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Soweto Gospel Choir thankful for opportunities

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South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir has come a long way (and I don't just mean across the ocean). Since the choir's formation in early 2002, it has experienced extreme success winning two Grammy Awards and put forth two number one Billboard World Music Chart albums. It has also joined in performances and/or in the studios with music acts like Peter Gabriel, Bono, Celine Dion, Robert Plant and more. The choir even performed at Oprah Winfrey's New Year's Eve party in South Africa.

"It's been really a blessing for us to be working with these big acts, like legends in the music industry. We learn from them and we're still learning from them. It's been a blessing for us," says Shimmy Jiyane, assistant music director and choreographer for the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Jiyane also admits the auditioning process for Soweto Gospel Choir wasn't easy. He is grateful to have been selected to be a part of the group and to experience the joys of performing. He says, "It was challenging and there were a whole lot of people that came out and got turned away. We were lucky to be chosen, the 27 of us in the group."

Soweto Gospel Choir's latest release of Live At The Nelson Mandela Theatre CD and DVD on Shanachie Entertainment is a reflection of the group's live show. Each song is filled with energy and passion (whether sung in English or one of the other six languages the choir sings in). Even though I could not understand every song, I was still taken by the power and rhythm of the music.

"Yeah, we hear that a lot," says Jiyane. "Because whatever we do, we're doing it out of love. Everything we do, we do it out of joy."

Soweto Gospel Choir also provides its music for a good cause, raising money for its own charity, Nkosi's Haven -- which helps to give care to families struggling with the AIDS virus.

"Where ever we go, all around the world we try and collect money and with the money that we get from the people after the shows, we take it home. Then we buy clothes for the kids and we put them in school and buy them books and make sure they eat and have things like proper blankets," Jiyane says.

Jiyane also reflects on the success of Soweto Gospel Choir, which is something he never anticipated. "We never thought it was going to be this big thing," he says. "Life has changed, because now you can afford to buy things for your families."

Soweto Gospel Choir will perform at Belk Theater on Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and up. For more information, call 704-372-1000 or visit www.blumenthalcenter.org.

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