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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

ISILILO SIKANANDI (article first published : 2008-07-6)

Working under his new independent production, Mhayise Productions, acclaimed Durban dancer and choreographer Musa Hlatshwayo premiered his latest work on the Fringe of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Titled Isililo sikaNandi, it is billed as a dynamic exploration of Queen Nandi’s silenced role in King Shaka’s reign.

Queen Nandi was only betrothed – not married - to Shaka’s father, Chief Senzangakhona, at the time she fell pregnant by him. On telling the elders of the tribe, they dismissed this seemingly preposterous claim as the cause of an intestinal parasite – a stomach beetle – called an ishaka. This is how she named the son who was to become one of the world’s legendary war tacticians. When Queen Nandi fell out of favour, she was expelled from the Zulu people and, taking her son with her, took refuge among the Mthethwa where she raised the young boy to manhood.

Musa Hlatshwayo has created a slow-moving but intense piece that focuses on this story and builds up to warlike proportions.

We see the young boy following his regal mother, carrying her royal train until she is divested of her finery and they flee for their lives. She now follows him, guiding, supporting and teaching. He becomes stronger, fitter, angrier and this is when the reason for the numerous black and white open umbrellas lining the stage becomes evident.

There is an African indigenous game called Umlabalaba designed by herdsmen to teach tactful and strategic thinking while sharpening one’s intellect. It was also used to assessing the strategic skills of the chief’s advisers. Like a chess game, it requires two opponents – the desired aim being to line up three tokens (in this case, the umbrellas) in a straight line. As mother and son play it, it becomes quickly apparent who has become the smarter tactician of the two. As each token is removed from the board, the umbrella is snapped shut and flung to the floor, indicative of the number of victorious moves - or removal of his enemies - Shaka made on his way toward becoming the most formidable of the Zulu Kings. – Caroline Smart




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