Amambazo: The Musical – the stage production that tells the story of how South Africa’s acclaimed Ladysmith Black Mambazo contributed to freeing the country from apartheid – was launched in Durban at the weekend.
A cast of 24 professionals and up-and-coming artists will stage the production to live musical accompaniment, in something of an isicathamiya/jazz/afro fusion.
At least that’s what it seemed like at the launch where the cast performed a small dedication to Ladysmith Black Mambazo who were also in attendance. Their performance was well received by all judging by the roaring applause.
Organisers said that during the apartheid era when South Africa was slowly becoming a war zone, especially with raging black-on-black violence, Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Amambazo) came up with songs of hope using their unique African a cappella to deliver a message of love and unity.
Their music went on to gain international appeal leading to collaborations with the likes of Paul Simon and Dolly Parton.
The Amambazo story will now be told through this theatre musical production; created by Professor Joseph Shabalala (who also leads Amambazo). It is written and directed by internationally acclaimed playwright Edmund Mhlongo, and executively produced by Xolani Majozi.
Speaking about the production, Mhlongo said that working on it was a great honour for him, but one that also comes with high expectations.
“The challenge has been trying to match the established artists with the upcoming artists. We push them because this is Ladysmith Black Mamabazo, Grammy Award-winning artists, so that’s the level they must aspire to,” he explained.
The sound of the musical would be a mix of isicathamiya, afro-jazz, and maskandi, “…a taste of KZN music”, he said.
Mhlongo stressed that it was important that the audience knows that the musical is not about the group itself. “It’s not just the story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but rather the story of the journey to freedom in South Africa and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s contribution to this, through their music.”
The cast have been rehearsing for months from 8am to 10pm daily. And judging by what they showcased at the press launch, it looks like their hard work is paying off.
“We have to achieve that balance between the good music and emotion on stage… It’s going to surprise a lot of people because what we’re trying to do has never been done before,” said Mhlongo.
Shabalala certainly seemed pleased with what he saw.
He said it was “amazing” for the group to be honoured in their home. Growing up on a farm, they never expected their “farm music” to have such an impact in the mainstream field, he enthused.
Commenting on the performance of the cast, he said: “It was like they just knew what I was thinking about. They have shown respect for us.”
Majozi said, “As a new generation we cannot offer Ladysmith Black Mambazo a Grammy, but we can put together the best musical in the history of the country. Their story is a South African story and there’s a sense of belonging with it, their’s is not just the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but a South African story,” he added.
Mambazo – The Musical comes hot on the heels of a successful season at the end of last year in the Playhouse in Durban.
The musical has 25 cast members, a five piece band and nine members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
• PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: Previews: April 9 to12 and April 15 and 16 at 8pm; and April 13 at 3pm. Opening night is on April 17 with performances following from Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm at the Drama State Theatre until May 11. They will be performing at the Edinburg Festival in August. “We want to follow in the footsteps of Ladysmith Black Mambazo by creating a legacy with this production.”