Did international supergroup Major Lazer just educate the world about traditional South African music?

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Did international supergroup Major Lazer just educate the world about traditional South African music?

Electro dance trio posts a cover version by Mzansi Youth Choir of their latest hit to a global audience

Johannesburg, 9 July 2019 – “Can’t Take It From Me”, a single released two months ago by American supergroup Major Lazer, took a turn for the better when Mzansi Youth Choir performed a stunning a-capella cover of it – which Major Lazer then picked up and reposted to their 10 million social-media followers. To view the cover, click here. To view the original single, click here.

“The lyrics of the single easily resonate with us South Africans,” says Babalwa Maqungo, head chorister of the Mzansi Youth Choir, “and 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.” The song and the Isicatha-Clap style, which Maqungo describes as a blend of the northern and eastern styles of South Africa, were “a perfect way for us youth of Soweto to pay tribute to our elders”, she says.

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.

Established 16 years ago, the Soweto-based choir of teenagers and young adults has become a formidable local and international voice, most recently performing with Beyoncé and Nigerian superstar D’Banj at the Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg in December 2018, as well as with Lira on local talent-search programme The Voice South Africa. Earlier this year they performed for the Egyptian president at the Arab and African Youth Platform in Aswan, Egypt, and collaborated with Vusi Mahlasela to perform a cover of David Goldblum’s “Say Africa”, which Mahlasela originally performed at the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Responsible for hits such as “Lean On” and “Particula”, Major Lazer’s music spans several genres, including reggae, dancehall, reggaetón, soca, house and moombahton. The trio has collaborated with multi-chart-topping world-renowned musicians such as Pharrell Williams, Sean Paul, Travis Scott, Snoop Dogg, Ellie Goulding and Ariana Grande. “Can’t Take It From Me”, released in May this year, features Jamaican singer-songwriter Skip Marley, the grandson of legendary reggae singer Bob Marley.

“What made the Major Lazer cover so cool was how quickly they responded to our performance,” says Maqungo. “Never did we think they would pick up on this so quickly, considering how famous and huge they are. We’re so grateful to Major Lazer
for doing this. It was completely unexpected, and it will be really interesting to see what comes of it. The sky is the limit.”

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About Mzansi Youth Choir

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.

Performance Highlights:
• 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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