Monthly Archive: October 2014

Inala: A Zulu ballet featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham 3 October 2014

Tonight at the delectable Symphony Hall we have a unique mix of the  classical sound of South Africa complimented by contemporary modern Western ballet, as the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo bring ‘Inana – A Zulu Ballet’ to Birmingham.

Inala-7To celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo feature in a unique artistic collaboration with multi-award-winning choreographer Mark Baldwin. Performing INALA’s original score (by LBM’s Joseph Shabalala and classical composer Ella Spira) as they blend the intricate rhythms and infectious harmonies of their native musical roots with live percussion, piano and strings. The performance features richly visceral choreography unites Zulu traditions with classical ballet and contemporary dance, performed by an exceptional company of eighteen dancers and singers.
LBM formed way back in the early, and have gone on to become one of South Africa’s most prolific recording artists. Jospeh Shabalala took the isicathamiya harmonies of the Zulu people, formed a group and started singing at local weddings and other gatherings before entering competitions – becoming ‘so good’ they were effectively banned from entering. First album ‘Amabutho’ was released in 1973, and their collaboration on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ brought them to worldwide acclaim.  LBM have recorded over 50 studio albums and have won multiple awards, including this year – their fourth Grammy. While there have been over 30 members of LBM, the line up has remained consistent since ’93, with only two members retiring.

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With such an eclectic mix of art on stage tonight, it’s difficult to know what we will see tonight as we take our seats. The band take to the rear of the stage – the main front area flat for the performers and the whole set incredibly simple. Tonight’s set is in two parts and given the energy of the performers – we soon understand why. LBM deliver us their unique mbube vocal style, (mbube means’ ‘lion ‘ in Zulu) – as a male lead sings cappella and the others float and harmonise in accompaniment. Tonight’s perforce is sang in Zulu too – very little is spoken in English.  The ballet dancers give us their interpretation of animals from the plains – of birds and others – stalking across the plains. The dancers performing are some of the best – award-winning, individuals with roots the Royal Ballet and The Ballet Rambert.
But LBM don’t just stand there and sing, they are part of the art, intermixing with the dancers, participating in the dance – the high kicks flying. The contemporary dancers contort, giving beautiful lines, beautiful and energetic, intermixed with Zulu dance.  There is no story as I understand, this is an interpretation of the day and of the life in Africa inspired by LBM’s songs – a village stirring at daybreak, traveling, in boats fishing, a thunderstorm of city.  This is performance, just watch, just listen; become immersed in the sounds, and the visuals.

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Part two starts with a ballad, beautifully simple hamornised vocals, two dancing interpreting in details and amazing moves. And the atmosphere builds, the audience are mesmerized aurally and visually.  LBM are perennial world tourers – for six months of the year they are on road – their response has always been ; as long as the people of the world want to hear their music they will be putting on the shows. An English spoken section “There are many things that you may want…. but if you want to do this, you have to put your mind to it. Travel…. say I am going somewhere….”
LBM are in a line, intermixed by dancers and they each come to the front of the stage, one dancer, and one singer. Many dance in time together, a couple of LBM members chicken out this duel – to laughter from the crowd.
As as the show draws to a crescendo, the dancers amazing, the harmonies quiet spectacular – the second act completes to a standing ovation. And group and dancers bow to us all “Yeaaaaaaaahhhhhh goodbye….”
LBM are legendary world musicians and they do indeed bring the beauty of their tribal harmonies to the world. This accompaniment with contemporary ballet, taking traditional and mixing it with modern was something really quite mesmerizing and well worth taking a peek. ‘Inala’ mans abundance of goodwill; a show on the past, present and new hopes future, is an uplifting cultural experience, And as we leave, we leave with smiles on our faces the tunes of the South African plains swirling round our heads.

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Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.

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