16 August 2013 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Roots of Rhythm

A group of passionate performers is using music and dance as a way to share its members’ heritage, cultures and identities with visitors to South Africa’s Lowveld region.

Daniel Malem. Image courtesy of Jacquie Gauthier

South Africa’s stories aren’t just in the way we live or the food we eat. They’re not just in the traditions we practise, the histories we repeat or the languages we speak. They’re in our music and movement. And they’re in the powerful rhythms of our songs and the physicality of our dances. Sometimes they only begin where words end. And there are more of them than you can imagine.

Watching a performance called Roots of Rhythm, by a song and dance group in South Africa’s Lowveld region, reminded me that the body has its own language, which is older and more universal than any of our 11 official languages, and eloquently speaks through movement and music.

The stories will stay with you, not because they’re true or definitive, but because you felt them in your body, right from the moment the rhythm reached out and pulled you in. You’ll find it has some roots in you too.

The show’s performers are a group of about a dozen people who come from the towns and villages on the western edge of the Kruger National Park. Working with Maureen Lahoud, who traded the bright lights of the international entertainment scene for the more laid-back pace of life in the bush, they’ve put together a show that uses song and dance to share with visitors their version of the area’s rich and diverse past and its mix of languages, cultures and identities. With a script written by Michael Gardner from the Village Tourism Trust in Haenertsburg, Limpopo, the narrative is based on fact and rooted in the dances and songs of the area's cultures.

'I’ve been on my own journey of discovery, learning more about South Africa through the people that I am working with,' says a proud and enthusiastic Lahoud. On the morning I visit, the group is practising part of its routine for its lunchtime show at the Nyani Cultural Village, a new development just outside of Hoedspruit in Limpopo. It’s the group's current base, but the group also regularly travels to events and lodges to perform, and there are plans to provide tours and accommodation at the venue.

Landy Mokgope singing

While the dancers and musicians aren’t formally trained, their talent is unequivocal. 'The technical stuff you can teach, but that other thing, that comes from somewhere deep within each one of them,' says Lahoud. The storytelling component of the show is a vehicle for the songs and dance, and the historical snippets work together as a narrative, woven together to entertain. 'It’s a journey for all of us,' says Daniel Malem, who is a barber and also records music CDs.

As he notes, the show is more than just a way for the performers to express themselves. The professional training the dancers and musicians receive has economic importance in areas like Acornhoek or Bushbuckridge, where high unemployment is a problem.

By creating work for the performers that they enjoy, the show is also a way to help young people benefit from tourism and adds value and diversity to the experiences people can enjoy when they’re visiting the area.

Who knows what happens next in the story as the performers explore their own creativity, interpret aspects of their heritage and begin to tell other stories from their lives and their region?

While part of the motivation for the show was creating jobs while conserving culture, it’s really about entertainment. The thread of dialogue that runs through each performance to provide context and interpretation is probably not what you’ll remember when you’re back home.

Bongani Khumalo, Nyiko Ollen Makama, Letsatsi Ramonyai and Providence Shiloane

What you will recall, though, is the soaring sound and the athleticism of the dancers. You’ll recount the drama and emotion the performers channel through their voices and their bodies. You’ll recollect the energy of the show: Daniel on the drums; Providence as she dances; Hendrick (who is also a builder) as he defies time and gravity, becoming a Zulu warrior as he leaps into the air. And you’ll think of the colours and the camaraderie.

The stories will stay with you, not because they're true or definitive, but because you felt them in your body, right from the moment the rhythm reached out and pulled you in. You'll find it has some roots in you too.

The show is available daily by reservation only, and times can be adjusted to accommodate groups. Call Maureen Lahoud + 27 (0)83 785 5354 or email ror@ecoranger.co.za for more information.

Confidence Ndubane, Landy Mokgope, Rhulani Mxumalo and Zandile Dhlamani. All images courtesy Jacquie Gauthier

Category: Arts & Entertainment

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