Zulu drums tell history

Africa Umoja tribal female dancers.
Photo courtesy of Glenna Freedman PR

Post-apartheid South Africa era gets a huge four-night salute at Symphony Space when “Africa Umoja: 20 Years Freedom and Democracy” tour arrives here following engagements in several U.S. cities.

The musical event is slated for Jan. 6, 7, 8, and 10 at 2537 Broadway (at 95th Street) and begins at 7:00 p.m.

Featuring a 32-member cast of dancers, singers, and actors from the former flagship nation that practiced segregation before electing Nelson Mandela its first Black president, the show has already played to sold-out audiences in more than 50 countries.

Highlighting an exuberant journey through South African history, using the traditions of storytelling, drum talk, dance and song, the tour stopped into the nation’s capital of Washington D.C., Charlotte, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Miami, Florida before coming here.

The sweeping tale moves from the potent rhythms of tribal music to the intricate steps of Gumboot dancing. The storyline takes the audience from the country’s early history, through the racist years and into the more progressive era of today’s regime. With the one-year anniversary of Mandela’s death on Dec. 5, one of the highlights of the show include a personal tribute to the beloved leader known as Madiba. In it a visualized performance retraces the world leader’s time in jail until his release from prison in 1990.

The song “Long Road To Freedom” amplifies that harrowing experience. In addition “I Have A Dream” incorporates the similarities with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as both men traveled the same road to very different paths.

There are also spirited renditions of African American classics such as “Amazing Grace” and “Oh Happy Day.”

An emotional tribute to South Africa and the Zulu heritage blends traditional and contemporary elements including authentic Zulu dancing; explosive drumming, and gospel music. Translated from Swahili, Africa Umoja is interpreted to mean “together.”

The production tells the history of South Africa from the earliest rhythms of the Zulu drums to the current club sounds called “Kwaito.”

The repertoire includes internationally acclaimed choreography, cross-cultural and traditional love songs, lullabies and other musical expressions of rural life. The narration reflects on stories of love and community as well as overcoming pain and endurance of South Africa’s most tumultuous period era.

Woven throughout the historical journey are reminiscent sounds of vibrant jazz that saw Black South Africans through some of the country’s stormiest passages. Inspired by popular music from iconic and internationally acclaimed stars such as Miriam Makeba (Mama Africa), Hugh Masekela, and the late Dolly Radabe, the presentation is a vision of its founders and directors Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni. Both are choreographers and dancers born and raised in Johannesburg’s Township of Soweto.

They lived the experienced living in a pre and post-apartheid era. Together they choreographed and designed the costumes for the tour that began with a dream to give back to their community and offer the same opportunities they had.

First presented at the Market Theatre in South Africa, Africa Umoja became an instant hit. Since then the show has played London’s West End and countries worldwide in the process garnering critical and audience acclaim

International Arts Foundation President and Chairman and Managing Partner for SAIG Entertainment Ernest D. Kelly is the executive producer of the USA Tour. On bringing the continental showcase he said: “Audiences will experience heartfelt performances in an exciting tribute to South Africa and the Zulu heritage that punctuates our joint celebration with South Africa’s 20 years of freedom and democracy.”

For more information, visit: www.umoja‌usato‌ur.com

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