Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Beat - Song for Ife

It’s all in the hips she said
How the swaying leads to the dips she said
Like the way there’s a curve in our lips she said
When one prepares for a kiss she said
Now I know it’s one of those that must be said
When an African muses on the drum she said
There’s a spiritual evoke it provokes she said
The finesse in the balance in the stroke she saidSee the secret is in me she said
Way before I knew me was me she said
I guess my mother knew, she must have knew she said
The way she crept in the shadows and she stared she said
Mother had the fear she said
The fear that man couldn’t comprehend she said
Their eyes on my guise and their lies she said
Mother said it’s about time I realised she said
And that aroused a pain in me she said
It’s like I was to blame she blamed me she said
That her husband came after me she said
Old husband wanted me and not her she said
Every night it was me she said
And every cry was from me she said
I would close my eyes and ask mother why she said
Why she crept in the shadows and just watched she said
And I knew she was watching she said
Her eyes were unnerved as she watched she said
and her fist ooo her fist they were clutching she said
And when it was all over mother said NOTHING she said
so it’s one of those things that must be said
When an African muses on the drum she said
A young girl muses on the drum she said
An old man plays the beats on the drum she said

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Umoja - Review

The show opens with a salvo of drum patterns, huge men beat ferociously as if the decades of oppression they endured were now bundled into the hollow depths of this instrument they played.

This is "Umoja" we're told by our narrator Gregory Mkhabla, a man who I can only liken to a sub Saharan Morgan Freeman with his deeply melancholy voice, he goes on to explain; " it is a word from Swahili meaning togetherness", and there was a familial togetherness on stage as we had glimpses of a past Zulu nation, a nation that roared with sheer vigour and power. The men, spear in one hand and shield in the other leapt and tumbled, their chests pounded with intent and they grappled each other for respect and honour. The women, exposed to the world were vivid, their guise tempting and voices rejoiced in unison as they beautifully harmonised the spirit of togetherness through musical number and dance. Occasionally they will spill out into the auditorium in full glory, unapologetic, vibrant and intimidating as if to reclaim a land that once belonged to them; this was evident in the wildness in their eyes.

Many are aware of the story of Apartheid and political fraction in South Africa; Film, Art and Theatre have all played their part in contributing to this discourse. I remember none more fondly than Sarafina; a musical by Mbongeni Ngema depicting students involved in the Soweto Riots, in opposition to apartheid. Umoja, however doesn't fall into that category, in fact, it did everything it possibly could to sway away from the politics and harsh reality of living in South Africa, instead what we have is the optimist's approach, satirical reflection of mainstream South African culture and the decision to revel in wondrous discovery of Sheebebs underground clubs where, we're told, the likes of Miriam Makeba and the Soul Brothers careers were birthed.

Todd Twala's choreography although engaging at first became repetitive and all too predictable, the music seemed at its best in the first half when the richness of African voices flowed easily and with cadence to traditional music, the transition into contemporary Kwaito seemed unnatural and the Gospel explosion turned our spirited songstress into Sister Mary Clarence.

This didn't matter however, what we saw was a new nation celebrating its history, their spirit relentless and passion uninhibited. Their message was clear and poignant; it's the past and present that makes us great, the spirit of Umoja travels through time and on a night where sub zero temperature battered the streets of London, I was at least grateful to be transported to a warmer climate.

Booking until February 19, Box Office: 0844 412 4300