Saturday, 2 August 2014

INALA at the Barbican Theatre

INALA: five years in the making. It combines the isicathamiya harmonies,
mbube rhythmic vocals and jerky moves of the all-male South African a
cappella choir LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO with the Zulu-inspired ballet
of RAMBERT and ROYAL BALLET dancers in a presentation so beautiful
that I was in bits before the second act. The Sisters Grimm production, 

choreographed by Mark Baldwin, will receive
its official world premiere at this year's Edinburgh International
Festival, 10-12 August. But to see it in preview at point-blank range
in the womb-like Barbican Theatre was a dream that I feel challenged
to describe. 

Exhilarating,moving, humbling, dignified: this work lends
perspective into another dimension of dance that leaves us

speechless at what the human body can do. There is no storyline as
such. It is open to interpretation. For me, there was a sense of
steps being retraced into the dawn of time; of man's early, tentative
relationship with nature, his conquering and command of it, the
consequent harnessing and destruction of it, of the circle of life
full-turning and of nature regaining its strength.

What resonates is the traditional music of the Zulu people.
Most of us know the group founded by Joseph Shabalala in 1960 from
Paul Simon's 1986 album 'Gracelands'. They sang memorably on
'Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes' and 'You Can Call Me Al'. The
exposure led to an international career, four Grammys,
and a 1988 appearance in Michael Jackson's movie 'Moon Walker', in
which they performed their song 'The Moon Is Walking'. It also led to
Nelson Mandela lauding the group as 'South Africa's cultural
ambassadors'. They accompanied their future President to the
Nobel Peace prize ceremony in Norway in 1993, and sang at his
inauguration the following year. It further led to them recording Cat
Stevens's 'Peace Train' with Dolly Parton for her album 'Treasures',
and to what is, to date, a forty five-year career spreading a message
of harmony, peace and love. 

Their almost half-century has been oft-darkened by murder, illness and
other tragedy. The stories could curl dreads. Yet they have never lost
hope. Never stopped singing. There linger, in this unique, uplifting
and instantly recognisable sound, the echoes of the earliest choirs
formed in the Natal region during the 1920s, when young Zulu males
migrated there to find work in the factories and mines. Far from
home, lonely and afraid, they formed choirs to comfort and lull
teach other, to preserve a sense of community, and to stay close to
the cultures into which they had been born.

Mbube, incidentally, is Zulu for lion, which figures. The name Ladysmith Black Mambazo is
derived from three elements: Ladysmith, Kwazulu-Natal, the hometown
of founding father Shabalala's family; Black for the Ox, the
strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo, Zulu for Axe, which is
symbolic of this choir's magical ability to 'chop down' all
competition.

Inala is Zulu for 'an abundance of goodwill.' 
Ladysmith Black Mambazo keep the essence of South Africa alive.

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