From the coherent choice of songs to Brenda Yalezo’s thematically profound act of taking off her shoes on stage, Keletso Mofokeng’s show was one memorable parable of divine rest, writes Ace Moloi
The cold benches of the AFM Jubilate church located in the quasi-industrial area of Hilton, Bloemfontein, could do with some warm bodies on them as the city weathered flesh-tearing colds. But contrary to the retirement village we call parliament, the Season of Divine Rest concert was not a safe space for benchwarmers. Held on 5 June 2021 and organised by firebrand gospel artist, Keletso Mofokeng, the show was funded by the National Arts Council (NAC) and sponsored by Bon Hotel. It featured the chosen best of Free State stars and included performances by Andiswa Mbantsa, Khaya Sibanyoni and Esethu Siwe of the Joyous Celebration fame.
However, it was the Mangaung-based artists who doused the whole building with anointed gasoline before setting it on inextinguishable fire. Each of the acts that were booked for the day, including unadvertised ones such as the curtain-raising Impact Voices, was worth more than the R120 price per ticket. The show’s musical director, Lehlohonolo Molaba, who played first keys, unlocked the musical genius in his band, which comprised Tshenolo Mota on second keys, drummer Thoriso Mosikili, bassist Siyabulela Malaku and lead guitarist Shane Justice.
What is more, Keletso assembled an experienced team with beautifully interwoven musical voices as backing vocalists. Sopranos Palesa Nkgwedi and Dikeledi Ngeno, tenors Kagiso Khanye and Lucky Malaza, as well as altos Makaziwe Ntlola and Tebello Mphulenyana displayed clinical excellence in how they seconded each artist as if they were hired only for them.
CUT-trained teacher, Kabelo Mjone, built an altar for early birds to heat themselves up, while most people were still basking in the ‘local shows never start on time’ false glory. With nostalgia-inducing sing-alongs such as ‘Ha Le Mpotsa Tshepo Ya Ka’, Kabelo nudged us from the restless self-sufficiency of our times to cast our hopes on ‘nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness’, to mishmash the hymn with Hillsong Worship’s Cornerstone. Relevantly, the show was about divine rest: the confidence to say ‘tshepo ya ka ke Jesu’ in the fashion of decreeing and declaring, instead of honouring God’s will in every desire, in every fire.
Theologically, the concept of divine rest is a courageous move against the pressure – internal and external – to lead Instagrammably newsworthy lives. Responding to this phenomenon four years ago, American preacher and author, Priscilla Shirer, sharply asked: ‘Have we become so addicted to stress that we don’t even know how to enjoy rest anymore? Have we made an idol out of our exhaustion?’
Although the message of rest was impeccably timely, none of us at the show could rest as the interchange of riotous praise between Keletso (who performed songs from his debut album) and his friends kept us all standing.
Sidney M had everyone from ground floor to the balcony belting out the chorus to his hit song, Ha Re Tshabe Letho, like it was on high rotation on radio—something indicative of both the dynamism of the local gospel music scene and the loyalty it garnered. Sidney turned the architecturally conservative church into vibrant chanting with his urban Sesotho gospel sound, oozing Maverick City vibes.
Indeed, Sidney’s style positions him as a mouthpiece of a fearless generation. He is not alone, but has other daring singers like Clocolan-born paramedic Joseph Makhalanyane whose ‘Re Kgotsofetse’ called for contentment with Godliness, proclaiming: ‘Re kgotsofetse ke seo re leng sona, re dutse ho Jesu.’ And though it may hurt to rest in the Lord while going through a lot, another local artist, Rre Gao, has reached out to assure us that, ‘Dikeledi di tla oma, le pelo e tla fola, ha Modimo O araba.’
In the midst of all this rhapsody, it was Brenda Yalezo who reminded us of the churchy saying, ‘This is not a show.’ As she was being introduced, the crowd was already erupting into holy chaos—as if to thank God that she abandoned the secular stage for the ministry of psalms. When Brenda sang her new song, Sidumis’ Igama Lakho, a mass choir of tongues was conjured up as she travailed barefoot on stage like a groaning intercessor, scenting the atmosphere with her brand of visceral worship.
I am generally terrified of local gospel shows because of their overpopulated line-ups that sometimes look like friendship ‘favours’, straining one’s attention span like a pastor who keeps saying sendizo gqiba ngoku. But from the coherent choice of songs led by a smartly curated line-up to Brenda’s thematically profound act of taking off her shoes, Keletso Mofokeng’s concert was one memorable parable of divine rest.
Ace Moloi is an award-winning writer, Lesedi FM current affairs presenter and author of Holding My Breath as well as Diary of a Churchboy.