News in South Africa
Magic on Carré stage
Renée Belcher van den Berg
Tonight I feel like an African princess who is going to a wedding celebration, because I am on my way to experience the African male voice choir performing in Amsterdam, in the first musical about Madiba’s life: Amandla! Mandela.
The previous time I saw the group, was three months earlier, when we wished them bon voyage on the airport, on their way to the Netherlands for an eight month stint of rehearsals and performances. They had realized, then, already that it would be very different from the trips to the Eastern Cape which they are veterans of. This time they will be a group of nine men and one woman, sharing two flats in Amsterdam till March 2010, and will be performing every second evening across the Netherlands.
When we arrive at the Koninklijk Theater Carré, the red carpet is waiting with TV cameras and the European glitterati are everywhere. My heart bounces with joy when I eventually spot a bright orange and green head Ugandan head-scarf.
The beauty and size of the Carré is overwhelming and we take our seats in anticipation to see the group. The piece opens with scenes from Mandela’s youth in the Transkei. Big names from South African history are eternalised on stage: Bizos, Tambo, Sisulu and Winnie. And there is the choir now! From shacks in Indlovini behind Khayelitsha this group of musicians (now also actors) has travelled to one of the biggest stages in Europe. Astonished we watch Mvakalisi Madotyeni, a South African actor with the body and smile of a young Henry Cele, sing and speak in Dutch:
“Ubuntu! Ubuntu! Gelijkheid; vrijheid; respect! Hoe gaat je om met ieder die je kent?”
Inge Bos, the producer of Amandla! Mandela, mentioned that we will be surprised about how the group has progressed (after the groundwork by Nicholas Ellenbogen and the OLIVE LEAF Foundation in 2007) through months of hard work to become confident actors and stage personalities. Khayelitsha United Mambazo met the challenge with great responsibility, seriousness and vigour. On top of getting used to new songs, dance moves and acting, they also had to incorporate the Dutch language cues!
When the group got the chance to show off their traditional Isicathamiya moves, I felt how the magical power of Africa filled the room. The European audience is awed by the robust and ancient sounds of Africa. I wished I could ululate to show the group how moved I was.
It has to be a frightening task for any artist to tell the life-story of Nelson Mandela in a three hour musical. The Dutch writer and director Koen van Dijk managed to achieve this with sensitivity and a balanced thematic overview. He presents the most important events of our recent political history (the Rivonia trial, the Sharpeville massacre and the riots of 1976) with respect and empathy.
The love story of Mandela and Winnie Madikizela, and his longing for his wife and children, while incarcerated on Robben-island emphasises his humanity. Mandela’s strategic diplomacy with PW and then later FW, in the negotiation process before his release, is played in a delightful tragic-comical nature (satirically undermining the ‘authorities’).
The piece culminates exuberantly in a joyful climax of music and dance with Mandela’s eventual release from the Victor Verster prison. The image of Madiba and Winnie who are able to walk, relaxed and content, down the road to speak to the people of their country is powerful and moving.
The basic emotional and narrative impact of the fascinating life journey of this world icon is served exceptionally well by the well written text, convincing acting and the group of authentic South African musicians and dancers.
This is an energetic, heart-warming, inspiring and highly entertaining product, which can be adapted for a South African audience. For now the South Africans are still working in Amsterdam till March 2010.
When they return, each one will be able, with the income from the show, to move from their current informal settlement to a suburban neighbourhood.
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