The talented Soweto-based choir also received an audience Golden Buzzer, resulting in an astonishing six Golden Buzzers at the same time. This takes them straight into the competition’s semi-finals set for August 2023.
Mzansi Youth Choir at AGT 2023
Mzansi Youth Choir 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 admirable way in which Jane approached her challenges in life inspired the choristers, who felt it would be appropriate to continue her legacy by singing their interpretation of her original song.
The choir celebrates its 20th birthday in July 2023, so their participation at AGT 2023 – before a world audience of over 10 million viewers – is an incredible birthday present. It is also their most significant highlight since they hosted their first performance on 23 November 2003 in the modest Old City Hall of Alberton, Gauteng, with choristers performing in their own clothes. Over the years, the choir developed and grew, and today, they are humbled by Simon Cowell’s statement: “You defined what this show absolutely is all about.”
The Group Golden Buzzer
The choir’s music director, Sidumo Nyamezele, explains their historic achievement, “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 Group Buzzer 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, adds, “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 artistes 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 Mzansi Youth Choir decide to perform It’s OK, an original composition by Nightbirde? America’s Got Talent (AGT) seasons are very popular in Soweto. Nightbirde’s remarkable story on AGT in 2021 inspired all the choristers. 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.” This immediately changed everyone’s moods for the better, enabling them to continue in a positive manner.
The Musical Director, Sidumo Nyamezele, took a decision to arrange, rehearse and record Nightbirde’s 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 four 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!” the group says.
“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 choir’s Creative Team includes Sidumo Nyamezele as music director and Alfred Phakathi as artistic director and choreographer. Its founders are Dr Jannie and Mrs Marina Zaaiman, who are responsible for administration and logistics.