Dipping into memories with music
THE name of the show, says artistic director James Ngcobo, reminds him of a jazz improv… Ketekang. A friend suggested this Sepedi word for “celebrate”.
“It sounded right,” says Ngcobo, who is unveiling a new musical on Friday as The Market’s celebratory production of 20 years of democracy.
He wanted something that reached even wider and with the support of the US Embassy devised and directs Ketekang, in honour and memory of people who had to live through artificial segregation here and in the US.
“This is not a show laden with meaning,” says the director. “We’re picking up moments, avoiding bitterness, but there will be reminders for those who remember the times,” he explains. “It’s all gone together in the melting pot.”
It’s something he feels comfortable with, telling stories through poetry, prose, (pieces by South African and American poets and playwrights), music and dance.
“We’re celebrating 20 years of democracy and the US is looking back at 50 years of the civil rights movement,” he notes.
There was both juxtaposition and dovetailing in bringing these two continents and these stories together.
“There are so many similarities that we wanted to present to an audience,” explains Ngcobo, who emphasises the responsibility that comes with freedom.
Musicals at the Market are another of Ngcobo’s aims, so this is a step in that direction. But he stresses, this is celebratory, not educational. It’s an end-of-year show and while there is reflection involved, he wants people to bathe in nostalgia while others might gain insight.
Book-ending his year as artistic director of The Market with first Colored Museum at the start of the year and now Ketekang, he again opts for a young cast with singers, actors and dancers representing mostly the youth. He has also used some writing by the young cast and a piece from playwright/actor Omphile Molusi’s Itsoseng to reflect this new generation of voices. The music echoes some of the writing, but Ngcobo hasn’t laboured the time frames.
“It’s not a history lesson,” it’s about dipping in and out of moments,” he says. “We’re sharing a story of emancipation and of a people who have complete ownership of a story.”
Taking the ’80s, for example, it is the complete chaos in this country that dominates that period, and he does this with sound as the dancers announce their intentions in rhythms anyone who lived through that time will recognise. There are many ways he signals specific iconic moments of the struggle, the oppression and, more than anything, the pain.
“These were sounds of anger,” says Ngcobo and when stepping into that moment, the emotional impact is immediate. “It was the end of innocence,” he reminds us and as he runs through this shared memory bank, audiences will remember and reflect on times long gone. It is Ngcobo’s way of recalling the past, reminding us what we left behind and why we never want to go back there, while underlining all the time why freedom should be nourished and nurtured.
“It’s about using a theatre language to paint this particular tapestry,” he concludes.
As is his wont, he brings a band of collaborators on board including musical director Tshepo Mngoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre’s Luyanda Sidiya (named Young Artist 2015) as choreographer with the company dancers.
Ngcobo uses music traditionally sung during the toughest years in our country, and lends from Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Sibongile Khumalo, Caiphus Semenya and the list goes on.
From a choreographic perspective, Sidiya wanted to celebrate our rich history with movement. “James is just a visionary,” he says. He will get the details of a particular moment in time, what the director wants from an emotional point and move from there.
“It’s a learning experience for me and the dancers,” he acknowledges as he is challenged by a piece that doesn’t rely only on dance.
“It’s about interpreting someone else’s story,” he says. Add to that that most of the dancers are too young to know much about that particular past and he has to make sure “they can slip into that moment to bring the emotions truthfully,” he says.
But one of this choreographer’s strengths is the emotional story that is attached to the meaning and the movement.
“We watched videos on the stone throwing, the craziness of that time,” he says. “It’s about articulating the words in another way.”
How do you dance to Mbeki’s iconic I Am an African? But while that might be a puzzle to many, Sidiya feels it in his bones.
“You find the truth of what is being said and translate it into movement,” he acknowledges. But it’s also about losing egos and not being too precious about your work. That’s the secret of collaboration, he believes.
So be prepared to go on this emotional musical ride which is filled with sadness, humour, laughter, memories, stories and a night of kicking back and allowing the glorious performers to paint pictures.
With regular cohort, set designer Nadya Cohen creating the landscape, singers and actors Nokukhanya Dlamini, Aubrey Poo, Caroline Borole, Dionne Song, Lebo Toko, Lesedi Job, Sonia Radebe, Vuyelwa Maluleke, the dancers and an amazing group of musicians will tickle all the senses.
Ketekang plays at The John Kani Theatre at the Market until December 14 with performance times: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.
SOUNDING THE TIMES: The Vuyani Dance Theatre dancers evoke the chaotic 1980’s in Ketekang.