Johannesburg - What started off as an experimental response to an overly Kwaito-saturated music scene in 1996 has given birth to an internationally acclaimed gospel group – Joyous Celebration.
The group celebrated its silver jubilee by launching its 25th album at the Joburg Theatre.
Not only is the album a big feat in South Africa, the brand has also signed with Universal Music Africa (UMA), a division of Universal Music Group (UMG). The stable is backed up by top US-based label Motown Gospel, which will release the group’s music in the US and Canada.
Looking back at how far the group has come, co-founder Lindelani Mkhize recalls his urge back in 1996 to introduce gospel music that he grew up on to the broader South African market. He envisioned music that did not emulate Rebecca Malope’s type of gospel music as many up-and-coming gospel artists opted to do during those times.
“A lot of gospel artists that came out sounded like Mam’ Rebecca Malope and I felt there was a big gap between the gospel I grew up on and the gospel that people had been accustomed to. I approached Pastor (Mthunzi) Namba first before we took the idea to Pastor (Jabu) Hlongwane to help bring this vision we had to life,” said Mkhize.
“The first two albums were badly received,” he said chuckling.
“I mean they did really bad, but I think it is because of the new style we were bringing onto the market. It was only on our third album that the reception grew when we started singing and producing original South African songs like We have crossed that people started to sit up and take note of what we were bringing to the table,” he said.
It was also at that time when the trio approached an array of already established artists like Sharon Dee, kwaito star Ntokozo, Bishop Benjamin Dube and Sibongile Khumalo, among others, to help grow the vision and brand to what it is today.
Mkhize has a music career that spans just over 35 years. He started off as part of a band in Umlazi, in KwaZulu-Natal, before being identified by Chicco Twala who invited him to come to Johannesburg.
“From there, other record labels that worked with Chicco identified and recognised that there is this young man who's very driven. I was employed at different institutions, starting off as a promotions person and grew from there to wearing different hats such as being a brand manager, to being a GM until the time when I was among the few that helped establish Sony in South Africa, to being an executive director and a managing director. Once we started Joyous Celebration, I decided to leave,” he said.
From the beginning, Joyous Celebration’s vision was to groom new talent and to give them a platform that has the potential to positively aid their careers – a vision that has manifested over the years.
“Coupled with our very strong vision, our clear mandate as a brand, and the big team that we have, all contributed to the success of the brand. Joyous was never a three-men’s ship but it took many other players to get it where it is today.”
For Mkhize, seeing the group soar to such great heights was never something he envisioned.
“In our early years, we were just purely driven by the passion to make good music and the passion to develop new talent. As the years went by, we attracted new audiences and that inspired us to keep on making music.
“When we got the opportunity to record Joyous 21 at the Potter’s House in the United States, that was the beginning of a global legacy that we have been working towards.
“With this new international partnership, we are bringing our unique Joyous and very much South African sound to the international market. That is why we went all out with old church hymns that have been sung for many many years.
“ We are presenting it to the American market boldly because we are not trying to lose who we are but instead we want them to learn from us because we do believe that they can learn a thing or two.”
As the brand grows into many generations, Mkhize hopes that it will forever be remembered for what it is doing, for what it has done, and what it is going to do.
“The fact is that a lot of young South African people got a platform through it and they got to pass through Joyous Celebration on their way to establishing their own careers, is exactly what I would really love to see JC being known and remembered for. A platform for musicians to establish and make a name for themselves.”