By Lauren Kansley
The back story behind ‘Kwela Bafana +’, the latest production to hit the Artscape Theatre, is almost as interesting as the show itself.
The musical is a melodic journey down memory lane to the 1950s era. Set in a South African township, the production uses music to explore the tensions of apartheid like forced removals and the defiance campaign.
The fact that these decades old songs are being performed is a miracle in itself, says the show’s co-director Bra Smal, because these tunes, which once reverberated through townships all over the country, were nearly lost in the mists of time until he decided to resurrect them for ‘Kwela Bafana +’.
“The 1950s produced the best music. It was inspired by American negro music and became Township Jazz. In those days they didn’t write music down so when we decided to do this project, we went looking for the old guys who used to perform it,” says Smal.
In 1991, through the Sibikwa Community Centre in Benoni, the year-long process of recording these iconic songs began with a handful of old musicians passing the knowledge to a hand selected group of youngsters who became the first cast members.
Initially the show was titled ‘On Flight’, but it soon changed to ‘Kwela Bafana’. “Kwela” for the type of music, and “Bafana” for the young men who performed it. The + sign was added years later when two females joined the cast.
Former law student Mahlogonolo Dolo plays the young female lead Ntombi in the show. She only joined the cast three weeks ago and can’t wait to perform for Cape Town audiences.
“My character is the daughter of the shebeen queen Sis Peggie and I fall in love with Spike, an older guy who my mother doesn’t like,” she says.
“What I like about the show is that it is so much more than just a musical. You really experience what people in the 50s went through, but it’s not just about pain; it’s also about the beauty of that time.”
The show features kwela music from classic acts like King Kong, The Woodywood Peckers and The Manhattan Brothers. The cast is supported on stage by the ‘Kwela Bafana +’ band which includes Boy Ngwenya, who was an original member of The Woodywood Peckers.
* ‘Kwela Bafana +’ is showing from April 10 to 21 and tickets range between R75 and R140.
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