Joyous celebrate making fashionable melodies
Gospel group Joyous Celebration are as serious about ushering their audiences into the presence of God as they are about fashion. Performing since 1994, the multi-award-winning group has worked with a number of stylists to help them capture their audience's attention visually.
For the group's longstanding stylist, Given Mabena, only the best fabric will do. Mabena has been doubling as a singer and the group's stylist since their 17th album, and is still making fashionable melodies as they are preparing to record their 23rd album.
"We don't compromise when it comes to the fabric - we use the most expensive, best quality material. We've sourced fabric from Vereeniging, Cape Town, Kenya, Ghana and even as far as Germany. That's how seriously we take our shows," Mabena said.
The singer said as much as Joyous Celebration were a gospel group they felt it was important that audiences could relate to them.
"Christianity should reflect the beauty and class, and that should evolve with time. We go beyond our imaginations to ask what we can give the people. We want to be relevant, young people must look at us and see that there is life in God," Mabena said.
While preparations for their live album recording in December is intensifying, Mabena has yet to nail down a design for this year. It is rare for the group to repeat outfits, except when they are doing album tours locally and internationally.
The brief for this year's recording, from the choir's co-founder, Lindelani Mkhize, is it must be "fresh and funky".
"We are working on a new look for this year. We are hoping young people will see gospel can be fun, that it can be 'lit', as the young people say," Mkhize said.
Mabena said he usually draws inspiration from style magazines such as Hello and GQ. "I'm inspired by the royal family, and I see Joyous Celebration as a gem of our country."
Next weekend the group will be concluding their nationwide tour of Joyous Celebration 22: All for You. The audience can see the group in their military-inspired regalia.
"With All for You I wanted to portray that we are soldiers for God and that we are serious, that's where the military look came from," Mkhize said.
Both Mkhize and Mabena understand that their audience needs to be visually stimulated.
"Before you open your mouth, you need to make sure you can excite the audience. When you look clumsy, people won't take you seriously," Mabena said.
In any given show the choir, with its 46 members, has two to three outfit changes. Soloists wear a different outfit for their particular song.
"Everything is tailor-made. The military outfits were fresh, contemporary and made especially for us. It comes to about R5,000 per person," Mkhize said.
With maintaining their social relevance comes criticism. "We perform to a large variety of people and sometimes conservative people complain that the ladies are showing too much. We should be respectable and presentable in understanding who the audience is. It's important that the singer feels comfortable," Mkhize said.
Requests to copy their looks have led to another initiative whereby the group donates their outfits to a choir in the various cities in which they perform.
• The group will be at the Sun Arena at Time Square in Menlyn, on Saturday.