SOSA-XA! Sounds of Southern Africa was set up in 2001 as a result of collaborative work between the production company sponsoring Sunduza Dance Theatre and the SEMEA arts trust. The trust and the choir were set up to provide a capacity building platform for Southern Africa artists seeking regular engagement by exchange with the Yorkshire community. It supports Sunduza Dance theatre and other artists through a development trust in Pumula, Bulawayo at the Es'phakeni youth arts centre. Amasiko Lemvelo Learning works in close cooperation with local people and the Bulawayo City Council. Check out AmasikoTV on You Tube:
The choir was strongly led by Simon Banda the musical director of Sunduza dance theatre and for twelve years subsequently led by co founder of Sunduza, Mandla Sibanda. Both tragically passed away in 2012. The choir is currently led by Tonde Phiri (formerly Siyaya) supported by Richard Mahachi from Umkhati Theatreworks in Bulawayo, Ethel Dlamini, Keitu Motlogwa, and occasionally Simon Mbambo (Ex junior Sunduza). The arts in Southern Africa are seen as central to the community engaging in civic action, human rights and health dialogues.
The choir also seeks to explore Southern African harmonies using the steps and traditions and improvisation techniques that were strongly influenced by American barbershop, music hall and jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. It is a way of listening to and starting to comprehend some aspects of Southern African languages and the culture from which some of our local artists originate. Thus songs are mostly sung in Sotho, Ndebele, Zulu, Shona, Xhosa, Kalanga. The style-isicathamiya- (meaning to take steps forward and back like a lion) for mixed voice harmony is not dissimilar from the all male imbube groups made famous by Solomon Linda in Durban during the 1930s. Drawing on such a mix of cultural influences it is easy to forget that the music whilst reflective of Southern African harmonies is easily approached by people from outside the culture who find a shared resonance in tone, harmony and rhythm with which they are also familiar.You are likely to be more familiar with Ladysmith Black Mambazo boosted to international acclaim by Paul Simon but are just one of hundreds of outstanding groups..
Though the choir occasionally use percussion it is important to remember that drums were not popularly part of Ndebele or Zulu culture (that is Hollywood fiction and modern Southern African theatre). Traditionally the voice had always been the percussive instrument in the culture and largely remains so today. It was the voice that provided the music for the dance steps- not the drums. Shona culture of course is very different and as the dominant culture of Zimbabwe it was always instruments the Mbira and drum that supported the voice. By and large the really large trees suitable for drums come from the North of Zimbabwe, West and Central Southern Africa so without suitable trees the voice in the Southern areas and South Africa was supreme. The West has this fixation with Africa and drums as if Africa were homogenous in terms of resources and cultural skills.
The steps are strongly influenced by American line dancing as well as Zulu traditional dance on account of the many cross cultural influences and choral competitions that flourished prior to the Apartheid era. Thus the music derives much of its rhythm and the internalisation of harmony and timing through movement. Good for keeping fit so don't expect to sit down at all.
The choir does not hold auditions believing almost everyone can sing given appropriate support. Please though try to abandon western concepts of timing and conducting. We are a performance group that is movement led, not a gospel choir. The musical leadership is a collective as in Zimbabwe drawing on the talents of a variety of individuals. It relies on call and response and solo performances and you are part of the composition. We are not a casual workshop group, performances need serious rehearsal.
The Choir supports international events at corporate functions, festivals, churches, weddings and receptions and other charities with an African focus. We have done major musical projects such as Peter Maissan's Poverty Requiem. We aim to take on about four or so shows a term only some of which are our own promotions. We perform mostly in Yorkshire and Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. We welcome people of all faiths and nationalities. We are certainly a pan European choir with a Zimbabwean crew having had people from Austria, Chile, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, la Reunion, Lithuania, Slovakia, Switzerland, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya and USA as members.