Gospel ‘Spice Girls’ get street cred

2011-11-25 14:29

With their svelte figures, sporty demeanour and girlish giggles, the six girls were mistaken for Sunbabes (the summer bunnies who pose in bikinis for tabloids) when they arrived at our offices for this interview. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead, they are the “Spice Girls of gospel”, each with their distinctive personalities . . . and hairstyles.

The strikingly beautiful young women, all from KwaZulu-Natal, were in town to show off their international awards and acclaim from overseas.

Going by the name Simply Chrysolite, they truly are precious. Their brand of gospel – heavily anchored in R&B with a lively beat, harmonies and peppered with traditional influences – has resonated well with music aficionados overseas.

Just a few weeks ago, they scooped the Best International Act at the Black Entertainment Fashion Television Arts Awards in London, beating Kelly Rowland, Whizz Kid, Teargas, 2Face and D’Banj.

They also went on to win the Best International Song of the Year award for Ihub’elisha, as well as the Best International Album of the Year award for Simply Chrysolite Vol 1 at the Gospel Music Awards in Ireland.

The young women – Hlengiwe Nguse, Dolce Bophela, Thabiso Mkhize, Phumzile Ngcobo, Thabzo Mkhwanazi and Mabongi Shinga aged between 20 and 25 from Umlazi, Pietermaritzburg and Lamontville – are the toast of the gospel scene.

They belong to the Tim Omotoso Global Outreach of the Jesus Dominion International Church in Durban.

They were mentored by Reverend Tim Omotoso, the head pastor at the church and their name was inspired by the scriptures, especially the book of Revelations.

They have no music training or past experience in singing or composing. In fact, they were all working, studying or unemployed when they first got together to sing in church.

Their debut album was recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, in the space of two weeks and was promoted at the branches of the church throughout the world.
They have also relied on platforms such as YouTube and Twitter to get their message out.

They pin their success on their breakout hit Ihub’elisha and other songs such as Lord I Love You and Will You Be Ready?

For Bophela, church was not part of her plan. She says: “I was trying to find myself and I couldn’t find my feet until I got into the ministry.”

Mkhize grew up listening to gospel music but was also exposed to R&B and House. Other than that, they had no training in singing or composing, yet they managed to compose all the songs on their 11-track album.

“We didn’t know how to compose, all we did was sing other people’s songs, but our mentor encouraged us to sing our own compositions and he helped us along the way,” says Mkhwanazi, the group’s spokesperson.

“In life you either learn through mistakes or by mentorship and we’re lucky to be surrounded by the support we have and our mentor Mr Omotoso,” she says.

Bophela adds: “You’re youthful to be useful and we should use our every talent for the glory of God. It is a bouquet of sounds, every song is a character.”

Their ethos is that gospel shouldn’t have to sound like gospel. They believe that one can sing gospel with a jazz or reggae influence, for instance.
In the music, the members have each found a calling and a commitment.

Shinga smoked weed but now, with the support of the church, she has stopped: “The teachings of the ministry have helped me see the light and being in this group has given me faith as I tell my story through music.”

Bophela says: “I couldn’t find my feet. I was floating around and now I have a goal and I can focus, and there’s hope in that focus.”

The group met in 2007 during a talent search in the church and they were all chosen to sing in the mass choir.

By 2009, they split to form their own sextet and were groomed by Omotoso.

The sisterhood and strong bond has stayed unbreakable to this avalanche of awards.

They fast together and also play basketball.

They will be visiting Jamaica in July to perform as part of the 50th anniversary of the Caribbean island’s independence from British colonial rule.

Meanwhile, here at home they have embarked on a national tour which will take them to major cities like Cape Town and Port Elizabeth until next year.

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