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FOR THE young rising star, actor and playwright Wiseman Ngcube, playing the role of Joseph Shabalala, leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, in a groundbreaking musical that premiers in Durban this week, is a dream come true.
“My brother and I grew up on their music. We would spend our weekends just sitting around and listening to the Isicathamiya sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Ladysmith is the name of Shabalala’s home town; black is a reference to oxen and “mambazo” is the Zulu word for “axe”).
“So when I heard about this musical I was over the moon. I told my parents and they are so excited, they can’t wait to see it.”
Durbanites will know Ngcube from the host of achievements he’s garnered during his short career. They include Best Newcomer at The Mercury Durban Theatre Awards, Best Actor and Stand Ovation Awards at the Musho International Festival of One and Two-hander Theatre, and Best Production and Best Script Awards at the Isigcawu Community Theatre Festival.
Now, Ngcube has taken on his first musical, in which he plays the lead role of Shabalala in Amambazo: The Musical.
The production, which opens this week, pays homage to the Grammy Award-winning group and has been described by its director, Edmond Mhlongo, as the story of the journey to freedom in South Africa and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s contribution to this.
Ngcube said it’s been a hard journey to the musical’s opening.
“It was a long process to earn this role. There were five of us who were to be whittled down to a lead and an understudy. But we rehearsed for three months before a decision was taken.
“It is a very interesting production, but challenging because this is Ladysmith Black Mambazo and we are paying tribute to them, so there’s lots of pressure as well.
“The group will also be participating with us on stage for the first show, so it’s all very exciting,” said Ngcube.
Working with Mhlongo in the director’s chair has been a relief.
“I’ve worked with him on a drama before, and now, working with him on a musical, I’m learning differently,” he added.
“He really helps, he gives his all and doesn’t mind working with us at length. Mostly we run over time with our rehearsals, which has been from 9am to 8pm daily, split up into music, dance and acting.”
The young actor recalled a rehearsal when they were told Ladysmith Black Mambazo would be stopping by.
“The cast didn’t really think it would end up happening, but then they came and we were all in shock. They spoke with us for a bit. It was really inspiring,” he said.
Meeting the music greats also brought home the reality of the magnitude of his role for Ngcube.
“Everyone will come to the show and they’ll want to see who is playing Bab’ Shabalala. So the pressure is there.
“But I’ve done a lot of research, I’ve spoken with his son to find out more about his father so that I can really give my best to this character. And listening to the music also gave me a clearer picture of the kind of people they are. They were people of peace.”
• Amambazo: The Musical ends October 20 at the Playhouse Opera Theatre. Tickets: R120 at Computicket. All 10am/schools performances are R20, available through the Playhouse box office on 031 369 9596/9540.