Arty Party @ the Playhouse: Heritage music is more than just sonic artefacts.

I needed the coast and its vegetation, I’ve convinced myself I breathe better there. It happens sometimes, and this time I took a really good bad decision to get some Durban humidity and some culture at the Playhouse Company. I had seen, they were having their first post-hard lockdown weekend performances, Mbuso Khoza and the heritage ensemble whom I missed every time they were in Jozi, double billing with the incredible Ladysmith black Mambazo as some sort of cultural heritage music preservation project, those were my first thoughts. The other show, was a 18th century masterpiece by a Austrian Joseph Haydn, the Piece, a oratorio titled The Creation, intrigued me, and I hadn’t watched a classical show in a while… probably since my university days. So I gathered a friend down to Durban for a weekend, a working holiday of sorts. and I’m a better person for it. Avoided the beaches due to the possibility of crowding but got a cleansing from the music surely.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a world renowned accapela group that sings in the Isichathamiya style of popular in South Africa. Evolving from “Mbube” genre, which sought to emulate the sounds around in he environment, Isthathamiya had to adapt to a restrictive enviroment, and channel its energy while conserving it. Johannesburg as Gold mining town also served as incubator for many genres of music, sounds, including this ischathamiya sound with its pianisimo which needed to be perfected for rehearsals to continue under these strict compound curfews. Alternative legend has it that, the founder of the group after finding himself in the city had a chance encounter with bass profundo Mahlathini Nkabinde, who then performed in a band “the Alexandra Black Mambazo”. Inspired by the possibilities of making music, Joseph Shabalala decided to head home to Mnambithi, Ladysmith, and started his own “black Mambazo” in 1960. This legendary Group of singers are the kings of Isichathamiya who have helped spread South Africa’s frequency across the world, they celebrated their 60th anniversary this 2020. Imagine that. and there is nothing to say except they are amazing, perfectly rehearsed, with a stage intelligence that can only be bred by experience. Its a wonder also how they have managed to blend the age groups and keep order in the sound, rooted in tradition, there is a lesson here for society.

Black Mambazo performing at The Playhouse Company Durban.

The Playhouse Company as the premier theatre company on Kwa-Zulu Natal hosted an Evening of Music and Entertainment provided by the Mbuso Khoza & The Heritage Ensemble, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Originally billed a cultural music concert… it was the first show that allowed for an audience to be present since lockdown began. The show surpassed all expectation with 2 bonus Poems, An Opening by Poem By Kwazi Dlangisa and in between the intermission another poem by Thando Fuze. I’ve always suspected that Durban and even Pretoria were cities more serious about Poetry than Johannesburg, poetry always seems to feature, somehow. it was a pleasant surprise from the Show directed by Thuli Zuma. The Playhouse building itself it very colonial, regal almost as if the queen of england herself used to come enjoy private performances there. It is impressive to the extent to which resources guaranteed, black women continue to amaze us with the work they are doing in the theatre space.

Mbuso Khoza and his band were the first act, an impressive line-up of Brass Section, Bass, Keys and Drums… the performed a great repertoire of Mbuso’s compositions and a worthy cover of Jabu Khanyile’s “Sponky ponky Love”. Following that he called to stage the Afrika heritage ensemble, and what a wonder it was. A presentation of a sonic heritage that exists in the artistic realm and outside the usual confining of such culturally authentic presentations to a “Cultural exhibitionism” is that is both voyeuristic interpretation, and catering for a western gaze… but not this, this is truly heritage, presented as an Artform and not a lesser musical artefact of uncivilisation according to some. This is an honouring of the civilisation and dexterity of an Authentic African sound, which should satiate even the world music market that determines the extent to which “exotic” sounds are musical and thus commodifiable. This work by Mbuso Khoza and His Afrikan Heritage ensemble is a valuable one which needs further support so it can be emulated and used a a vehicle to better understand what we’re losing with every new foreign ideology and preference not rooted in tradition, heritage…

Mbuso Khoza Admiring the band of musicians he’s chosen for the gig.

But first, things that happen at the theatre need to be advertised better… made more appealing to younger audiences who desperately need exposure to a variety of higher arts other than the virtuality provided by screens on gadgets… the virtuality is important, as the opposite of reality, what art can offer sometimes, is important… it just needs to be rooted in some tradition, with the narrative controlled to avoid “our Art” being reduced to artefacts of a dying analogue world… needing to be kept preserved and protected. No, not this, not on our watch.

The Show will be available for streaming soon.

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