Warren Mahlangu of the Soweto Gospel Choir gives us the inside scoop on being in the multi-award-winning group

Soweto Gospel Choir (Photo: Getty)
Soweto Gospel Choir (Photo: Getty)

Cape Town - On Sunday, 4 August Warren Mahlangu will perform on stage with the rest of the multiple award-winning group, Soweto Gospel Choir at Liefde By Die Dam. The local event is taking place at Emmarentia Dam and will also be headlined by Francois Van Coke, Early B and more. Tickets are now on sale via ticket provider, Howler's website

The choir - which was formed in November, 2002 -  released their first album in December, 2002. The collection of songs, titled Voices of Heaven, reached the number one spot on Billboard’s World Music Chart within three weeks of its release in the US.

Since then the Soweto Gospel Choir has won three Grammy Awards and wowed crowds all over the world. 

Ahead of the Liefde By Die Dam, Warren spoke about joining the collective, what he's learnt while in the band and more.  


How did you join the Soweto Gospel Choir?

I've always been an artist, and growing up in the township and joining local community theatre groups as well as being a lead singer of my church choir group.  When I heard about the auditions for Soweto Gospel Choir from a friend, I took a chance and was one of the lucky ones who were accepted.

What is the most valuable thing that you have learnt about music in your almost two decades with the group?

Music is the universal language for everyone as long as you sing with love and passion.  If you transfer that energy to the people listening, it all becomes one language to everyone.  Being a member of the choir for so many years has given me the chance to learn all genres of music; because of all the local and international collaborations, we do.

There were many exciting shows for the choir over the years, which were your personal favourite highlights in SA and overseas?

In South Africa, the Nelson Mandela 46664 concert in 2008 was one of my favourites, having to perform with almost all the local and international artists on the bill. Just being inspired to be part of such a huge concert was a jaw-dropper for me. The 2019 Cape Town International Jazz Festival was also a fantastic experience for the whole choir, performing in front of over 8,000 enthusiastic concert-goers. We were really honoured. Internationally, my favourite performances were with Andre Rieu in the Netherlands – stunning.

Which of the celebrities that the group worked with did you admire most and why?

Johnny Clegg who I grew up listening to. I love that he sings some songs in the vernacular language which is impressive to me.

Bebe Winans for his ability to fuse gospel and soul music

Josh Groban, who is a spectacular musician – his music is so passionate and meaningful for me.

Travelling or performing with a big group must have logistical challenges, how does the team make sure that everything runs on time?

We have different people for different duties. There is always an assigned tour leader and a stage manager. Also, the whole group spends all our time together, and we know each other, and what we need to do, so we guide ourselves accordingly. It is stressful at times, but it's something we love and enjoy to do, so it's natural for us.

How often does the choir practice and how does the song selection work?

This mostly depends on the gig or tour that's coming up. We rehearse only the specific songs and dance routines required, before an engagement, usually about three mornings a week.

Depending on what repertoire is required, the choir in conjunction with our producer/director and musical director, decide which songs will work best for which engagements.  Every now and then we add some totally new songs to expand our repertoire, and in those cases, choir members bring their suggestions to a rehearsal. From there we choose suitable songs from those.

How did the group evolve over time? How many members were there from the beginning, and approximately how many have joined over the years?

When I started, there were about 24 choir members, including a band, and the choir just keeps growing yearly.  We get to be joined by so many talented people. Sadly we have also lost a few, yet we still rose to the point where we even divided ourselves into two groups to accommodate all the bookings and tours.  Last year we formed a third reserve group made up of past members and some new youngsters. So there are about 40 regular members and 10 reserves.

What is the core identity of the Soweto Gospel Choir, meaning how does it stay true to its form over so many years and with changes?

We take the gospel and traditional songs from our churches and our culture, together with local and international contemporary songs, and give them our unique Soweto Gospel Choir harmonies, arrangements and feel.  Plus our unique SGC energy and passion, all of which provides us with our uniqueness and differentiates us from other groups.

What can fans expect of your performance at the Liefde by die Dam Concert at Emmarentia Dam?

Excellent entertainment and lots of fun - exciting new songs and all music genres from gospel, traditional, contemporary and jazz/blues, with high energy and dancing. We've been rehearsing and preparing for this concert, and we can't wait, so we promise our audience a fantastic time and an epic performance from SGC.

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