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Monday, March 27, 2023

Gregory Maqoma and Thuthuka Sibisi: Broken Chord review – fascinating story comes alive in song

In 1891, a gaggle of singers named the African Choir sailed from Cape City to Britain to start a two-year-long tour, aiming to boost cash to fund a college in South Africa. They carried out for audiences in England, Canada and the US, and even for Queen Victoria, singing a mixture of African and European music, wearing “native costume” in addition to westernised garments.

This little-known second in historical past impressed choreographer Gregory Maqoma’s Damaged Chord, a bit of dance-music-theatre created with composer Thuthuka Sibisi. It’s carried out by Maqoma alongside a massively spectacular quartet of singers: Tshegofatso Khunwane, Simphiwe Sikhakhane, Lubabalo Velebhayi and the sensible and versatile Nokuthula Magubane, the only girl of the group.

Some facets of the story are given comparatively easy remedy: the singers arriving by boat, marvelling at Huge Ben and the Thames, solely to be met by hostile stares and chants of “Go house!” that are voiced by UK choir Echo Vocal Ensemble, functioning as dramatic and musical antagonists on stage. However because it progresses, Damaged Chord turns into looser in type, bearing on colonial dominance, missionary training and “civilisation”, the efficiency of ethnic identification and being “an excellent Black”. A few of this infiltrates the music itself, which places Christian hymns subsequent to Xhosa click on consonants, kinds shifting between eras and continents.

Sung all through, the sounds transfer from a haunting, quivering opening into stirring, sonorous harmonies and polyrhythmic propulsion. Not solely are the 4 leads sterling singers, with stamina, however they’re charismatic movers too, backing up Maqoma, who at 49 has stated this present shall be his final as a performer. Nonetheless he strikes with ease and magnetism: toes skipping, torso quaking, shoulders and hips bouncing of their sockets, drawing on Xhosa and modern dance. He appears to embody a number of sides of the journey: he’s unsettled, he’s homesick, he’s resolute, he’s playful, he’s highly effective.

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That slackening of the dramatic thread, whereas it permits the storytelling to tackle completely different shapes, means they don’t wring as a lot worth and element out of this fascinating account as they may – in any case, these themes aren’t confined to 1 historic occasion. However the talent and resonant sound of the primary solid is sufficient to make this a potent efficiency.

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