Georgina Benison embraces her inner jazz-baby during an eclectic array of sounds at Music & Dance from South Africa, Royal Opera House Muscat.
I don’t know how you like to spend your Thursday evenings but it seemed that half of Muscat rolled up to the Royal Opera House last week to watch one of the liveliest and most popular shows of the season.
It must be two years since a jazz band last got punters into the auditorium to stand and dance on their seats.
But that is just what the Mahotella Queens – the legendary vocal trio – did right at the start of their set at the Music & Dance from South Africa performance, which lasted for three hours, and was packed out.
Lead singer Hilda Semola Tloubatla and Nobesuthu Gertrude Mbadu Shawe have been singing since 1965, and after five decades of performing they show no signs of slowing down.
In fact, their cheeky, hip-swinging, pacey dance moves masked their septuagenarianism. In short, they haven’t lost it, and the audience was thrilled.
They were joined by Amanda Nkosi, a younger singer who replaced the original third member, Mildred Mangxola, who was too sick to travel from the “Rainbow Nation”. Their style is clearly influenced by Zulu “isicathamiya” acapella singing with American, minstrel-inspired elements.
Of course, the highlight had to be when Hugh Masekela, the 77-year-old trumpeter, composer and singer, took to the stage.
After having lived in London away from Apartheid-era South Africa and then in the US for more than two decades, Masekela was a pioneer of the US-influenced African jazz scene, and his fame has spread internationally.
Masekela and his brilliant lead-guitarist returned to their South African roots, and the sound was distinctly Zulu- based “mbaqanga”.
Masekela’s lung capacity is still astounding and can veer from a finely executed trumpet solo or “head”, immediately into extended scat singing, and apparently without breathing or pause. What a man, and what a legend, right here in Oman!
There was nothing lightweight about the themes of the evening as all the performers stressed their peace-based message. Most poignant of all was the Coal-Train Song at the end of Masekela’s set, reflecting the struggles and sorrows of Apartheid-era South Africa.
The first half of the show was an all-singing, all-dancing veritable party, although we stayed in our seats. Just as well, as the sheer joy and energy bouncing off the stage was exhausting just to watch.
It kicked off to an exciting start with the energetic dance form of “pantsula”. The eight dancers who gyrated to the sounds of the African hip-hop fusion genre, “Kwaito” were a delight, and very easy on the eye in their white trousers!
They alternated their numbers with the Mafikizolo singing duo, with three backing singers and seven fine musicians. Theo Kgosinkwe – songwriter, singer and de facto MC for the night – and Nhlanhla Nciza, a stunningly-dressed Afro-Pop star, have been performing together since 1996. Their chemistry is clearly palpable as they regaled the audience with their sophisticated form of Garage Music, with African features.
The (red) trombone solo in the middle of the set, during which we could sing along to Wimowe, In the Jungle and Give me Hope, Johanna (Johannesburg) was especially engaging and impressive.
The programme was divided into three sections – a journey in reverse – from contemporary dance and song back to the traditional roots, which developed in the black townships of rural, 19th-century South Africa.
We were all African that night, and were indulged by this diverse and lengthy cultural celebration.
However, I feel that reversing the order of the programme would have given a more flowing and balanced perspective of African music today.