Monday, April 24, 2006

REVIEW: The Power of 'Umoja'

A THUNDER AND LIGHTNING SHOW singing among the clouds, the South African tour-de-force, Umoja, is now traveling the U.S. With Mandela-like poise, Bhekizitha Penuel Ndaba, narrates this unforgettable two-hour musical journey. With unswerving verve, the colorful 30+ member cast transports the audience through pre-colonial, apartheid, and post-apartheid South Africa.

After an explosive opening ensemble of Zulu drumming, song, and dance, Umoja celebrates South Africa's rural pre-colonial history with a wall-shaking tribal drum sequence, an evocative bare-breasted Zulu mating dance, and an otherworldly, glow-in-the-dark Venda snake dance.

Paying homage to the urbanized apartheid era, Umoja moves to Durban and Johannesburg: a 1950's a capella doo-wop inspired talent show; a raunchy Shebeen (a sort of speakeasy formed when Blacks were forbidden to congregate); a tin can dance for HIV awareness; gumboot dancing (a form of communication which developed when workers were forbidden to speak to each other in the mines); and a soul-splitting Gospel sequence which electrifies the sky.

Umoja climaxes with high-powered kwaito, the part house, part hip-hop, part reggae youth music of the post-apartheid era. The women's dizzying, ass-shaking dance solos make Miami-bass dancers look like convalescent two-steppers. Umoja then returns to its rural roots with a graceful balancing act, a delicate dance to the river, balancing pails to fetch water, and an athletic warrior dance with spears. Umoja is a spectacle not to be missed.

Some reviewers have criticized Umoja's lack of politics, particularly its cursory treatment of apartheid, but instead of spouting rhetoric, the show's creators, Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, live it. Umoja, the Xhosa word for togetherness, started years ago as a series of community dance workshops for underpriveleged Soweto youth. Forty countries and four continents of spreading South African culture later, these same youth comprise Umoja's touring cast.

After wildly successful runs in South Africa, Canada, and Europe, Umoja is now playing in Atlanta at the Civic Center through this Sunday, April 30 with New York, Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, and LA. soon to follow.

See when Umoja is coming to your town. And get your tickets today!


Kelvin said...

Kia Ora (Hello) from a blogger down under in new Zealand. I read through some of your blog (I'll be back) and found it very interesting to read about a different culture.

Anonymous said...

Ayo, this is an excellent review of the show. You are a talented writer. I feel this entry should be in a major newspaper.