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh, oh, ohoo/Oh, oh, ohoo
Oh, oh, ohoo/Oh, oh, ohoo

 

Ibambeni Webafana/Be Brave Young Men
Lyrics & Music: Traditional

(from the Zulu lyrics)
Be brave young men/Be brave young men 

The shooting by these young men/Reminds me of Oliver Thambo’s bravery
The shooting by these young men/Reminds me of Robert Sobukwe’s bravery  

Be brave young men/Be brave young men  

The shooting by these young men/Reminds me of Winnie Mandela’s bravery
The shooting by these young men/Reminds of Nelson Mandela’s bravery  

Be brave young men/Be brave young men  

The shooting by these young men/Reminds me of Mozambique
The shooting by these young men/Reminds me of Mozambique  

Be brave young men/Be brave young men  

The shooting by these young men/Reminds me of Walter Sisulu’s bravery
The shooting by these young men/Reminds me of Nelson Mandela’s bravery  

Be brave young men/Be brave young men

 

Bawo Thixo Somandla/Father, God Almighty
Lyrics & Music: Traditional

(from the Xhosa lyrics)
Father, God Almighty/What are our sins?
How have we wronged you, Lord?
Father, God Almighty 

What have we done?/What have we done, My Lord?
That we kill each other thus!/This world/Is full of troubles
Father, God Almighty/May this cup pass from us

What have we done My Lord/That we kill each other thus?
I have a continuous cry/Inside my heart
I keep saying/Truly may this cup pass from us
Father, God Almighty 

We suffer greatly on this earth/Father God almighty
What wrong have we committed before thee?/Father God almighty  

What wrong have we committed?
What wrong have we committed my Lord?
We are killing each other

May this cup pass/What wrong have we committed my Lord?
We are killing each other

I am heavy of heart/I’m continuously crying
Asking for this cup to pass/Father God almighty 

 


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