5 minutes with the Mzansi Youth Choir

5 minutes with the Mzansi Youth Choir

Music director of the Mzansi Youth Choir, James Bassingthwaighte, chats to us about the choir’s powerful performance with Beyoncé at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100. By Kwanele Mathebula

Image: Mzansi Youth Choir Website

The Mzansi Youth Choir was founded in 2003. The members are from Soweto, aged between 12 and 24 years old. Due to our unique combination of choral singing and energetic choreography, we have been privileged enough to work with artists from South Africa and around the world. They include Josh Groban, Shakira, Celtic Woman, D’Banj and Beyoncé.

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Beyoncé reached out to the Soweto Gospel Choir to perform with her. The nature of the performance was appropriate to include younger singers. So, the choir invited us to join for the performance, and this formed the Soweto Gospel and Mzansi Youth Choir. That was the first time the two choirs performed together. And, even more moving was that the performance took place in Soweto, home to both of them.

We worked closely with Beyoncé’s music director, Derek Dixie, in the build up to the performance.  The Zulu section towards the end of the performance was a highlight of our preparation process as we were able to offer Derek an opportunity to experience our musical world. The mental preparation of being on stage in such a momentous occasion was daunting. We were focused on preparing our two soloists, Mmusi and Zethu, to follow Beyoncé, Jay Z, Pharrell and Ed Sheeran. We’re proud of them for rising up to the occasion.

Being on a huge global stage was humbling for the choir. Being given the opportunity to experience the awe-inspiring power that is Beyoncé reminded us that regardless of our circumstances, we have the right to be powerful ourselves.

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We stand for the celebration of Soweto as a landmark musical cornerstone of our country’s heritage. Next year we will continue that journey, with a new album release as well as an exciting television project that will be announced soon.