Essence of Africa Lives

Article excerpt

Byline: By Gordon Barr

They're out of Africa and in the North East next month. Showbusiness Reporter Gordon Barr takes a look at Umoja.

Why not take the chance to steal just 70 minutes out of your busy, hectic and pressurised day to let yourself be consumed by Umoja - the heartbeat of South Africa?

That's the offer from Sunderland Empire next month, when Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness arrives at the venue for a week-long stint.

The show is a celebration of dynamic talent, thrilling energy, great voices, sensual dancing and the best of South African popular music.

Umoja celebrates the songs that have become part of the rich tradition of South African music.

Original creators Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni joined forces with the multi award-winning theatrical director Ian Von Memerty to develop and nurture Umoja.

It is a dance project aimed at keeping the young people of Sowetta off the streets and out of crime.

And it has now been turned into a full-scale musical celebrating the rich diversity of African culture.

Umoja tells the story of the growth of South African music, from the powerful rhythms of tribal music to the intricate steps of gumboot dancing and the uplifting full-throated joy of gospel.

Audiences are promised to be taken on a "wave of joy, sadness and laughter" as they witness the precision footwork and hear the uplifting, pounding energy which the cast sends out.

Many of the cast of Umoja come from disadvantaged communities and have been given this opportunity to explore their originality and creative talent on stage.

Given time, patience and training, they have seen themselves develop into dynamic and skilled professionals who are now able to take their talents elsewhere and learn from them.

Here are some facts about Umoja:

Dress: The amaShoba are cow tails worn up the upper arms and below the knees to give the appearance of greater bulk to the body.

The isiNene is the front apron, consisting of coin-sized circular skin patches sewn closely together to add weight and cover the male genitals.

The iBensu is the rear apron made from calf skin (from stillborn or dead calves).

The inJobo are long animal skins worn on the hips.

A headband is used only by married men. The leopard is used only by married men.

African Drums: Drums are integral to the rhythms of Africa both in everyday life and spiritual matters.

Drums are used to contact the ancestors, to communicate over long distances and to accompany celebrations or rites within a clan or group. …