Shabalala’s life a stage musical

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TO amambazo 2

AMAMBAZO – THE MUSICAL

CREATOR: Joseph Shabalala

DIRECTOR: Edmund Mhlongo

CAST: Ladysmith Black Mambazo and others

RUNNING TIME: 170 minutes

VENUE: Drama, State Theatre Pretoria

UNTIL: May 11

RATING: ***

Amambazo is a musical fully grounded in the tribute category, providing us in a matter of some two-and-a-half hours a clear and often haunting overview of the life of Joseph Shabalala, founder and leader of the world renowned Ladysmith Black Mambazo(LBM).

Among many other international plaudits, they have received four Grammy Awards.

In a career spanning some 50 years, Shabalala created Mambazo’s world-famous and instantly identifiable a capella sounds, based on the famous indigenous isicathamiya music style.

Apart from using music as a subtle tool for societal change, throughout their continuous career as a group they also preserved a precious musical heritage while entertaining audiences around the globe. In South Africa itself their music’s influence on political change and the abiding quest for freedom was palpable, without ever becoming a fully-fledged struggle instrument. Mixing art and politics can be dangerous.

In many ways, Amambazo has a clever structure. Shabalala’s life story as the naturally gifted musician and singer he was from an early age as well as his slowly budding love life is shown in detail. A narrator keeps us informed about the many influences which shaped his life, becoming part of the staged storyline.

The whole development of the Mambazo concept grows in front of our eyes and ears through the talents of younger singer-actors representing the early years of the group. They are excellent in both their singing and movement, but at the end of the day it is the magic of Mambazo’s harmonies and their ensemble precision that form the core of this musical’s soul.

There are lively tribal dancing sequences, with costumes to die for, while many a joyous moment sticks in the mind. In the long run, aspects of Amambazo become a bit predictable and repetitive, while the tempo of the production reflected some slackness leaning towards tediousness.

However, when the real, current LBM with Joseph Shabalala’s son, Thamsanqa, leading them, moves on to the stage, there is not only a new thrust of energy experienced on stage but the knowledge of how brilliant the group who sang and played the “young” Mambazo actually was in expressing the essence of the adult group’s art.

All the hit songs over the decades are included in this show which nearly overstayed its welcome nearer to the end when, in massed choruses and dances for outlandish songs like Oh Happy Day and A World in Union, the focus on the main theme was lost.

While one never doubts the seriousness in which the Department of Arts and Culture promotes and bolsters the indi- genous arts and artists, one is quite flabbergasted that nowhere are the names of the actors, singers, dancers and musicians to be found – not in the printed programme, on a screened background or on the internet. This after seven previews!

The predominantly young cast of Amambazo needs the kind of exposure where every role is coupled to a name in print. It is only fair to them that their name can grow with the level of talent every individual exposes on a public stage like this. Please have proper, informative programmes printed in future, or at least have a cast list ready for reviewers.

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