Ngema’s Zulu history, in song and dance
MBONGENI Ngema does not do things in half measures – and his latest theatre project is to tell the story of the Zulu nation as he sees it.
After a long hiatus from the stage, the playwright is set to start the international tour of his latest production, The Zulu.
The production, which won over audiences and critics at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, is set to rock stages across the province, the country and overseas.
On what inspired it, Ngema said he wanted to be able to relay some of the stories he was told in childhood, to preserve them.
“I had always wanted to make a musical dealing specifically with the rich heritage and history of the Zulu people, but I had always been intimidated,” he said. “But as you grow, you realise that those stories you were told are still important and that you must relay them, and that is why I made this show.”
Ngema first came to prominence on stage 27 years ago with Woza Albert.
“I think, above all else, this musical is deeper than anything I have done before in my career. With some of my previ- ous shows there is sort of an overview of things. But with The Zulu there is a lot more depth in the story,” he said.
The hardest part of piecing the production together was condensing a long story without compromising narrative.
“This is a very big story that we were undertaking, and I am on stage from start to finish. So it was a challenge to decide on how to structure it and make such a story work,” he said.
No stranger to controversy, Ngema has previously been lambasted for having a frosty relationship with the Indian community. But he says it is something that is all in the past, and he wants to continue to use theatre as a dialogue around socio-political issues.
Ngema expressed concern about the future of theatre, which was why he had decided to take The Zulu to the heart of KZN, to showcase it in communities where there were no professional theatre platforms.
“If you look at the history of theatre, it has always been used to bring people together, and that is what I am hoping to do with this show,” he said.
“It must be experienced by the people who are part of this history, and that means we must take it directly to them where they are.”