Nataniël’s Antidote to a World in Pain is to Make Us Scream With Laughter – Please Don’t Refuse to Listen

DIANE DE BEER

Nataniel in red
Nataniël in classic red.

 

Nataniël’s  LILY REFUSES TO LISTEN

With musician Charl du Plessis (piano), Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drums)

Costumes by Floris Louw

VENUE: Atterbury Theatre, Lynnwood

DATES: January 21 to 25

Book at iTickets

 

Nataniël starts his year exactly as he ended it – on stage with the laughter and merriment of his latest show, Lily Refuses to Listen.

This short run is specially for those who missed it first time round – or those who want to see it again. It is that good – and funny!

As always, he pitches perfectly, not only with the music but also with the mood that he creates in both stories and song.

Whether we are ending or starting a new year, nobody wants to hear any bad news. This is a time of reflection, of course, but rather than focus on all the sadness and misery in our troubled world, he finetunes his music and words sharply with both sweetness and hilarity, something no one does better.

From the moment he starts singing My Sweet Song, the  music sets the tone with a slow swing, but as he slips into his first story, all of that changes dramatically.

The stories, all stand-alone, show Nataniël at his best as he lets rips with language and laughter, the perfect antidote for this time of year as we want to kickstart it, preferably raucously.

He gathers his usual wacky characters, all visualised with detailed descriptions, all determined to take your breath away.

It’s the way he conjures up a world we all recognise but in spectacular colours and with an exaggeration that’s tough to resist.

And with one of the show’s aims (New Year resolution perhaps) to get people to think about their lives and take courage to say no rather than too easily agree to something they really don’t want to do, he’s also quick to jump on anyone playing with cell phones, the bane of performers as the lights are clearly visible and especially distracting for those on stage.

That and people who keep chatting during the performance who are as much a disturbance to the performer as those in proximity of the culprit.

It’s about the performance, staying in the moment and giving a show that embraces everything this showman admires. And for him it is time to call them out. So pay attention, it’s the entertainment you’re there for, you and those around you.

The music is all about nostalgia with classics like Sweet Georgia Brown,  a beautiful  if perhaps not so familiar Beatles song, Golden Slumber, Ain’t no Sunshine, Many Rivers to Cross and more, a few original numbers elaborated with stories about some of the songs and their composers.

One of this singer’s many attributes is his amazing arrangement of classics to suit his voice but also to make it his own. It adds to a familiar tune and sometimes completely changes the meaning of a song because of the way we listen.

And finally, the costumes. It’s where all his shows begin, the design and  creativity of the couture to lead into the stories and songs. Again, it is spectacular in all the colours of the rainbow with shapes that make your head spin and a desire to copy some of his detail.

If you’re not quite in the right place yet to begin the year, this is the perfect place to start. It will put your head in the clouds where it can stay for a while as you get into the rhythm of the new year and all it will hopefully stack up to be.

 

 

Music and Magic at Market@theSheds

DIANE DE BEER

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Pretoria has some of the best markets in the country and one of those, Market@theShedsis probably still one of the best kept secrets in town.

Part of the reason is because it happens in the city at 012central, the trendy arts precinct in Pretoria CBD.

And importantly, first things first, there’s safe parking. Find free parking at 216 Sisulu Street which provides direct access to the market. Overflow parking is available at the State Theatre, 140m away from the main entrance at 381 Helen Joseph street.

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Morayks in concert

This coming market on Saturday is really one for music lovers. Best of the Sheds Music Festival is the grand finalé for 2019 and the emphasis is on local. Throughout the year, more than 60 talented local bands and musicians perform on stage at the monthly Market@TheSheds.

Once a year, people get the chance to see the year’s favourite bands and musicians with this action-packed Best of the Sheds Music Festival. It truly is Tshwane’s best showcase of the finest local artists and bands.

If music is your thing, this is a fantastic venue to catch the vibe. Join the festivities on Saturday (November 30) and see more than 10 live bands in action. What is described as the ultimate line-up includes The Muffinz, Brian Temba, Morayks, Pedro Barbosa, Gina Mabasa, 1520, The Tshwane School of Music, Lehlohonolo Ntsoko, Chievosky and Zebra.

What makes Best of The Sheds different from their usual market experience? It’s more than just a vibe-driven art, fashion, food and a designer show. Complimenting the music festival, there is a festive market with over 40 designer stalls stocked with colourful, locally produced products. It’s a perfect opportunity to shop the market streets and find quirky gifts while having a great time with family and friends.

Market@theSheds has always meant different things to different people. Personally it’s people watching and fantastic food for me although music is a big part of the market’s success. But if you want less noise and more kuier, it’s best to go earlier in the day rather than later, when the party really gets going.

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Dancing in style at Market@theSheds Picture: Kudzaishe Gumbo

Pretoria’s hip inner-city market is where you will find delicious gourmet street food, craft beer, gin and cocktail stalls and the open-air courtyard with a jumping castle makes it fun for the whole family. But it’s also a place where those with true Tshwane style hang out – both the parents and their kids.

If you’re checking for classy street vibes or high-end individual style that seems ready to vogue, this is where you’ll find it.

Tickets can be bought on-line at Quicket. Online tickets are R120 pp and entrance at the gate will be R 150 pp. Kids under 12 come in free.

Gerrit Wassenaar
Picture: Gerrit Wassenaar

It’s time to shop, play, dance, be merry and have fun with family and friends.

Market@theSheds is the place to start the discovery of a city you think you know. It is a project of the Capital Collective, a non-profit organisation promoting rejuvenation efforts in the inner-city. And it’s working. Don’t miss out being part of this hidden jewel of the inner city. It’s a blast, every last Saturday of the month.

And this one will be happening with a music line-up of note.

 

Nataniël Set to Sparkle in Xmas Show

Nataniel Xmas posterDIANE DE BEER

It’s been a remarkable year for Nataniël with his first memoir published in both Afrikaans and English last month and a return to Emperors for his spectacular annual show. Now the sparkler on the tip of the Christmas tree is his end-of-year concert at the Atterbury Theatre in his hometown.

The title, Lily Refuses to Listen, is already worth the price of admission, but especially for those whose spirits are dampened by the distress of today’s world, this is one to opt for. An escape that will have you thinking while laughing and crying from start to finish!

From Tuesday December 3 tot Sunday December 8, Nataniël presents a brand new show at Atterbury Theatre for a limited season of 6 performances only.

“At the end of another year of being bombarded by bad news,” he writes, “damning prophecies, evil politics, corruption, loud neighbours, endless traffic, horrific music, bad advertising and desperate social media,” this is a time to celebrate personal space, personal choices, selective listening, self-care and resilience.

“Out with the bull, in with the beauty!” is his war cry. “Out with the yes, in with the no! Out with the trends, in with the timeless! Out with parties, in with privacy! Out with the ordinary, in with the exclusive!”

“Everybody was screaming as loudly as they could this year,” explains Nataniël as he speaks about the inspiration for this particular show. “Everyone wanted to make sure they would be heard or become famous.”

He also admonishes those who do selective listening. “You have to listen properly,” he says. “I want to tell people that it’s important to listen, not to be intimidated, but to really listen.”

Choice of music is never a problem. He loves Christmas music and often takes old familiar songs and turns them into something individual yet as sacrosanct as the original. Songs from the treasure trove of timeless blues, jazz, soul and pop, as well as original songs will all feature.

Costumes will be to die for, colourful and festive with a contemporary take on a more glorious time.

Lily Refuses To Listen features fantastical stories in both English and Afrikaans, but don’t expect anything to be ordinary or to unfold without exotic names for strange yet wacky and witty creatures and towns with names that remind you that we live in a weird and wonderful world. With this storyteller’s vivid imagination, it’s easy to follow the yellow brick road wherever it leads. And for 90 minutes, what is round might become square, but you would find it difficult to leave.

Nataniël shares the stage with c (piano), Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drums). Costumes are by Floris Louw and a Kaalkop Christmas Shop will be available in the foyer.

The show is 90 minutes long, with no interval, no cell phones, no shorts and no children under 15.

LILY REFUSES TO LISTEN: 3 – 8 December 2019; Atterbury Theatre; Book at iTickets

Maqoma’s Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero Mourns Death Magnificently

 

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The memorable Cion conceived and choreographed by Gregory Maqoma

 CION: REQUIEM OF RAVEL’S BOLERO

Conceived and choreographed by: Gregory Maqoma

Creative input and rehearsal director: Gladys Aghulas

Music composed and directed by: Nhlanhla Mahlangu

Dancers: Vuyani Dance Theatre

Singers: Soweto Gospel Choir

Musical assistance: Xolisile Bongwana and Sbusiso Shozi

Costumes: Jacques van der Watt and Black Coffee

Set and technical direction: Oliver Hauser

Lighting: Mannie Manim

Sound: Ntuthuko Mbuyazi

Choir under direction of Bongani Ncube

Venue and Dates: Nelson Mandela Theatre until September 15

 

 

DIANE DE BEER

It is such a strange time in the world, with the arts perilously balanced with all the usual stumbling blocks. Add to that the decimation of arts writing on all the traditional platforms with nothing in its place – or where there is, no way for possible readers to find it.

With the result that everyone is battling to get their stories out there. I was at a National Theatre Live screening of The Lehman Trilogy with Sam Mendes directing Simon Russel Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles last week.

There were five people watching this majestic piece. No one I asked knew about the screening and I spoke and wrote about it because I love sharing the arts because of the impact it has on individual lives.

Hopefully similar things will not happen to Gregory Maqoma’s sublime Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, currently on at the Joburg Theatre until Sunday in celebration of the vibrant Vuyani Dance Theatre’s 20th anniversary.

In an amplified version (“death needs amplifying in the present circumstances,” says the choreographer) which starts with bone-chilling sobs drenched by shafts of sharp light from which the dancers emerge, the tone is set as the heartache of those sounds find solace in the rhythms of Ravel’s Boléro. As the dancers start moving as one, they sweep your emotions along.

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It is a mighty piece on multiple levels and even though it is inspired and based on two Zakes Mda books, Ways of Dying and Cion, the strength lies in  the complexity of the whole with the evocative lighting, the heightened sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir as the dancers bring their own singing to create specific rhythms and textures, all contributing to the enormity of what Maqoma is dealing with.

Enveloped in this grief, the production is mesmerising and astonishing in its excellence. From Black Coffee’s costumes, the diversity of the music and the singing, the Ravel rhythms often suggested by the dancers’ clicking or tapping or a drumbeat, the melancholy and sometimes even merriment of the production are completely overwhelming in its brilliance.

We are living in a world that takes dying lightly. Just the last few days in our country underlines that in different ways. Gender-based abuse has again galvanised women to step out and shout while simultaneously a young man is being sentenced for raping a 7-year old girl in a toilet at a restaurant.

A young mother kills four of her children with rat poison and goes out partying.

Shops in both Joburg and Tshwane are set alight and burnt to the ground while politicians argue whether this is xenophobia or not. People are dying because they are hungry and the root causes are never addressed.

Schoolchildren fear for their safety at schools while others are kidnapped on their way or back home.

In the rest of the world, refugees are growing in numbers as they flee from their countries because of war or dictatorships and some are simply banished because they’re not wanted. “We are forced into mourning,” says Maqoma who tells the story in the way he best knows how.

And yet failed leaders are mourned in their death and feted while their people suffer and eventually flee their land.

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Scenery and lighting extraordinaire

It is against this backdrop that Maqoma creates a visual spectacle that grabs you tightly around the throat and never lets go. The dancers move, en masse it feels, yet are given individual moments, from Afro fusion to a nod to the classics but in contemporary and fast- changing style, everyone on stage is celebrated and contributes to hold their audience in complete awe.

The beauty, the execution, the quality and excellence unfolding underline the talent of our artists who are out there fighting and creating on their own. If this is what they achieve while struggling, the heights they could reach are staggering.

But that is the world of the artist. He can’t help himself. As Maqoma suggests, with individuals who are daily running the Vuyani Dance Theatre, he has been encouraged and allowed to dream, which he fortunately does on grand scale. He doesn’t hold back and does it the only way he knows how

There are only five performances left. It’s one of those landmark theatrical experiences which is on its way to London to be staged during the Dance Umbrella festival at the Barbican. Those performances will be packed and so should they be back home.

It’s accessible, the music is mindblowing and Gregory Maqoma’s talent and collaboration genius should be witnessed again and again. His artistry is recognised internationally but he insists on staying and performing at home.

I am eternally grateful. Seeing Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, not once but twice, has been a theatrical miracle.

 

 

Little Nataniël Waltzes With Giants

If you know Nataniël, you won’t be able to resist his latest season. If you don’t, DIANE DE BEER coaxed him to share the story of his upcoming show:

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The title alone will stop you in your tracks: When Giants Waltz – 12 Monumental Concerts by Little Nataniël.

But that has always been his power – getting you to gasp – at his costumes, his words, his gestures – or simply the spectacular staging of his shows.

Not this time says the performer – but we won’t quite take his word for it.

The title dictates that the costumes will be monumental – and that is where he starts – always with the way he looks when on stage.

 Singer, songwriter and storyteller Nataniël returns to the Theatre of Marcellus for his 17th production at Emperors Palace after a year’s sabbatical. This latest creation will first be staged at Artscape, one of his favourite theatres, from September 10, with a smaller band but the same set, props and costumes as well as script to be presented as 12 concerts from October 4 to 27,  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.

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A typical Nataniël year consists of three original stage productions, one at Artscape, one at Emperors Palace and one at the Atterbury Theatre. The rest of the year is filled with numerous concert tours.

These concerts (“the friendly shows”) are as structured and detailed as all his work, but allow him more freedom for improvisation and informal banter. For the first time he will present this format at Artscape and Emperors Palace.

And as a bonus, there will be as many costume changes as he can manage! With the show title as an example, he is going grand and gigantic. “Expect them to be epic,” he says. “I can hardly move them. Every time I do, I find myself with a sleeve in my hand.”

Last year’s sabbatical (only from the grandly staged shows) obviously gave him the chance to reassess. He believes audiences prefer his solo stories rather than a single story told from the beginning to end of the show.

This also gives him more time to play around, allows for a mini-sermon slipped in at some stage which also gives you a measure of where his head is at for the moment – always a bonus.

But then the title should do that too, he explains. “When giants waltz, the earth moves. Apparently,” he says, “size does matter!”

“As far back as your childhood, everything is a battle between big and small. This is my chance to lead a well-dressed rebellion against institutions. I despise any structure that involves a boardroom. Some people, however, will be victims of this stupidity.”

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If all of this simply sounds too serious, don’t fear, the shows are focused on entertainment yet “from a pedestal of profound values and issues,” he says with what may to some sound like a heavy heart.

“It’s fun from beginning to end. If we can’t have fun in this mess …” And if anyone can turn the prediction of the end of the world into something hilarious, Nataniël is your man.

The way he thought about this season was to start with a costume that he imagined as the outfit he would wear at the last ball held on the Titanic!

Staged with his trademark stylish lighting, he has visualised this concert as a series of portraits. It reminds him of those tableaux from a time, long, long ago when photography was in its infancy. “It will hopefully remind people of paging through an album,” he suggests. “When the lights go on, everything stops on stage! In the dark, out of sight, is when everything happens,” he notes. “During the blackouts we move.”

With his stories, he isn’t only comparing big versus small, but also the constant struggle between the indestructible and the threatened, the always present war between the individual and the establishment, and the exhausting debate between the political and the intelligent.

Nataniël performs music from an endless catalogue of blues and jazz evergreens, pop classics and original songs.

This time even the music has been simplified and made as accessible as he knows how.

And no more choreography. While some will miss those quirky hops, skips and jumps so beautifully executed with often military precision, he feels as if someone has handed him his freedom. “I would panic through every show that I would forget my steps,” he explained. “Why did I do that all these years? What was I thinking?”

He shares the stage with his brilliant band led by Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums), and on vocals, Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart.

The minimalist set (notwithstanding the multitude of props) will be complemented by another collection of extraordinary costumes created by Floris Louw, Nataniël’s award-winning designer of the past 18 years.

Describing this as a concert for the connoisseur, he never fails to entertain. His stories and songs, the staging and the costumes, when they all come together – that’s showbiz, and perfect for these tough times.

Cds, dvds, books (including his brand new book – a memoir in Afrikaans and English), ceramics and products from Nataniël’s lifestyle range will be available at all performances.

*Artscape, Cape Town; September 10 to 15.

*Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace; October 4 to 27, 2019

Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15.

 

Bookings at Computicket.

 

 

Choreographer/Dancer Gregory Maqoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre Celebrate 20 Years, Spotlighting Zakes Mda’s Cion

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A scene from Cion ©Siphosihle-Mkhwanazi

Choreographer/dancer Gregory Maqoma and the Vuyani Dance Theatre are celebrating 20 years in the contemporary dance sphere in South Africa and abroad. DIANE DE BEER speaks to him about a reworked Cion, the piece he has selected to showcase their accomplishments in the Nelson Mandela Theatre from September 5 to 15:

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Gregory Maqoma in Cion

 

“I’ve just kept working,” says the explosive driving force behind Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT), founder and creative director Gregory Maqoma, when reminiscing about the achievement of their 20th anniversary celebration with the already celebrated Cion at the Joburg Theatre starting on September 5.

Five years ago, the company celebrated with Full Moon which dance critic Adrienne Sichel lauded as “flights of conceptual fancy, wrapped around a creation myth, tap into South Africa’s diverse dance lineage ranging from classical ballet to contemporary African dance.

“Maqoma’s aesthetic plumage and Afro-classicism don’t ignore the Odette/Odile legacy but neither does he forget Africa’s ornithology.”

At that time, they didn’t have any backing, and not much has changed since. “It hasn’t been easy,” says the softly spoken Maqoma but argues that it speaks to their resilience. Then they were looking at their 15-year achievement, already a major feat for a local contemporary dance company, but this time round it’s #Vuyani20 and for the future, #ShapingTheNext20.

As they have done in the past, when it seems like too much of a struggle, they simply go bigger. And that’s not only into the future but also with what seemed to many the perfect production. For these current festivities, Maqoma has decided to amplify Cion because he believes that in current circumstances, death needs amplifying.

He is doing this by adding dancers as well as voices – and no less than the Soweto Gospel Choir – to this extraordinary performance. “It’s about legacy,” he says proudly.

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He points to their future and a combined invitation from “Sadler Wells, Theatre de la Ville and a Dutch company for performances of four shows two years hence.” That’s the luxury that he knows dancers in South Africa seldom have. “It gives us two years to just think,” he says. It also brings financial muscle and support, something that is sadly missing at home.

“We need acknowledgement of the spaces we find, as well as support and marketing,” he adds almost mournfully.

Everything happens here with little rehearsal time and much ingenuity as audiences can witness in the reworked Cion. That’s the way they roll. It’s not that he doesn’t speak loudly when given the opportunity, but from government they have had few favours.

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Cion

Artists/directors like James Ngcobo and Idris Elba (whose currently running production Tree Maqoma has just choreographed) know what the man is capable of and so do international audiences. But fortunately, Maqoma keeps coming home. This is where he dances and teaches with the company whose trainees will also be participating in the pulsating production on the Nelson Mandela stage in September.

His work has always been about challenging a Eurocentric way of structuring and to give it a contemporary African edge – with conviction – while at the same time honouring black artists. “We want to take control of our own craft,” he says. “It’s about validity.” And the fact that he should still be seeking that at this time, says so much about the world we live in.

If anything, Cion is proof of so much more than that.

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Gregory Maqoma (front) in Cion

 

When it was first performed at the Market Theatre in 2017, he explained the creation thus: “I am drawn to Zakes Mda’s character Toloki the professional mourner from his beloved Ways of Dying as he further uncovers in his book Cion the story of the runaway slaves.

“In my interpretation, Toloki rediscovers death in a modern context, inspired by the universal events that lead to death, not as a natural phenomenon but by decisions of others over the other. We mourn death by creating death.

“The universe of greed, power, religion has led us to be professional mourners who transform the horror of death and the pain of mourning into a narrative that questions what seems to be normalised and far more brutal in how we experience death and immigration.

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“I am creating this work as a lament, a requiem required to awaken a part of us, the connection to the departed souls.”

And about that first season: nothing prepares you for the performance by Maqoma who has gathered a group of dancers, musicians and singers who mourn death in a way that both embraces and expunges the horrors of this world.

“From the design to the dance to the magnificent music and singing, Maqoma transports you to a place of healing by tearing the horror apart – step by step, note by note.

“If you ever see Cion is being performed anywhere, don’t hesitate, just go. It’s world class and feeds the soul.”

That’s what I wrote two years ago and that’s why it’s thrilling that he has decided to stage this majestic work at this particular time. If you see anything this year, it should be this.

Maqoma’s whole life has been about pushing boundaries and acknowledging himself and the company. “No more gatekeepers,” is his rallying cry.

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In full flow, Gregory Maqoma in Cion with singers in the background

And even though he laments the lack of support in a larger sense, he feels blessed for the support he has in the company. “I’ve been able to step away from the day-to-day running,” he explains. That gives him the luxury of time to sleep, to strategise and to dream. It also means he can make all of those a reality.

Vuyai Dance Theatre has become a machine that can function without his daily attention – and that, more than anything gives him great joy.

When he talks about going bigger, their first step towards #ShapingTheNext20 is to start laying the bricks for their own building. “If we’re able to cross borders, what is stopping us to lay those first bricks in our own country? We are fighting for our own space.”

In conclusion, he declares that he has been pushed post-apartheid to recognise the many atrocities including the senseless killings at Marikana – hence Cion. “It needs a strong push,” he exclaims, “we need to raise questions and we need to be loud.”

Government-funded art centres have not embraced their own he feels, and any plea from artists is landing on deaf ears. In the coming years apart from building VDT and working towards further success, he will also be developing a curriculum as a training institution and documenting the choreographic methodology of his and fellow choreographer Vincent Mantsoe’s work which will establish their own technique internationally.

It’s all about ownership, ownership, ownership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sima Mashazi Makes Whoopee with the Music of Mama Africa – Miriam Makeba

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Simangele Mashazi celebrating the life and music of the legendary Miriam Makeba

A show celebrating the life and music of the legendary Miriam Makeba, My Miriam Makeba Story, will be presented in Gauteng this weekend by Sima Mashazi accompanied by Cape Jazz pianist/composer and musical director, Ramon Alexander. Having seen the show and encouraging you to go, DIANE DE BEER gives some background on the performer:

Her first interpretation of Miriam Makeba was  in the first musical about Mama Africa  a few years back (touring US and SA), which deepened Sima’s admiration for Makeba’s music and the woman behind it.

Sharing the themes in her music and life that touched her and bear similarities to her own journey, this first solo show followed. She includes songs of her own that relate to Makeba’s story and pays tribute to an historical figure who spoke truth through her lyrics and gave hope to so many, amidst her own struggles.

Rising star, says the press release and because I had first experienced her and this solo show at this year’s Klein Karoo Arts Festival, I asked her about this particular status.

She is better known in the Cape, that’s where she lives and performs now, but is hoping to change all that with these two Gauteng performances (see dates and venues below).

“That’s an interesting label. I’ve been at this for some time so in that sense I’m not brand new to music. However, to say I’m not rising, might means that I have arrived and I’m far from that. There are so many milestones to reach still, so much growth still happen, so much work to still be done. I really do hope to keep rising, “ is how the singer who was nominated as Best Solo Artist (US Woordfees 2018) for her performance in this show and then walked off with the Kanna Award for Best Music Production earlier this year.

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When you look at the list of festivals she performed this show, she worked the circuit and must have made her mark with those audiences. And she certainly is worth listening to.

Aside from having heard her music growing up, her journey with Makeba began when she got the role of the young Miriam Makeba in a musical about her life called Mama Africa  – The Musical in 2016-2017.  “I rediscovered some of my favourite music and discovered music I hadn’t heard before. I also understood her life better and a whole new appreciation of her and her work grew in me,” she says.

“It has been an amazing experience portraying her and I have learned so much about her that I didn’t know,” Sima says. “I love how she used her voice to speak the truth of her reality and instigate change”.

While their life journeys are not similar, there are some things that she, like many others, can relate to. “A journey as a young black woman in music, a journey made possible because people like her paved the way,” she says.

“Experiences of loss in my own life that hit me hard and reverberated when I had to portray hers in the musical,” she explains. “I found it overwhelming to imagine how she endured it all on top of the grief of being exiled from her country.”

In her research, she read more about Makeba’s life and connected to her as a person with aspirations, fears and everything else that makes us human. “Instead of only seeing the formidable icon I was inspired to believe that I can be extraordinary in spite of what I experience as my human inadequacies.”

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Sima Mashazi

Sima’s childhood was filled with music. She grew up in Newcastle and was born into a family that sings. “Singing together as a family is one of the experiences in life I hold the dearest. Throughout my preschool, primary and high school life I could consistently be described as the girl who sings.”

She later moved to Stellenbosch to join a small music school . “I’m not sure what I thought my plan was but in Stellenbosch I met some of the people I work with even today, like Ramon (a jazz phenomenon) and started what I now call a career in music.”

Since that initial start, she has grown from the young, inexperienced girl who first met her accompanist/director who she regards as her mentor, to someone who is richer, more versatile.

“He is one of those people who believes in me even when I don’t see my own potential. When I met him, I was this young girl with talent and very little experience. He introduced me to jazz among other things. He opened my eyes to what’s out there and taught me so much and after roughly 10 years, I’m still learning from him,” she says with obvious admiration – as she should.

They complement each other in astonishing ways which gives the performance a wonderful edge.

“I came to recognise that I too have things to say, and I started and continue to grow my identity as a songwriter. I released two singles in 2017 (Bashadile and I still miss you) available on I-tunes and other online platforms. I also perform these two songs in the show.” As well as some of Makeba’s more familiar and perhaps less well known songs.

“While doing this particular show, there are other aspects of myself as performer that I’ve discovered, like storytelling, and I would like to grow further into that as well,” she says.

And exploring her future she explains that one of her passions is academia, linguistics in particular.

“I look at different aspects of language in society and factors like multilingualism. Music was my gateway and attempting to engage with people in their own language is a special gift we can all offer to each other. Even in the smallest gesture like a greeting, it means a lot to people. It says ‘I see you and you matter’”

“My next thoughts are towards making these two worlds merge in a complementary way (don’t’ ask me how just yet). These are messages that the arts convey better than even the best academic paper I could write.”

Amen – as long as it keeps her performing, telling her stories and singing with that magnificent voice. She’s a real force.

 

 

Performances in Gauteng on the weekend:

July 13: Pierneef Teater, Mogg Avenue, Villiera, Pretoria

Doors Open: 6pm; Show Starts: 7pm

Ticket Price: R140 (Adults), R130 (Pensioners & Children)

Bookings: 012 329 0709 / Info@Pierneefteater.Co.Za

 

July 14: Foxwood Theatre @ Foxwood House, 13 5th Street, Houghton Estate, Johannesburg

Doors Open: 2.30pm; Show Starts: 3pm

Ticket Price: R150

Bookings: 082 712 5680 / Theatre@Foxwood.Co.Za

Lunch Available at additional R180pp. Booking Essential

 

A Perfect Night to Catch The Music

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The gang from The Buckfever Underground with Toast Coetzer responsible for the spoken word.

Diane be Beer

 

What does one do on an Easter Sunday night in Tshwane?

The city is empty – ish. Of those left, most are doing the family thing and then an unexpected house concert is announced in Rietondale.

Journalist/editor Marguerite Robinson is hosting the affair and The Buckfever Underground (with SkreeAlleen for this leg of the trip), would turn up and around in Tshwane for the final leg of their most recent tour.

Timing was perfect and even if the weather promised to deliver a storm, it was one of those nights where the wind lights up for a brief moment and then disappears. The rest of the evening had signs of the winter chill but nothing too hectic and under a large avocado tree in a quiet suburb, a group of music/poetry enthusiasts turned up with their chairs, cushions, snacks and wine for an evening interlude of poetic musical bliss.

Vocalist/performer Toast Coetzer (with Stephen Timms on drums, Michael Currin on guitar and guest artist, Gerhard Barnard, on bass, previously from Brixton Moord en Roof) calls Buckfever a random spoken word band which captures it best, but without thinking too much about it, their performance was perfect for that particular night on that particular weekend.

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Producer Giep van Zyl in charge of the lights.

While gathering around, fairy lights were being added for festive effect and someone was heard murmuring about sound checks which might be more effective. But none of this had any impact and the lights brought magic and lightness while the sound was perfection – under the night skies.

Art was the genie on the night, a random night with a random band but nothing about the spoken word or the underpinning experimental music was any of that. It was balm at the start of a chilly season, had everyone smiling, gasping and simply listening to the random yet thoughtful words held by music that seemed to attach to those thoughts and prevent them from flying off without just some space to linger a little longer.

It is about what takes our hearts and minds a’wandering, how these sentences strung together in simplicity but also words selected with care and cunning, allow us to view things anew, from a different stance or simply just to listen and allow them to wash over you.

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SkreeAlleen

Artists at work are always a sight to behold and on this particular night it started with SkreeAlleen (Willem Samuel), a  guitarist/songwriter whose name captures his style with an offhand charm and embracing style which does its own special thing under a tree in a suburb somewhere on a Sunday night. His songs on the night were mostly around the theme of love – whether lost or found or simply explored.

But then to taking on a completely different rhythm, dominated and determined by both voice and  music, The Buckfever Underground get rocking, gently, while Toast Coetzer speaks in words that sometimes sing, at others sting or stupefies and stuns – all of these.

If on a night you slip into a chair and listen to a solo performer and a random spoken word band, neither of which you know, it is especially meaningful to listen, the be given the glimpse of the minds of others, to catch something as offbeat as a protest smart phone song reminiscent of Johannes Kerkorrel’s Sit Dit Af which was more personal because he was referring to PW on the TV – or was it. Smart phones are as invasive, persistent and sustained as politicians selling their usually self-serving wares. The more things change, they say…

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Captivated by the music.

Fortunately everyone listening would have attached their own thoughts to the Coetzer lyrics – as poetry often does, it allows for that, almost like slipping down a rabbit’s warren.

Luckily that’s not all the night was about. It reminded one of how easily one can escape in the arts, how it takes you off and away and how hard artists have to work, just to make a buck – and hardly living.

But these talented performers all have many strings to their bow, and probably the musical one is also their escape. After all, The Buckfever Underground is celebrating 20 years and they would be doing this for love rather than money.

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Chef Hennie Fisher’s brilliant garden picnic food

That’s what artists do. They put their wares out there for you to catch if you can. And like on Sunday night, we were the blessed ones.

Catch their final show in Darling on Freedom Day or check them on the internet if you don’t know them. They’re quite something.

Here’s to another 20!

 

The Arts Show Us The Way – Joyously

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The Voice SA with Riana Nel, Ricky Rick, Lira and Francois van Coke.

There is so much to celebrate when we consider our country and our people and the arts have a huge role to play says DIANE DE BEER:

 

Watching the first season of The Voice SA some time back, the overwhelming feeling was surprise at how specifically the format impacted this country.

It wasn’t that race or colour was an issue, it was precisely because it was taken out of the equation, with the judges turning their backs on singers vying for contestant status, that the magic happened and just kept rolling in.

With this current season and a change of judges with an unexpected dynamic, the impact seems even more emotionally driven. Lira is the only one from the first round and she is joined by Ricky Rick, Riana Nel and Francois van Coke. The fact that she speaks Afrikaans adds another dimension, but it could just as well have been Riana speaking Zulu, a similar impact would have occurred. As South Africans we know these cross-cultural exchanges are still too rare and always hugely appreciated and acknowledged.

The audience shows that all the time and just seeing South Africans come together with such gusto is such a treat – especially now. It’s a reminder of who we are which isn’t always the message out there.

I haven’t calculated or counted but it feels as if the majority of contestants are either of colour or Afrikaans-speaking and that also makes for some fascinating stereotypes biting the dust. And the reaction of the judges as well as the audience which is as mixed as it should be, reflects the importance of reconciliation – still.

There’s huge reaction when a black contestant for example translates a popular Afrikaans song into Zulu because she loved the song but didn’t understand the lyrics, or when a prospective contestant chooses a judge and that choice seems at odds with their race. When someone singing in Afrikaans for example, goes for Ricky who doesn’t understand their home language, it is powerful in the context of our country. And then Francois van Coke remarks on the lyrics of a Zulu song obviously understanding the language. It’s lekker!

Mentioned in any other context, all of this would be difficult to understand, but in a country with our past, small gestures still have massive impact and what should be expected is still unexpected. Yet the goodwill is overwhelming and in our current climate of political chaos and upheaval, like a breath of fresh air on a Sunday night.

When people are in a creative space and left to their own devices, it seems to result in only good things even when there’s a competitive edge. Especially in this country where the arts had such impact during the struggle years, we should not be surprised by the healing impact that is possible even in these random spaces.

Hugh Masekela used to say that white people were also deprived during the apartheid years because they were cut off from the creativity of most of their countrymen and when you listen to the music and how it is interpreted by different language groups and the impact that has on everyone, it reinforces the strength of diversity. Music in all its different forms (like sport) is a universal language which is again so clear as this one plays out.

It’s such a neutral space for people to come together to play and that’s where South Africans show how their diversity comes together powerfully and why people are truly the strength of this country. When we get together and embrace, we can truly be proudly South African – and are.

The arts are in dire straits in this country because funding has been impossible in these dire times. Yet even with these odds, artists will find a way to perform and get the message out there. That’s also in spite of arts coverage which has dwindled disastrously in traditional media. So strange that because I would have thought especially die-hard newspaper readers would want more of that.

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Rooilug with Jefferson Dirks-Korkee Picture: Retha Ferguson

Watching two recent performances from two young coloured men at consecutive Afrikaans art festivals, both dealing with what felt like very personal stories if not of them individually, from the community or perhaps both, the power of storytelling and eventual healing for both performer and audiences was rewarding.

Both Jefferson J Dirks-Korkee with his luminous Rooilug at the US Woordfees and Carlo Daniels with the innovative Klippies van die Grond at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) announced their strong presence in this artistic space with stories that were self-written or with some help.

The talent though was evident in these two young men who entered a world outside their comfort zone, though one that had flung open its arms to encourage new voices from a wider South African community to tell their stories. This is how we get to know and understand one another. That’s always been the most positive strength of the arts in this country.

It is in our stories that we find common ground and empathy for the other’s circumstances. That’s what especially these Afrikaans festivals have done almost unwittingly. Because there’s a real desire (growing stronger in this past decade) to be inclusive, people get to hear from one another and more often than not, it is the similarities rather than the differences that come into play. But it is also the chance to acknowledge the humanity in us all that adds to the insight.

Living in a country so fraught with racial inequality – still – where one group remains empowered to a much greater degree than another, it is in the arts where we can stand still, tell our stories, reach out and start understanding and embracing the lives of others.

Embracing diversity is not encouraged in our world today, but our past has handed us some insight and the gift of understanding how easy it is to turn our backs but how rewarding it is to celebrate the diversity.

With yet another Freedom Day on the horizon, it’s about time.

Viva the Arts Viva!

 

 

 

 

2019 US Woordfees Meets Expectation with Excitement and Exploration

Samson picture by Nardus Engelbrecht
Brett Bailey’s spectacular Samson Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht

DIANE DE BEER

 

When a festival in these lean times boasts two productions the scale of the Marthinus Basson-directed MI(SA) and Brett Bailey’s Samson, there’s a certain expectation and excitement attached to the execution.

And the performances were no let-down. But it’ s also the magnitude of the input from many and on different levels to produce these shows that’s humbling.

Economics prohibit more work on this scale, especially as many of these shows don’t have a future because of costs, which makes a Bailey production, the first time at the Woordfees, so extraordinary.

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Marthinus Basson’s luminous MI(SA) Picture: Retha Ferguson

MI(SA), for example, was the brainchild of the CEO of the National Afrikaans Theatre Initiative (NATi) Cornelia Faasen, who initiated (and sponsored with Woordfees and Suidoosterfees) the production, which included the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Missa Luba, the Argentinean Misa Criolla and a new work by South African composer Antoni Schonken with a text Die Nuwe Verbond – ‘n misorde vir die universum by Antjie Krog.

That’s quite a mouthful, also to watch and experience, but so beautifully conceived and executed with a brilliant creative team from design to choreography to a choir who worked tirelessly to perform not only one but three different compositions in the same concert – which is what turned this into such a special encounter.

The nature of an arts festival isn’t always ideal for spectacle or pieces that ask much, but without them, it would disintegrate into a popcorn affair which would leave many dissatisfied. One simply has to bite the bullet to reap the rewards. And this was how I experienced this one.

I am a music lover rather than someone with the knowledge to review/critique but often in these instances, I think it adds rather than detracts from the experience. Listening to those who know their music discuss the merits of the production, there was both apprehension and certainty in equal measure, but I wallowed in the three different approaches, the rhythms, the instruments, the choreography by Ina Wichterich and Sifiso Kweyama (including a contortionist telling a compelling visual story in a completely different medium), Amanda Strydom who has done the Criolla before and with her distinctive tones could also recite Krog’s inventive text, the courageous choir, the soulful soloists and the splendid orchestra, who all contributed to something special.

I would have liked a second viewing, once was perhaps just too expansive to take it all in, but what was there to be absorbed was the perfect start to an arts festival. It will be performed again at the Suidoosterfees on April 28 at 2pm at Artscape.

And with Brett Bailey the conclusion, who could have asked for more. In typical fashion while describing the whole process in the festival paper, he also said in a discussion after the first show that he settled on Samson as the story because of the Pointer Sisters’ song Fire and he starts singing Well, Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Delilah…

But that’s Bailey who puts on a show with such fire that at first viewing one can’t help burning up. It took a second viewing, a luxury at an arts festival, to take in the full scale of this massive production. It can be overwhelming but once you sit back and allow the story to unfold with everything available; a compelling narrator, a brilliantly animated backdrop, actors/dancers/singers, music and musicians, in typical Bailey fashion, it’s all there as  he deals with a dysfunctional and destructive world in a way that tears at your heart.

It’s going to the National Arts Festival where most of his works have been shown locally. If you’re going feel blessed and book now.

Stof picture Retha Ferguson
Stof with James Cairns Picture: Retha Ferguson

Apart from these two superstars, Basson and Bailey, the festival also showcased some feverish solo productions from both experienced and young performers; James Cairns cleverly translating his Nick Warren text Dirt to Stof and thus finding a new audience in his faultless Afrikaans, directed by the innovative Jenine Collocott who also guided the bubbly Babbelagtig;

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Johnny Boskak with Craig Morris Picture: Retha Ferguson

Craig Morris who returned with old favourite Johnny Boskak (which he has also translated into Afrikaans for Oudtshoorn’s KKNK this week) and proves that a good performance will make a play last forever;

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Rooilug with Jefferson Dirks-Korkee Picture: Retha Ferguson

and a new voice from Jefferson J Dirks-Korkee with Rooilug, an authentic tale of abuse and a performance of endearing charm.

Tien Duisend Ton picture Retha Ferguson
Tien Duisend Ton with Cintaine Schutte and Albert Pretorius Picture Retha Ferguson

Two-handers also held sway with Cintaine Schutte (opposite Albert Pretorius as the perfect foil) giving an astounding performance that leaves one breathless in the Nico Scheepers directed Tien Duisend Ton;

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Die Road Trip with Brendon Daniels and Waldemar Schultz Picture; Retha Ferguson

with Brendon Daniels and Waldemar Schultz strikingly coming together in Die Road Trip, a festival winner with a clever text and a buddy theme that never alienates women, quite a rare thing. Both will be on show at the KKNK.

The other big production hitting hard was Sylvaine Strike’s magnificent vision of Beckett’s Endgame, never an easy text to engage with or execute. But with a blindingly brilliant performance by Andrew Buckland as Homm, the seriously silly adjutant played by Rob van Vuuren, as well as the hysterical Antoinette Kellerman and Soli Philander whose exquisite hands do most of the expressive talking, it was mesmerising in visual and emotional context.

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Toutjies en Ferreira

Saartjie Botha’s Toutjies and Ferreira arrived with big-time Fiësta accolades in what could almost be described as a double bill, so different are the two halves. They’re even directed by different directors with Nicole Holm in charge of the first madcap backstage romp, while Wolfie Britz pretty much plays himself in that and then directs the emotionally charged stage show starring a luminous Frank Opperman and Joanie Combrink as parents who are packing up the belongings of their recently immigrated last child.

Two others are already settled in different countries with Combrink’s character confessing that they have children and grand-children on four continents. It’s an emotional rollercoaster with Kellerman’s director proclaiming madly that the theatre cannot exist without ladders, all of which flows into the loss of grieving parents unable to see that other avenues could make their load lighter.

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Die Gangsters Picture: Natalie Gabriels

Marthinus Basson describes Die Gangsters as one of his favourite productions giving a nod to the writer, Dr Ben Dehaeck. The piece was first performed at the Breughel Theatre in Cloetesville in memory of the inspired theatre maker and teacher, and now two years later it has returned with new life and an ensemble cast who sparkle and shine as they take ownership of a story with great gusto. Audiences responded in large numbers and the piece blossomed with creativity and cunning performances.

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Katvoet with Tinarie van Wyk-Loots Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht

Unfortunately, at art festivals, some productions are too big to see at the first performance and yet, the programme is so hectic, there’s no other option. Everything about Katvoet excited me about the prospect of witnessing another performance at the KKNK, which I will do. It starts with the robust adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Nico Scheepers and a cast featuring Marius Weyers (Big Daddy) and Marion Holm (Big Mama) as the battling parents, Tinarie van Wyk-Loots as Maggie, Laudo Liebenberg (Boela), Albert Pretorius (Buffel) and Martelize Kolver (his wife Jollie).

Adapting and reimagining a classic is a tough ask, but here it is viewed from a new and younger perspective with less angst about the prescriptions, which offers different insights.

It was an exciting theatrical selection but that’s just some of what was on offer at a festival which started out celebrating books. It still does that while embracing the full spectrum of the arts wholeheartedly. It’s become one of our most important festivals not only because it is based in and attached to a university (although that helps) but also because of the spirited leadership of Saartjie Botha who is constantly pushing the envelope while ignoring the parameters.

That’s what the arts should be – a platform for all artists.