Johannesburg, 11 June 2019 – Africa Month, observed annually in May, celebrates the arts, culture, economy and people of the continent – and few songs better encapsulate all these elements than “Say Africa”, written by Dave Goldblum in 1997 and famously performed by Vusi Mahlasela at the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Now the heartfelt ballad has once again been brought to life, in a colourful and vibrant video performance by the internationally acclaimed Soweto-based Mzansi Youth Choir and Mahlasela himself.
“We chose ‘Say Africa’ and Vusi because they’re synonymous with the struggle for freedom, forgiveness and reconciliation,” explains James Bassingthwaighte, musical director of the Mzansi Youth Choir, which was established in 2003 to give talented, underprivileged youngsters the opportunity to perform locally and abroad. It has since become a formidable international show choir.
In order to witness the many triumphs over adversity that Africa has witnessed, and the enormous opportunities the continent now presents, Rand Merchant Bank commissioned the Sowetan choir to reimagine a truly South African song that would give impetus to how, through collaboration and togetherness, we are stronger, and can take advantage of wonderful prospects. “‘Say Africa’ inspires people to really believe that together we can overcome so many of the challenges that we as a continent have faced or are facing,” says Bassingthwaighte.
The creative one-minute video performance sees a constant building and adding of vocal layers, starting with the youngest chorister, Thato Buthelezi, and ending in an epic celebration by the whole choir and joined by Mahlasela.
Dubbed “the voice” of South Africa, Mahlasela has performed worldwide, including at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 and at his birthday tribute in London’s Hyde Park in 2008, and at New York City’s famous Radio City Music Hall in 2009; in 2011 he released his Say Africa album, produced by legendary bluesman Taj Mahal. The Mzansi Youth Choir has likewise performed for luminaries and heads of state, including, most recently, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, at the Arab and African Youth Platform in Egypt, as well as at international festivals including the illustrious International Youth Choir Festival at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and alongside superstars such as Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Shakira and Beyoncé.
Bassingthwaighte notes that Rand Merchant Bank are “vehement supporters” of the choir. “Many of the choristers have moved on to professional work in the music industry, which is a true testament to the value of Rand Merchant Bank’s investment in the creative economy,” he says.
The remarkable video production “set the tone for future collaborations”, he says. “Vusi is an incredibly talented musician and a gracious man to work with. Our experience of working with him, and the final product, really does give meaning to the idea that together we’re stronger.”
To view the video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EdIGYjuyVw
The Mzansi Youth Choir was established in July 2003 with the aim of affording talented, underprivileged teenagers and young adults (14-24 years) the opportunity to proficiently perform locally and abroad. Their vision is also to package, re-package and create new African Music. The choir consists of 60 choristers from Soweto and other areas in and around Johannesburg. The choir recently celebrated 15 years and are proud to have over 645 children pass through their hands. Many have gone onto be professionals in their own right.
• 2010 Soccer World Cup – During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the choir shared the stage with Columbian superstar Shakira and local band Freshly Ground for the performance of the official World Cup song ‘WakaWaka’ at the Kick-Off Concert as well as the World Cup Final.
• World Choir Games 2018 – In 2018 the choir won the Gospel Section of the World Choir Games during the World Choir Games in South Africa where 300 choirs participated.
• Successful international tours – International highlights include performances in Canada (Stratford Summer Music Festival 2011), Denmark (AAVF, Europe’s largest contemporary vocal festival 2014), England (Celtic Festival, Guildhall 2013), Turkey 2013, Scotland (Commonwealth Games, Mandela Day Celebrations 2014), Russia (Cultural exchange – Russian and South African governments 2016). In April 2017 the choir performed at the International Youth Choir Festival at the Royal Albert Hall, London to a standing ovation. The Mzansi Youth Choir is the only choir from the African continent to be selected to perform at this prestigious global event. In 2018 the choir returned to Canada for packed concerts in Toronto and Stratford.
• Corporate/ institutional highlights – Performance highlights include the One World Music Festival, M-Net Idols, Huisgenoot Skouspel, Starlight Classics, The Voice, The Presidential Inauguration, KKNK, The National Arts Festival, The South African Music Awards, SAFTAS, The Voice, Dancing with the Starts, Mandela Celebrations, AVBOB Centenary and Poetry events, and a variety of corporate performances for AVBOB, SASOL, MTN, FNB, Audi, Spar, Murray and Roberts, Standard Bank, Nedbank, FirstRand and Gijima, amongst others.
• Performances with national and international superstars – The choir was honoured to have performed with national superstars like Lira, Khava Mthethwa, Vusi Mahlasela, Sipho “Hotstix Mabusa”, Dorothy Masuka, Abigail Kubeka, Jonas Gwangwa, Leleti Khumalo, Zolani Mahola, Karen Zoid, Riana Nel, Soweto Gospel Choir and international super and megastars such as Andrea Bocelli 2010, Josh Groban 2015, Shakira 2010, D’Banj 2018, Celtic Women 2016 and Beyoncé during December 2018 at the Global Citizen’s concert in FNB stadium.
• Television – The choir has also appeared on television commercials most notably AVBOB, Naija Sings (M-NET Africa) and a montage for the FIFA World Cup (ESPN/American Broadcasting Corporation). The choir also regularly performs on live television and radio. Recent appearances include SABC 1, SABC 2, SABC 3, Kyk-Net, E-TV, ENCA, M-Net, Classics FM and Jacaranda FM.
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