Soweto Afro-Pop Underbelly Bristo Square

I first came across this group of four South African singers when I was out shopping in Edinburgh in the first week of the Fringe. There they were, sitting on a bench in Rose Street, singing their hearts out with numbers such as Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. They were fabulous, so much so that a sizeable crowd had stopped to listen and even dance along to the rhythms. They were there to advertise their show and were generating lots of interest, a tactic which would have worked better for them if they had remembered to bring their flyers with them or even to remember which venue they were playing at!

However, I persevered in tracking them down and found they were doing a lunchtime show at Bristo Square so went along in eager anticipation of more of the same.

The show is good but it wasn’t what I expected. On stage was a string quartet and a four piece band, all talented individuals but they weren’t as tight as they could have been and the sound was way too loud and overproduced for my liking, overpowering and obscuring the voices at times.

The guys come on dressed in sharp grey suits and ties and their moves are all choreographed like a 60s Motown band. There is a big mix of songs and solos, from Il Divo type classical numbers to West Side Story’s Somewhere but unfortunately no Redemption Song – this was definite middle of the road stuff. The best bits are the South African numbers where they change into South African shirts and start to loosen up and relax – we even have a bit of audience participation. Overall, though, we listened politely and applauded enthusiastically enough but I never felt really engaged with them as I had in their impromptu al fresco setting.

There are a number of other more traditional Sowetan choirs and singing groups at the Fringe this year and I appreciate this group are trying to do something different. However, I think a more natural, less engineered sound would better suit their vocal talents and a more adventurous mix of songs would give this show an edge.

Irene Brownlee