Touching the soul of Africa

inala cast

Inala – A Zulu ballet

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

IF one word was to sum up Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music, it would be joyous. Even their songs of toil and sadness are sung with a smile and a feeling that the future is always brighter.

And with Inala, according to the programme Zulu for abundance of goodwill, they have added another string to their considerable bow with a Zulu ballet which sees the internationally renowned male choir teamed with 10 dancers to create the spirit of Africa in movement and song.

LBM as they are popularly known, are predominantly isicathamiya singers, isicathamiya being the traditional music of the Zulu people, a form of a cappella singing which has no direct translation but can be taken as walking softly, which describes not only the soft and remarkably tight close harmonies but also the gestures and choreographed steps to accompany the singing.

Inala though includes music and five excellent musicians, two percussion, a haunting collaboration of viola and cello and piano all under musical director Rob Barron from the Zulu heartlands of  . . . East Yorkshire.

The result is an interesting combination of music and a cappella singing with Barron’s charges playing  at the rear of the stage complementing rather than accompanying the singing of LBM with the movement of the 10 dancers in front, although dancers and singers intermingle more and more as the ballet progresses with both emotions and humour on display.

It is a heady mix of traditional Zulu musicinala dancer, contemporary dance and modern music. Among the dancers, incidentally was Mark James Biocca, now with The National Ballet of Hungary, who danced with Birmingham Royal Ballet while at the Royal Ballet School a decade or so ago.

Indeed several of the dancers are past or current members of Rambert and the Royal Ballet as could be seen from the quality on display.

A traditional Zulu music form combines with modern dance to create a taste of South Africa

The music comes from Ella Spira along with the songs of LMB’s founder, Joseph Shabalala and other members of the group – a group which is very much a family affair with four of Joseph’s sons and a grandson, along with close relatives in the nine man line-up.

And the songs are what makes this show so special, songs about everyday events in Africa or indeed anywhere. There are songs about work, about being talked about behind your back, falling out and falling in love, with the tender Eza Malobolo, (I have found the one!).

Followed by the insistent Khulumanaye telling the young man to talk to the girl while Wamuhle Ntombi tells the girl it is time to make her mind up.

After the interval we find she has done just that with the sad, moving and poignant Ngisele Ngedwa, (You have left me today, my heart is painful, broken.).

There are songs about friendship and family and happiness – particularly when the dowry of cattle for the wedding that never was are returned. Usizi is a song of hope telling us that no matter what we keep going

It all comes down to a lovely song of farewell Siyo Phinda Futhi Sibonane.inala

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s traditional Zulu music is hypnotic with its call and response, rhythmical format and along with the dancing it paints, if not exactly a picture, a feeling of Africa which becomes quite mesmerising. There is a depth and feeling to the music which has a nobility all of its own, singing of the human spirit and emotions, which is quite a contrast to much of our modern music.

Members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo had to learn some dancing skills for this amalgam of traditional African music and contemporary dance

The lighting from Ben Cracknell is simple and effective on an open stage and even a 10 minute interruption while computer software was rebooted after a technical fault failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the audience.

Except for musicologists and collectors the West knew little of African music until recently. We had heard the music of its American offsprings, delivered by its slavery midwife, African music and rythyms evolving into spirituals, worksongs, blues and jazz but perhaps the first stirring of the voice of Africa in the West was the Zulu warrior songs and chants in the 1964 film Zulu.

Then came Paul Simon’s landmark Graceland in 1986 and Ladysmith Black Mambazo went from a popular South African isicathamiya group, banned from competing in competitions because they were too good incidentally, to international superstars; overnight sensations . . . after only a mere 26 years.

As communications make the world smaller day by day we are discovering an amazing wealth of talent in Africa particularly South Africa, with not only LBM but the likes of Cape Town Opera and the world is a richer place for it.

This is a stirring show with magical music which touches the soul of Africa. To 29-07-15

Roger Clarke

27-07-15

THE New Alexandra Theatre has had a facelift in the upstairs entrance areas making it one of the swishest theatres in the West Midlands with black and chrome bars which could have come from a the set of hotel or nightclub from the golden age of Hollywood, more space for customers and a new dark wooden floor and décor. A splendid transformation and welcome ongoing investment from owners ATG.

Cheers and standing ovation

****

THE word Inala means abundance of goodwill, and this Zulu ballet certainly had plenty of that and received a warm reception from the opening night audience.

Cheers and a standing ovation from a decent number of the customers indicated that the mixture of cultures on stage, particularly in the dancing, was a welcome new experience.

The show had a sell-out run at the Edinburgh International Festival with it’s unique collaboration between the Ladysmith Black Mambazo and world class current and former dancers from the Royal Ballet and Rambert.

Overcoming a ten-minute stoppage in the first half through a technical hitch, the singers and dancers quickly combined to deliver a fascinating programme, with musicians on stage and the haunting throb of drums creating a perfect atmosphere.

The male singers, in line at the rear of stage then occasionally moving in a circle and providing sudden high kicks, added a dash of humour at times, too, but the powerful visual impact came from the male and female dancers who were excellent.

Although the intricate rhythms can seem rather repetitive, the choreography of Mark Baldwin is hugely impressive and the audience are invited to enjoy the theme of life in South Africa and consider what the journey has meant to them.

Judging by the reaction, quite a bit. To 29.07.15

Paul Marston 

Contents page Alex Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre