Isambulo embraces the diverse ways in which different churches worship God. Pictures: Sanmari Marais
With gospel music being one of the most followed genres of music in the country, it is no surprise that when the opportunity to showcase it on the theatre stage comes along, it will be grabbed with both hands.

As a part of the Mzansi Fela Festival under way at the State Theatre, gospel musical Isambulo is currently on at the theatre. While it enjoyed a brief run at the theatre in 2016, it is on for a full season run this year. 

The production, which was written and directed by the Naledi theatre award-winning musical producer, Zakhele Mabena, features some of South Africa’s well known professional musicians and actors - such as SABC 2’s I Want to Sing Gospel winner Nhlakanipho Cele, Simphiwe Mini, Busisiwe Sibiya, Mathapelo Masilela, Maira Skosana and Pascaline Modiba part of a 24-man cast accompanied by a 5-piece band.

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Isambulo displays the African culture of worship within a typical Sunday church service.

It embraces diverse ways in which different churches worship God. Speaking to Tonight, Mabena explained that Isambulo featured a fusion of old traditional hymns with new compositions, that are enjoyable to all audiences, young and old. The play is about two years old.

Isambulo embraces the diverse ways in which different churches worship God. Pictures: Sanmari Marais

“My religious upbringing was one of the reasons why I was able to create a play like Isambulo. When you grow up in the church, it’s one of the only ways to nurture your talent, it’s the only place you have, available to you, to perform ordinarily,” he said.

The play’s accommodating nature is because of an active decision that Mabena had to make, to ensure that the production represents all of the doctrines within the Christianity umbrella.

“If you watch the play you’ll find a bit of the apostles, the zionists and even the charismatic churches. Because I’ve come to realise that while our rules may differ slightly, we are held together by the basics, because we all serve the same God.

“All these are minor distractions to what church should be doing. I wanted to reflect and celebrate those diversities in the play, “ he said.

Mabena is an award-winning producer, songwriter, sound engineer and a music teacher with an ear for good sounds. Zakhele has scored music for popular television programmes such as Tshisa, Moferefere Lenyalong, It’s Gospel Time and many more. 

He has also produced and worked with artists such as Zubz, Pebbles, McKenzie, Ringo Madlingonzi, Unathi,and Dr Sello Galane.

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His productions have been nominated and won awards such as South African Music Awards, Metro-FM Awards and Crown Gospel Music awards. He is currently a Naledi theatre award winner for best scoring, arrangement and adaptation for Marikana the musical.

It’s almost two hours long, but Mabena said the manner in which the play was written and its music arranged, would keep audiences entertained.

* Isambulo runs until December 23 at the State Theatre in Pretoria.