Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Zimbe! review in the Listener

Zimbe! Come sing the songs of Africa! a new work by Alexander L’Estrange was given its New Zealand première under the direction of David Burchell. The combined forces of City of Dunedin Choir, St Paul’s Cathedral Choristers, Southern Children’s Choir and dancer Ojeya Cruz Banks accompanied by jazz ensemble of Graeme Perkins (piano), Nick Cornish (alto saxophone), Sam Healey (bass), Robert Craigie (drum kit) and Justine Pierre (percussion) packed out the stage. This infectiously joyful and energetic community show had the audience clapping along and won all performers a standing ovation.

L’Estrange, known for his creative versatility and for the music he wrote for the TV adaptation of McCall Smith’s book The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, describes Zimbe! as “coming from the seeds of my affinity with African music and the gospel tradition”. The Oxford graduate has collected 15 traditional songs, backed them with jazz. The collection reflects the role of music in everyday life in Africa - from sun rise to sun set, or as the song “Ilanga libuya, ilanga liyaphuma” more optimistically puts it “the sun sets… the sun rises”.

The collection is in two halves, bracketed with slightly altered versions of the refrain “Njooni!, Zimbe!” (Come sing the songs of Africa!). Two children’s games “Sansa Kroma” (Sansa the Hawk),  “Pete, Pete!” (Vulture vulture!) and two wedding songs “Wai Bamba “ (You’ve got her!) and “Hamba Lulu” (Go Lulu)  highlight the lighter side of the African experience while “Thula Mama, Thula” (a lullaby for mothers of imprisoned sons) and “Vamudara” (in which a drunken man dances himself to death) highlight the everyday pain. The second section opens with the funeral song “Aleluya/Thuma Mîna” accompanied by a section of the choir offstage and danced to most lyrically and sensuously by Banks. Anthems and prayers make up the remaining collection, reflecting the importance of maintaining hope in dire circumstances. “We shall not give up the fight”, “Siyahamba”, “Freedom is coming/ Hamba vangeli” were sung with vigour and joy.

The combined choirs gained momentum as they warmed to the music and warmed the music as they gained momentum. While individual members were obviously not natural-born sing-and-dance people, or at ease without their scores, they were aided by the majority who did enter the spirit of the songs, albeit with elbows firmly wedged to their sides. The overall performance lifted markedly when the scores were put aside and the choir projected the life in the music, imperfections and all, out to the audience.

Zimbe! could be successfully performed by smaller groups less inhibited by a lack of space to move, but a huge crowd singing at full throttle is tremendously exhilarating and a sight to gladden the world-weary.

By Marian Poole, New Zealand Listener, 18 September 2010


Lee said...

Yay for standing ovations :-)

I think it was well-deserved - especially for those in the choir for whom the dancing and movement was really hard physically for various reasons, but who got "into the groove" and did it anyway!

Leta said...

Absolutely - I could not agree more!