Mzansi Youth Choir receives first group golden buzzer after their sensational performance in the 18th season of America’s Got Talent.
Mzansi Youth Choir from Soweto, Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa, took America by storm when they delivered an extraordinary performance during the 18th season of America’s Got Talent in Pasadena, California, United States. They were showered with a Group Golden Buzzer, which included an audience Golden Buzzer resulting in an astonishing six Golden Buzzers at the same time. This takes them straight into the semi-finals in August 2023.
They sang It’s OK by Jane Marczewski (better known by her stage name, Nightbirde) who received a Golden Buzzer during the 16th season but was unable to progress to the next round of America’s Got Talent due to cancer. On 19 February 2022, she sadly passed away. The choristers were inspired by the admirable way in which Jane approached her challenges in life and felt it would be appropriate to continue her legacy, singing their interpretation of her original song.
An incredible birthday present!
From a small local start to a world audience of more than 10 million viewers and in front of a fantastic audience, on the one and only stage of America’s Got Talent – their AGT participation is undoubtedly the choir’s most significant highlight and milestone on its memorable journey. On 23 November 2003, the choir hosted their first performance, in the modest Old City Hall of Alberton, east of Gauteng, with choristers performing in their own clothes. Over the years, the choir developed and grew, celebrating their 20th birthday in July 2023. Today they are humbled by Simon Cowell’s statement: “You defined what this show absolutely is all about”.
The choir’s music director, Sidumo Nyamezele, explains: “During every new season of ‘America’s Got Talent’, each of the four judges and the host are given one opportunity to press the Golden Buzzer for any act they liked most during the series. For every season there is also one Group Golden Buzzer. That one Golden Buzzer allows the participant to move straight to the semi-final rounds. For the first time in the 18th season 2023, an Audience GroupBuzzer was introduced to the former Group Buzzer: all four of the judges, the host in the wings as well as the audience representative come together, put their hands on top of one another and press the Golden Buzzer simultaneously. This is the first season where the Audience Golden Buzzer was introduced, and Mzansi Youth Choir made history by receiving nothing less than all six Golden Buzzers simultaneously”.
The choir’s artistic director and choreographer, Alfred Phakathi, continues: “This was an absolute spectacular experience for the choristers, who handled the pressure with such poise and grace, mainly due to their numerous collaborations with local and international artists and various tours locally and abroad. We are immensely proud of them for this extraordinary achievement, for which they worked so hard.”
The It’s OK / Mzansi Youth Choir Story.
Why did the choir decide to perform It’s OK, an original composition by Nightbirde?
America’s Got Talent (AGT) seasons are very popular in Soweto. All the choristers within Mzansi Youth Choir were very moved by Nightbirde’s remarkable story on AGT in 2021. They immediately associated with her courage to rise above her challenges. The choristers even began to use her words as a slogan during difficult times touring and performing, saying “It’s OK”… immediately changing everyone’s moods for the better, enabling them to continue in a positive manner.
After a decision was taken by the Musical Director Sidumo Nyamezele to arrange, rehearse and record her song (with the assistance of Mauritz Lotz, who does all the choir’s musical tracks), the song went on to become a hit during the choir’s performances and is still a firm favourite amongst the choristers themselves.
Only 4 months before Nightbirde’s passing on 19 February 2022, the choir released their It’s OK video, tagging Nightbirde on social media, on 11 October 2021. She almost immediately responded back via Facebook: “Thank you so much Mzansi Youth Choir in South Africa for the beautiful tribute. I was holding back tears as I listened. How moving and what an honour!”
So, when it came to Mzansi Youth Choir’s participation in the 18th season of AGT, it was not difficult to select a song to audition with. Performing It’s OK on that very same AGT stage in America where she performed for the first and last time, was an unreal moment! What an incredible opportunity and privilege to continue her amazing legacy. In Nightbirde’s words: “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy”.
“Humbled by the honour bestowed upon us, the Mzansi Youth Choir dedicates this historic Group Golden Buzzer in memory of Jane Marczewski and her legacy.”
The Creative Team
Sidumo Nyamezele, music director
Sidumo Nyamezele completed his music and choral conducting studies at the Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), becoming a sought-after adjudicator of choral competitions. He was also the winning conductor of the Folklore section, at the World Choir Games 2019 with a 95% score. Sidumo conducted the World Youth Choir for two years whilst they toured extensively abroad, and is also involved in the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture’s Trainers Programme, guiding and lecturing aspirant conductors throughout South Africa, and conducting master classes and workshops globally. Currently, he is a member of the music department at St John’s School, Parktown, Houghton, Johannesburg, and holds the position of music director of the Mzansi Youth Choir.
Alfred Phakathi, artistic director and choreographer
Alfred Phakathi was the lead dancer and managing director of African Footprint which had 3 000 shows in Europe from 2000. Since his retirement as a professional dancer, he has been appointed as the Mzansi Youth Choir’s first artistic director and choreographer in 2010. He became a world leader in the new specialist space of choral choreography and Alfred is well known as the father of choral choreography in South Africa. He is also a freelance producer and artistic director of many corporate shows over Africa.
The abovementioned creatives are supported by the 2003 Founders, Dr Jannie, and Mrs Marina Zaaiman, who are responsible for administration and logistics.
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