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Saturday, December 14, 2013


Infectious and vibrant toe-tapping fun from Sibikwa Players’ acclaimed show. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Having opened last night in the Playhouse Loft, Sibikwa Players’ acclaimed Kwela Bafana lives up to its major success in Gauteng and is now set to delight Durban audiences as well.

The Sibikwa Arts Centre was founded in the 80s by Phyllis Klotz and Smal Ndaba who direct Kwela Bafana with top-class musical direction by Themba Mkhize and choreography by Cassius Tlhothalemaje. Sarah Roberts’ set and costume designs are highly effective.

The storyline aims to preserve and pay homage to the music of township bands and musicians of the 50’s - whether in Soweto, Cato Manor or District Six - and their strong forward-thinking despite the hardship of the times. 

Kwela Bafana is set in a Sophiatown shebeen run by Sis Peggy who keeps a tight rein on her customers as well as on her pretty daughter, Ntombi. Sis Peggy’s choice of music is to “go American style” which provides the opportunity for some great numbers. As Sis Peggy, Velephi Khumalo gives a strong performance as the owner of the shebeen as well as a proud winner of a talent competition and a concerned mother. A consummate actress, singer and dancer, her rendition of Lakutshon’ilanga was very moving.

As her daughter Ntombi, the diminutive Thembi Nkosi is charming as the star-struck young girl who wants to go on the stage.

Into this scenario comes a vibrant foursome – Fezela, Poison, Spike and Styles - who, given half a chance, will snatch a free drink from the bottles on Sis Peggy’s table. One of their number’s attitude towards their downtrodden plight is to: “Live fast, die young and make a good-looking corpse!” However, they provide a strong support group for her when the news comes that they have to move to Meadowlands as part of the forced removals.

While he has been back to his hometown in Barnyard Theatre productions, it is good to see Joel Zuma back on the Playhouse stage. As the smooth-talking Fezela, he impresses with his dramatic and movement ability especially as a long-suffering induna of a toilet bucket collection team whose workers get a bit out of control!

As Poison, Dumisani Mhlanga is amusing as Sis Peggy’s long-suffering admirer although she chooses to ignore his advances. His deep voice provides the solid base for the close harmonies and it came to the fore in King Kong.

Siphiwe Nkabinde as Spike – with toothpick firmly between his teeth – is in love with Ntombi although they must keep their love a secret from Sis Peggy. Nkabinde impressed with his dance ability and versatility.

The foursome is a delight in their individual ways. However, it is Andries Mbali as Styles who steals the show with his comedic ability, particularly in a hilarious scene when he plays an unfaithful wife.

While dance forms an integral part of Kwela Bafana, what marks the quality of this production is the standard of the music. The close harmony work is good and solo performances are excellent. There was a particularly memorable rendition of George Gershwin’s Summertime.

Leading the five-piece band is the inimitable Bra B Ngwenya, an original member of Kwela Bafana, whose stage presence and command of his keyboard rigorously contradict his advancing years. Seated centre stage, he often forms part of the action to great effect. Behind him is an excellent tight-knit group of musicians comprising Lunga Mgcina on sax and pennywhistle, Thuto Motsemme on double bass/bass guitar, Wandile Molefe on keyboards and Siphiwe Kubheka on drums.

While the production covers the trials and tribulations of the time, the focus is on survival so there is a strong and positive energy running throughout with infectious and vibrant toe-tapping fun.

Kwela Bafana runs in the Playhouse Loft until December 22, although there is no performance on December 15 in honour of Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Performances at 19h00 with matinees at 14h30 on Sundays. Tickets R80 booked through the Playhouse box office on 031 369 9456 or at Computicket. – Caroline Smart