Jenny de Klerk
Step inside the shebeen, a place of corrugated iron and dusty bottles, where liquor is made and sold and the people gather to forget their troubles.
Behind the colourful tin set rise the towers and buildings of the Joburg CBD, a reminder that the powers-that-be are watching. It is the 1950s, a time of police raids and passbooks, when shebeens were not supposed to exist.
The background is introduced, but is virtually forgotten. Kwela Bafana+ is not a musical, or even a musical story – it is a somewhat nostalgic glimpse at a time past.
Ultimately it is all about the music, an exuberant, toe-tapping swirl of slick moves and close harmonies, rendered by an endearing and enthusiastic foursome – Dumisani Mhlanga, Siphiwe Nkabinde, Andries Mbali and Joel Zuma – who take turns with the big numbers.
Velephi Khumalo is Sis Peggy, the shebeen owner, with big-voiced razzmatazz, nicely contrasted with her plaintive number in memory of her husband. Sihle Ndaba brings both talent and youthful innocence as her daughter Ntombi.
They are backed by the Kwela Bafana band – keyboards, double bass and guitar, drums, sax and the evocative kwela, or penny whistle, led by veteran Bra B Ngwenya on piano. An original member of the Woody Wood Peckers, he contributes a couple of numbers.
It was a time when the traditional was merging and meshing with the movies – times were changing and the numbers, costumes and choreography reflect it. There’s a dreamy Summertime with the sax to the fore, a rousing King Kong and, of course, Meadowlands.
The music flows in a constant stream, interspersed with some clever skits, including a couple of bugs eyeing their next victims in the dompass prison and a hilarious sketch of the bucket patrol racing their horse and cart through the streets on their daily, exceedingly smelly journey.
It is vibrant, exuberant, a lightning fast patter in several languages – not always understandable if you have limited grasp of the vernacular, but the joy is tangible.
Not being a fanatical ’50s fan, I found Kwela Bafana+ a bit repetitive, but the audience loved it.
If they weren’t already on the feet dancing at the end, they would have given the show a standing ovation.