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Saturday, October 17, 2009


Enjoyable evening of music exploring the origins of the blues. (Review by Caroline Smart)

The Birth of the Blues, part of the Blues Fest that ran at Wilson’s Wharf in September, has continued as a stand-alone production in the Catalina Theatre where it can be seen until October 25.

Even if you’re not familiar with blues music, this production offers a great evening’s entertainment as it explores the origins of this musical style from its acappella form in the early days of slave labour and prison gangs in the United States to its claim as the forerunner of rock ‘n roll – as stated in the number The Blues had a Baby ( … “and they called it rock ‘n roll”).

Hosted by the amiable and loose-limbed Bandile Hlophe, one of the success stories of the Unilever Young Performers' Project who also impressed me in the project’s Fiddler on the Roof, The Birth of the Blues invites audiences to discover the origins of the ‘blues’ and their influence on world music. In presenting an amusing and informative narrative as well as handling some of the numbers, Hlophe is a relaxed and professional personality on stage and the audience warms to him immediately.

His fellow vocalist is the enigmatic throaty-voiced Thulile Zama (sharing the role with Tammy Saville) who gave some beautiful and poignant renditions of numbers such as Another Man Done Gone, Black Coffee, Red Beans, I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues and her fine interpretation of St Gabriel.

From its finger clicking start with Pick a Bale o’ Cotton to the rousing final number When Love Comes to Town, the show passed all too quickly. It was also notable as having one of the best sound balances seen in a long time at any live theatrical music venue – the Heritage and the Barnyard should take note – thanks to the presence of the inimitable Steve Fataar on the sound desk.

The blues classics are sultry, languorous and sexy and musical director Melvin Peters keeps his band tight, pumping and respectful to the style. Great to see KZN jazz legends Brian Thusi on trumpet – giving a show-stopping performance of Georgia - and Jerry Kunene on sax. We don’t see enough of them!

Performing numbers such as On a Monday and Crossroads, Rob Warren plays a mean lead guitar (using three different instruments throughout). Strong back-up is provided by Bruce Baker on drums and Brad Thompson on bass guitar.

An arrangement of classic blues numbers such as St Louis Blues takes the style into a more contemporary mode with Don’t Start Me Talking and then on to rock with That’s Alright Mama with Bandile Hlophe’s upbeat version of Hound Dog following Thulila Zama’s bluesy introduction. Enjoy numbers such as Midnight Special, Taint Nobody’s Business if I Do, Go my Mojo Working and more!

The Birth of the Blues is devised and directed by Themi Venturas with the assistance of Charon Williams- Ross and runs until October 25. Tickets R74 available at the Catalina Theatre on 031 305 7612 or online booking through Strictlytickets on – Caroline Smart