Arts District

Africa Umoja Brings Spirit of Togetherness to Hippodrome Theatre

South Africa’s vibrant musical legacy comes through in lively performance.

By Angela N. Carroll | October 23, 2018, 3:40 pm

-Courtesy of Africa Umoja
Arts District

Africa Umoja Brings Spirit of Togetherness to Hippodrome Theatre

South Africa’s vibrant musical legacy comes through in lively performance.

By Angela N. Carroll | October 23, 2018, 3:40 pm

-Courtesy of Africa Umoja

Africa Umoja—The Spirit of Togetherness is a beautiful musical about the history of South Africa told through the musical traditions that have shaped the country. “Umoja,” a Swahili word for unity, is a fitting title for a vibrant and culturally expressive theatrical work.

Audiences have a chance to learn more about South Africa’s vibrant musical legacy with a limited run through October 28 at the historic Hippodrome Theatre.

“It’s very important to show my history especially in South Africa, because for many years it’s been excluded because of apartheid,” said co-creator Todd Twala. “A lot of people don’t know about my country because we were in seclusion. We were taught a very different history.”

Started as an advocacy and leadership initiative for young South Africans who struggled with homelessness and school retention, the Africa Umoja initiative later evolved into an extravagant production that allowed its participants to travel outside of South Africa to share their powerful dance traditions around the world.

“There was a need for me to teach the youth of South Africa about where they come from musically around dance,” Twala continued. “All over the country they adopted foreign clothes. It was important to teach them who they were and where they came from musically.”

Africa Umoja features dances from the rural countryside of South Africa, the booming metropolises of Johannesburg, and regions in between. The performance includes mourning songs and movements of women whose husbands left them to find work, the slapping gumboot dances of miners, the snake dances of Venda girls on the verge of adulthood, and some contemporary dances from South African youth.

The show chronicles South African history by recalling memories from the life of musician and performer Penuel Bhekizitha Ndaba, lovingly known as “Hope.” Though Hope passed away in 2014, a cast member stands in his place as a narrator who explains cultural nuances and expresses, with great pride, the music that helped black South Africans overcome overwhelming oppressions.

Hope also serves as a transitional guide who contextualizes the sociopolitical issues that influenced the musical traditions of each era. “Our music is like our country—it is growing,” Hope notes as a cast of dancers and drummers take over the stage.

All of the cast members give high energy, invigorating performances that not only highlight the sophistication and dexterity of Twala’s choreography, but also showcase a nuanced representation of dance traditions that are rarely exhibited outside of South Africa. One of the first scenes that opens the show featured Sangoma, Zulu healers, and shaman who communicated with ancestral spirits through a chorus of drumming and songs. Men in full Zulu regalia stomped the ground and kicked their legs up towards the sky. The thunderous sound of drums and feet coalesced with the melodic voices of the men. In those moments, the audience became witness to something sacred, an experience that needs no translation.

That feeling of being a part of something special, not just a passive member of the audience, persisted throughout the over two-and-a-half-hour performance. Each scene established how the dances and fashion of South African communities evolved over time, post-migration from rural communities to the city, through police violence and apartheid, into the contemporary moment.

“We are living in borrowed times, we need to support each other, look after each other, help each other embrace each other instead of pointing fingers,” Twala said. “The weather is changing. The world is changing. There is no time for all of this craziness. My wish is that when people see the show they will leave the theater with an open heart, togetherness, and happiness.”




Meet The Author

Angela N. Carroll is a contributing contemporary visual art, performance, and film criticism writer for BmoreArt, Arts.Black, Sugarcane Magazine, and Umber Magazine. She received her MFA in digital arts and new media from the University of California at Santa Cruz and currently teaches within the film and moving image program at Stevenson University.



You May Also Like


MaxSpace

Movie Review: Knives Out

Finally, something the entire family will agree on this Thanksgiving!

The Chatter

Six of Light City's Most Instagrammable Installations

Light City/Book Festival kicks off Nov. 1 with plenty of exhibits perfect for your grid.

MaxSpace

Movie Review: Parasite

The haves and the have nots clash in this wickedly dark social satire.


On The Town

How to Customize Your Brilliant Baltimore Experience

Our activity-based guide to the first-of-its-kind festival taking over the Inner Harbor November 1-10.

MaxSpace

Movie Review: Harriet

The peerless Underground Railroad conductor gets the biopic she deserves.

Arts District

The Big Baltimore Playlist: October 2019

The top five local songs you should download right now.

Connect With Us

Most Read


John Waters is the Newest Male Face of Nike: Waters is one of three celebrities chosen to be in '90s-inspired Nordstrom x Nike campaign.

Maryland Native Maggie Rogers Receives First Grammy Nomination: The singer-songwriter was nominated for “Best New Artist” alongside big-name acts.

Feds Charge Pugh With Fraud and Tax Evasion in ‘Healthy Holly’ Scandal: Former mayor faces 11 counts, including conspiracy, in alleged children’s book scheme.

Four Key Updates on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Here’s what the BSO has been up to since performances resumed in September.

Boys' Latin Honors Military History with In-School Museum: At the Roland Park private school, wartime memorabilia forges lasting personal connections.