The head chorister of the Mzansi Youth Choir on performing with Beyoncé: 'We couldn't believe that Queen Bey came to us!'

Mzansi Youth Choir (Photo: Supplied)
Mzansi Youth Choir (Photo: Supplied)

Cape Town – It all started earlier this year when American supergroup Major Lazer released their catchy single, Can't Take It from Me.

Soon afterwards, the Mzansi Youth Choir performed a stunning acapella cover of it – which Major Lazer then picked up and reposted to their 10 million social media followers.

Since then, the choral group had made headlines all over the world for their unique sound and incredible talent.

To find out what it is like to be part of the wave of global pop culture, Channel24 spoke to Babalwa Maqungo, head chorister of the Mzansi Youth Choir.

The 20-year-old told us about the choir's unique version of the song, performing with Beyoncé, and what it was like to work with Major Lazer.


Established 16 years ago, the Soweto-based choir of teenagers and young adults has become a formidable local and international voice. They performed with Beyoncé and Nigerian superstar D'Banj at the Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg in December 2018, as well as with Lira on the local talent-search programme The Voice South Africa.

About joining the choir, Babalwa looked back with a mix of nostalgia and awe, saying: "I joined the choir in 2012. It was such a great experience for me. I never thought that (being a member of the choir) would happen. I never thought I'd be part of something so big. Being a head chorister is even more vital for me because, from the moment that I joined the choir, I dreamt of being in this position. "

About the social media firestorm that followed their cover of Major Lazer as well as it being appreciated by the original artists, the engaging performer said: "When Major Lazer reached out to us via the internet it felt terrific to be recognised by such a global talent. While we were shooting the video, in our very South African way, it felt so organic because we wanted to make it in our own unique style."

The choir's version of the song is structured to paint a picture and create a mood. Babalwa explained: "....its verses build up tension towards an incredible chorus, which we felt had to be performed in our distinctively South African sound, Isicatha-Clap – a blend of isicathamiya from KwaZulu-Natal and clap-and-tap from Limpopo."

For those that don't know: the Isicatha-Clap style is defined by the head chorister as a blend of the northern and eastern musical styles of South Africa. About the style, she said it was: "a perfect way for us youth of Soweto to pay tribute to our elders".

Before the video had reached 1 000 views on the choir's Instagram platform, Major Lazer had reposted the cover to their platforms, and views shot up to over 35 000 within a couple of hours.


When it comes to who has been her most significant influence in the choir, Babalwa sang the praises of her mentors, saying: "There were head choristers that we had who led the choir and were so dedicated that it gave me a passion for being like them in the future."

On how the choir changed her life, the young woman said: "The choir became my family. Because almost everything in my life revolves around the choir. It also really changed my life by showing me what discipline looks like and professionalism. It also really changed my life by allowing me to be on big stages. You know, I never thought I would use my talents in that way."

About what inspires Babalwa, she said: "When I go home, I listen to acapella music because I am a big fan. I like to listen to Voice Play because they are the people who gave me an interest in the world of acapella. Those are the people I really listen to."

About future generations looking up to her and the other members of the choir: "It feels so surreal to me. Because I was the girl who grew up in Soweto watching her idols succeed. Even just seeing myself on TV is so incredible and unbelievable to me because I never thought it would happen. I've come so far. It inspires me. It builds my confidence and also makes me believe that there's so much more to do and that the sky is the limit.

One person that the talented young singer would still like to be with on stage is the late King of Pop and a popular acapella group. She gushed: "Well that's a big one because there are so many people I would like to perform with. I love Voice Play with all my heart. If Michael Jackson were still alive, I would love to perform with him. I would also like to perform with Beyoncé again."

On how it felt to be on stage with Beyoncé, she said: "My friends thought it was such a big deal. They were amazed and even until today they remind me. 'remember when you were on stage with Beyoncé?' They're just so extra."

She added about the global superstar: "She came to us during rehearsal to thank the choir for singing with her. That was really an excellent time for us, and it was incredible. We couldn't believe that Queen Bey came to us! It was an extraordinary moment for us, one that we will never forget. "