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

DIAMONDS & DUST (article first published : 2004-07-31)

Almost exactly a year ago today, I reviewed The Barnyard’s production Diamonds & Dust, a riotous celebration of some of the best contemporary music that has come out of South Africa. It pays tribute to artistes such as Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Johnny Clegg, Mango Groove, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Spokes Mashiyane.

The production could well be termed Kwela/Climb on Board! as audiences are taken on a colourful, high energy journey of top hit numbers from the early days of the humble but highly distinctive pennywhistle to the electronic keyboards of today.

On a return visit to The Barnyard at Gateway, the production shows no sign of wear and tear. I have been out of South Africa for three weeks and delighted in reconnecting with African sound and rhythm. Many people abroad tell me that they envy us here as being part of modern history. Last night, I would heartily agree that South Africa’s cultural road to full democracy is an exciting - not to mention, challenging! - route to travel.

Diamonds & Dust vocalists include Aubrey Poo, who narrates with great passion, alongside Barnyard favourite Percy Smith with Zami Mdingi, Durbanite Hlengiwe Lushaba, Rudi Cube and Labella Dani. In the muso line-up is another Barnyard favourite, Chris Luke, with Ringo Ndzuzo (who co-devised the show with Duck Chowles), Jerry Mbowa, David Hoko, Vusi Maseko and Blackie Tempi.

The programme moves along at a fast pace and the vocal harmonies are strong and exciting. They’re all there – favourites such as The Click Song, Pata Pata, Shosholoza, The Warrior, Mama Tembu's Wedding, Paradise Road, Impi, Shadow, Diamonds on the Souls of My Shoes, Jabulani and Great Heart. There is no acknowledgement for costume design but the outfits are attractive and the gown worn in African Dream is stunning.

The buzz at the opening night was that the show has a good chance of going to the Edinburgh Festival and then on to London’s West End. If this tour materialises, it will be a great coup for the Barnyard.

My memory of the first version doesn’t serve me well enough to identify any changes but, this time around, the second half of the show didn’t impress as much and the final narration becomes dangerously close to cloying sentimentality. Also, could it be that the wonderful chaos of the set is now a lot more upmarket? The Barnyard maintains that while the show is “true to the roots of local music, it is a cosmopolitan rather than an ethnic show”. If changes have been made to pander for the overseas market, it would be a shame. The world now knows a lot more about South Africa than it used to.

Mind you, if the show does go to London then Percy Smith’s costume which looks just like a Cockney Pearly King’s outfit, bar the hat, will go down a treat!

Diamonds & Dust runs from July 27 to September 19. Tickets R80 (Buy One Get One Free on Tuesday night and Sunday matinees). Bookings and enquiries on 031 566 3045, e-mail barngate@mweb.co.za or visit www.barnyardtheatre.co.za – Caroline Smart




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