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Our indigenous language of sound

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Antoinette Engel

Ncebakazi Mnukwana and Khadija Heeger in uHadi.

Theatre Arts Admin Collective hosts a double- bill of indigenous music and spoken word, plus a dance performance directed by Andile Vellem.

UHADI is a poetry and music performance centred on the Khoi/ Nguni bow. Using spoken word and indigenous music, the performance questions the social landscape of our new South Africa and the threadbare link between ourselves and our common ancestors, the Khoi and the San.

While celebrating the idea that all African peoples and countries are intertwined, the performance also questions the concepts of remembering and memory.

It features members of the Cape Cultural Collective, an inter-generational, non-racial, non-sexist, multidisciplinary arts and cultural movement which uses art to promote social activism while reflecting on history and memory.

This run of uHadi at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective in Observatory is the first time the show will have a proper run in Cape Town, since it was launched with a single performance at Magnet Theatre last year.

Poet Toni Stuart said they had an amazing response to their Paris trip last year, when The Cape Cultural Collective made their international debut at the Festival d’Automne in Paris as part of the France-South Africa Season.

All their poems were translated to French in the programme, so the audience had no language issues and the response was positive: “People were warm and responsive and stayed afterwards, they wanted to talk to us,” she said.

“People stayed to engage with us and asked about the rhythm and performance. Some audience members had lived in South Africa and said they could feel Cape Town in the words and the wind in what we were saying, that they could feel what the city feels like through what we were saying.

“Even people who had never been to South Africa in the audience, who came for the poetry, they could follow the story as well as engage with the emotion of what we were doing.”

The performance is not centred on a linear narrative or story per se, but director Jacueline Dommisse of Hearts and Eyes Theatre Collective has structured it and shaped the performance itself, to allow for the four performers to interact.

While the poems are in English and Afrikaans, musician Ncebakazi Mnukwana sings in Xhosa, and the music holds everything together.

Poets Stuart, Christopher Ferndale and Khadija Heeger chose poems that deal with the theme of the bow as a metaphor for the connection between who we are as Capetonians today and the indigenous history we are not necessarily connected to or aware of.

In addition to singing, Mnukwana also talks about the history of the uhadi, which is the bow with the gourd that Xhosa women play with the calabash positioned on their breast as a resonator.

“The bow was gifted to the Xhosa people, so one of the things she says so often is that there are these connections between the indigenous people that we’re not even aware of. In the same way that the clicks in Xhosa come from the Khoi languages… there is so much we don’t know,” explained Stuart.

Mphotseng Shuping, the Un-Mute project manager, says the integrated dance project is greatly influenced by sign language.

The piece was created by the founder and director of Broken Borders Arts Projects, Andile Vellem, during a four-week long residency with Dance Forum in Joburg.

Vellem was the Dance Forum’s final resident in a series of six residencies at the Dance Space in Newtown in March. He has been dancing professionally for more than 13 years, six of those with Remix Dance Company, and based the piece on his experience as a deaf dancer.

Using sign language as the source of the movement, Un-Mute is a way for Vellem to explore his choreographic voice as he brought together performers Themba Mbuli, Nadine McKenzie and Zama Sonjica. They explored what they wanted to un-mute, whether they be their feelings, perceptions or expectations, while deconstructing what society perceives as dance.

Vellem started the project by teaching the dancers sign language and asking them what the word “un-mute” means to them.

“They created poems and then Andile taught them how to sign the poems. Each person has their story to tell about what Un-Mute means to them, whether in signing or dancing,” explained Shuping.

McKenzie and Sonjica use wheelchairs, while Themba Mbuli is an able-bodied dancer, and the work is motivated by the huge gap and isolation between South Africans as far as disability is concerned.

While Un-Mute does not present any solutions to problems surrounding the lack of integration of disabled South Africans into public spaces, workplaces and everyday life, it does serve as a model for inclusion and integration.

Each of the artists has distinct artistic skills and there are mixed abilities, so the performance is a collaborative way to share skills, knowledge and stories.

The 45-minute performance follows the performance of uHadi and they have also been invited to perform at Artscape in August as part of the theatre’s Women’s Day celebrations.

l uHadi starts at 7pm followed by Un-Mute at 8.15pm at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective, cnr Wesley and Milton streets, Observatory from Thursday to Saturday. R50 for each.


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