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

UMOJA CD (article first published : 2003-12-31)

Umoja is currently running in the Playhouse Opera until January 4 and if you haven’t seen this excellent show, I would strongly advise that you catch it in Durban before it finishes its season. It’s a high quality production from both performance and technical aspects.

A CD is on sale at R100 at performances, along with other memorabilia and this makes a good memento of an enjoyable evening’s entertainment as well as a suitable gift to send homesick South African friends living overseas. Certain songs have been translated to give the listener a better insight into this diverse South African culture and the experiences of its people. This means that it is also highly accessible to tourists or those unfamiliar with the music of this country.

According to the CD notes, the show developed from Baobab, a ten-man tribal show that successfully toured the world. The creators of Baobab - Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni - then joined forces with Ian von Memerty to develop Baobab into a full-strength musical.

Umoja charts the history of South African music, “from the powerful rhythms of tribal music, the intricate steps of gumboot dancing, the foot-stomping jazz of Sophiatown, the uplifting full-throated joy of Gospel, to the pounding energy of Kwaito and Pantsula."

The cast is highly-professional and musically disciplined, the drums used are authentic, the sound mix is good and the all-round reproduction of the CD is of a high quality.

One of KZN’s own is strongly featured with Umlazi-born Penuel “Hope” Bhekizitha Ndaba who plays the narrator. Hope originally worked with Todd and Thembi on a narrative storyline for Umoja, going on to incorporate into the story his own experiences as a musician. Also included in the CD line-up are Hugh Masekela, Dona Laka, McCoy Mrubata and Numba Numba.

The CD incorporates well-known numbers such as Pata Pata, Qongqothwane (aka The Click Song), Tula Baba, the langorous Laku Tshon’ Ilanga and the show-stopping Paradise Road. With some of the lyrics featured on the CD cover leaflet, listeners can get to learn the words! Theatre doyenne Joan Brickhill is acknowledged as the voice and dialogue coach which explains the good articulation and vocal presentation.

The well-illustrated leaflet is an information package in itself, explaining particular items of traditional dress, gumboot dancing, the dompas, the culture of Sophiatown and Soweto (an acronym for South Western Township) and the basics of beadwork.

Such has been the demand for this vibrant box office hit that there are currently two casts performing in the East and the United Kingdom respectively. If it comes your way, don’t hesitate to see it and enjoy the rhythm of Africa for a couple of hours! Better still, buy the CD and play it at your leisure. – Caroline Smart




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