South African pop music was introduced to most Americans via Paul Simon's Graceland back in 1986, but aside from vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (who are slated to perform in Memphis next month), the troubled country's amazing music tradition hasn't made much of a lasting impact on American listeners. This week's a rare chance for Memphians to play catch-up as the 26-member Soweto Gospel Choir, a vocal group in the Ladysmith Black Mambazo tradition, play Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.
On their most recent album, Blessed, the choir mixes American-oriented English numbers with more explicitly South African material. Predictably, the trad-gospel stuff ("Oh Happy Day," "Swing Down") is of less interest, but the South African songs -- the traditional "Mbube," the Mambazo cover "Lelilungelo Ngelakho," the shimmying "Njalo," with a rhythm section schooled in the pop style mbaqanga -- soar. I saw a subset of the group perform on Late Night with Conan O'Brien a few weeks ago: If you think good American gospel choirs are fun to watch, wait until you see these men and women dart and dive and dip with an acrobatic glee that matches their dynamic music.
Soweto Gospel Choir, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 9th, Mississippi Boulevard christian Church (information, 312-9787), $20 in advance, $25 at the door