Sunday, December 4, 2016

Soweto Gospel Choir - The Zulu song "Eli" (videos and lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides information about the Soweto Gospel Choir and showcases three examples of that choir performing the Zulu song "Eli".

This post also includes a description of Mbube music. However, I'm not sure if this is the correct musical categorization for the Song "Eli" and/or for most of the other Soweto Gospel Choir songs.

I'd appreciate information about the musical category for that song and other Soweto Gospel Choir songs.

The content of this post is presented for religious, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Soweto Gospel Choir for their musical legacy. Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

"The Performance
The Soweto Gospel Choir is made up of many remarkable voices and is accompanied by a four piece band and percussion. The choir sings traditional African music with earthy rhythms and rich harmonies. They also perform gospel music and contemporary music adding their own unique style. They perform in colorful costumes and use movement and dance to accent and energize their singing. They have performed around the world for diverse audiences from princes to orphans, and have celebrated with African leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela.

The Art Form
Singing and dancing has been traditional in South Africa from earliest times. Communities in South Africa used singing, dancing, chanting and drumming to educate youth, celebrate seasons, recall tribal history and honor leaders. When European settlers arrived in South Africa new cultures and religious traditions began to change traditional African customs. By the end of the early 20th century black South Africans began migrating to large cities where jobs in mining and manufacturing were plentiful. Music and dance from one’s homeland became even more important as South African people became separated from their families. Sharing traditionalmusic in a township or work place was an important way to remain connected to one’s ethnic roots. In 2002 the Soweto Gospel Choir was formed. The choir took its name from one of the largest townships outside the city of Johannesburg. The name, Soweto, is an acronym for (SOuth WEstern TOwnships) where South African people were required to move when the system of apartheid (separation) began. The choir’s rich harmonies, complex rhythms and spirited performances have won awards around the world"...

"Mbube is a form of South African vocal music, made famous by the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The word mbube means "lion" in Zulu.[1] Traditionally performed a cappella, the members of the group are male although a few groups have a female singer. In this form, groups of voices singing homophonically in rhythmic unison are employed to create intricate harmonies and textures."

From The Soweto Gospel Choir – Grounded In The Music Of South Africa By CHRIS HEIM & JULIA HOLEN • MAR 27, 2014
Chris Heim spoke with members of the Soweto Gospel Choir at the start of their U.S. tour.
...You've recorded the song "Mbube (Wimoweh)", which is probably the most familiar South African song to Americans. As a vocal style, is "Mbube" also the proper word to describe Soweto Gospel Choir's sound?

[Response #1-woman's voice from sound file whose transcription isn't given on that page]
"Definitely. I think that song would describe what what Soweto Gospel Choir is about. Because that song really deals with the bass and the Soweto Gospel Choir's bass is really rich, you know.

When we speak about Mbube it actually means "The lion sleeps tonight". The song was written by [unable to decipher] and you know it's just one of those songs that when you start in South Africa or in Africa everyone knows. Everyone can relate to it. So I think when you listen to that song, you listen to Soweto Gospel Choir's sound, there's a lot of similarities, especially when it comes to the bass which is what we pride ourselves in."

[Response #2 male voice, from sound file also not transcribed on that page]
"Yeah it was also used in "The Lion King" [play/movie?] and when the Soweto Gospel Choir came in we also used the same song but we, the only thing that we did with ours was that we started, we started strong with the bass, with the bass singing first and the choir coming through with the harmony. So we made it different from everybody elses."
Click for the 2011 pancocojams post "South African Isicathamiya Music". Here's an excerpt from that post:
..."The word [isicathamiya] itself does not have a literal translation; it is derived from the Zulu verb -cathama, which means walking softly, or tread carefully. Isicathamiya contrasts with an earlier name for Zulu a cappella singing, mbube, meaning "lion". The change in name marks a transition in the style of the music: traditionally, music described as Mbube is sung loudly and powerfully, while isicathamiya focuses more on achieving a harmonious blend between the voices. The name also refers to the style's tightly-choreographed dance moves that keep the singers on their toes.

South African singing groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo demonstrate this style. Isicathamiya choirs are traditionally all male. Its roots reach back before the turn of the 20th century, when numerous men left the homelands in order to search for work in the cities. As many of the tribesmen became urbanized, the style was forgotten through much of the 20th century.
That post includes a sound file of Solomon Linda And The Evening Birds Original Version, The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and two other isicathamiya examples of that song.

Click for information about the song "Mbube" ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight"; "Wimoweh").

Example #1: Soweto Gospel Choir - SofP 'Eli'

sowetogospelfans, Uploaded on Nov 19, 2010

The Soweto Gospel Choir sings 'Eli' on Songs of Praise.
A YouTube sound file of the Soweto Gospel Choir singing this song can be found at The summary of that song indicates that it was featured on their album "Grace".

According to this music review, "Grace" was released in 2010 as Soweto Gospel Choir's fifth album.

Example #2: Soweto Gospel Choir

QPAC Published on Jan 8, 2013
"Eli" is the last song in this video. It begins at 1:51.
This comment was written in response to a request for the name of the first song in that video:
garizemura, 2014
"Amazing Grace is one of the other songs that the Soweto Gospel Choir sang in this video.

Example #3: Soweto Gospel Choir - Eli

sowetogospelfans, Published on Mar 7, 2015

Footage of the Soweto Gospel Choir performing the song "Eli" during their last concert on the 2014 North American tour.

(Zulu traditional song?)

ELI….. Elivangeli
lasusa izono zethu

(Yeb’ uJsesu)
Wasus’ izono zethu


O Nkosi Yam
(Oh My Lord)
(Zulu Traditional)

Let my sins be washed away Make my heart holy Forgive my sins Oh my Lord Oh my Lord Let my sins be washed away Make my heart holy Forgive my sins Oh my Lord Oh my Lord

I've copied these lyrics as they were found on that page. My assumption is that the "O Nkosi Yam" words are part of the song "Eli", but I'm not sure about that.

Google translates from Zulu to English gave this result for the first portion of this song (before the word "repeat"):
"ELI ... .. Gospel
knocked our sins

(YES 'uJsesu)
Asus' our sins"
Hopefully, someone who understands Zulu will confirm or correct these lyrics and this translation. Thanks in advance!

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