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

PLAYHOUSE ISICATHAMIYA WINNERS (article first published : 2000-11-8)

The National Isicathamiya Competition held at the Playhouse Opera Theatre on November 4 has been hailed by the organisers as a resounding success. The ambience outside the Playhouse complex during this night-long event was noisy, friendly, vibrant and buzzing. Buses were parked everywhere and stallholders offering cooked meat or fruit did a roaring trade.

In every corner possible - wherever they could find a quiet spot - groups frantically rehearsed to put the final touch to their pieces. Sometimes barely yards from each other, it is a measure of the strong discipline accompanying this traditional song/dance style that each group remain utterly focused on their respective compositions. It was a warm night and one smart group rehearsed shirtless, making sure that their attire remained in the regulation pristine, impeccable condition for the competition.

One hundred choirs from as far afield as Gauteng and Swaziland converged on the Playhouse for this annual evening of prizes, prestige and non-stop choral music. Choirs had a time limit of five minutes to present their songs although this did not seem to include their entrances and exits. In some cases, these took a considerable length of time as choir leaders tried movement styles Ė some marched, some crept like chickens or moved like graveside mourners - to distance their groups from the rest of the competition.

I have to admit that I didnít have the stamina to last the night through until the early hours but, taking into consideration the quality of the choirs that I observed while I was there, I didnít envy the judges in their difficult task of coming to a final decision.

I would have liked to have seen more visual interest on the stage and have, over the years, suggested a clock at the back of the stage behind the performers or on the proscenium arch which only the audience can see. Each choir leader has to trust his instinct and a well-constructed composition Ė or the occasional glance at his watch - to judge the five minute performance time. After this, the official rings a bell and presumably points are deducted for each minute thereafter that the choir still sings.

It would provide an added interest to the audience to see the clock approaching its cut-off time for two reasons. One is the skilful way a leader will bring his choir to a close and the other is to acknowledge those groups whose compositions have been specifically created to fill a five minute slot. Often some came to a close just as the official bent to pick up the bell!

Winners in the Top Twenty Section were Uhleb Olusha, with Kala Baai Boys in second place and Real Happy Singers placed third. Royal Messengers scooped top honours in Section One, with Zulu Messengers in second place and Ubuhle Bemvelo placed third.

In the Open Section, Mpumalanga White Birds came first, Khumbuza Art Boys came second and Jama Lucky Stars placed third.




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