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

BAYEDE SHAKA – THE SPEAR IS BORN (article first published : 2001-03-13)

The K-Cap Alive Kids have every right to be proud of their artistic director. Edmund Mhlongo is a young man to be reckoned with. Barely out of his university years, he wrote his own musical having previously co-written and directed a drama and actively contributed to the 1988 University of Durban-Westville’s Cultural Festival.

Between 1994 and 1996 he produced the We Are Alive musical on Durban street children, took it twice to the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and went on to tour London and Denmark … twice!. He then created Cry Not Child, a musical on the impact of landmines on children, and Our Voice, Our Rights which dealt with child labour. Both productions toured to the United Kingdom and were highly successful.

His latest production, Bayede Shaka: The Spear is Born jointly presented by The British Council, had already notched up a successful six-week UK tour before it opened at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre last week. It has been invited to Norway in June, then to the UK from September to November and will be back to South Africa for a run at the Market Theatre in December.

That all amounts to a success story in my book.

Performed in both English and Zulu, Bayede Shaka is unashamedly a “KZN cultural tourism export”. Honestly presented, it’s a highly energetic and colourful musical. While staying mainly in the style of the traditional Zulu dance genres, there are occasional forays into the realms of gospel music. The 22 strong cast and the live band work at full tilt from beginning to end. From Edmund, audiences sure get their money’s worth. In fact, the production could do with about 15 minutes judicious pruning.

Edmund has carefully selected a strong cast. As Shaka, Mfundo Msibi is impressive – first as a wild-eyed, ambitious and vengeful young man who gradually assumes the mantle of royalty, dignity and power and then later when his world falls apart after the death of his mother. Brenda Mhlongo – she of the glorious voice and stage presence – is a stately and controlled Nandi but joyously lets rip in the finale. Yena Duma and Zimhlophe Shembe were also notable for sustained performances.

The musical tracks Shaka’s path as he forces the various Zulu clans to unite, ruling his warriors with an iron fist and tolerating no weaknesses. “You can only rule the Zulus by scaring them”, he states vehemently. “My name must inspire them with terror.”

While the cast performs well and there is discipline rather than regimentation in their movement, much attention is needed in the principals’ handling of the English language. Edmund would do well to bring in a dialogue coach for a few lessons. It’s my guess that most overseas audiences don’t wholly benefit from the production but simply enjoy the music and dance, finding the dialogue difficult to follow and thereby losing out on a lot of good aspects of the script.

The show runs until March 25. Booking at Computicket, credit cards call (031) 304-2753 or book directly at http://www.computicket.com.




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