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Africa Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness, a Journey Through South African Music

By Nichole Richards

Music makes us human.  Songs expressing moments of joy and sadness, pain and celebration, death and birth have existed as long as Man. A melody is a soul’s hum, dance a body’s natural sway, and drums echo the rhythm of the heart. Music is instinctive. Music is defining. Music makes us human.

This single phrase captures the very essence of Africa Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness perfectly. The captivating performance tells the social and political story of South Africa, from Zulu kraal to the bustling melting pot of Johannes-burg. Birthed from the imagination of creators Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, both former members of the critically acclaimed cultural dance troupe Ipi Ntombi, Africa Umoja initially served to assist the youth of South Africa in remembering their heritage and providing an alternative for the under-privileged. However, since its opening in Johannesburg in 2000, it has become an international hit. Performed for royalty, political dignitaries, and the public in over 50 countries, Africa Umoja continues its world tour with a stop in South Florida at the Miramar Cultural Arts Center, Sept.  28-30 & Oct 5-7.

The electrifying performance has received rave reviews for its exploration of South African history and culture through award winning choreography, thrilling music, and beautifully designed costumes. Told through the memories of an elderly man, the performance examines the effects of colonization and modernization on the continent and how African music adapted in response.

In Africa Umoja we see the evolution of South African music, from powerful tribal dances, like the sensual Venda Snake Dance and the undeniably spiritual Sangoma, to Miriam Makeba’s rhythmic “Pata Pata” of the 1960s, to today’s globally popular Afropop music and dances, such as the famed gwara gwara dance most recently featured on the politically charged music video “This Is America” by American rapper and singer Childish Gambino. Africa Umoja also deals with the racist and violent practices of Apartheid and police brutality. The musical performance demonstrates the South African people’s struggle for freedom and dignity and their impending victory. It is a perfect celebration of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th year on earth.

Performed by some of South Africa’s most talented and spirited singers, dancers, and drummers, Africa Umoja is a theatrical performance you do not want to miss. It calls with the sacred drum, entrances with soothing harmony, and excites with dance. It is not simply a performance on South African history, but a performance on the essence of the spirit and what makes us human.

    Note: Africa Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness contains instances of artistic nudity.


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