x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Under African Skies - the sky's the limit, musically

The hit musical traces the evolution of South African music and has been delighting audiences around the world.

Under African Skies. Courtesy Madinat Theatre
Under African Skies. Courtesy Madinat Theatre

The stage performance has been touring the world for nine years and has just finished a third successful European tour across Holland, Belgium and France.

A show with chemistry

The show features hits from such musical greats as Miriam Makeba, Johnny Clegg, Mango Groove and Paul Simon, and begins with the sounds of the 1940s through to 1994, a time of political change.

“Dubai audiences should expect a very harmonious, rhythmic and beautiful show. It’s in good shape and slick because it’s developed a great chemistry, and features the European cast,” says the director Duck Chowles, speaking from South Africa. “People all over the world relate to it because there’s something magical that overwhelms them.”

The beauty of the show, he says, is its simplicity. Only songs that have strong South African influences or roots are included.

“It will reach the soul of the audience because South African music comes from hardship. Laughter is part of African culture and is a way of dealing with hardship, so there is nothing better than harmony and dance that comes from that,” he says.

The rundown

The historical background of each song is offered, so the audience gets a deeper understanding of the circumstances through which the words and music developed.

The penny whistle was very much in fashion in the 1940s with “black South Africans, and that is how the show opens,” says Chowles. “Then we move to the 1950s Sophiatown in Johannesburg where there were a lot of forced removals. Many moved to Soweto where songs such as Meadowland came from, so we feature the protest songs,” says Chowles. “Also out of that era, we have the music of Miriam Makeba.”

Solomon Linda’s song The Lion Sleeps Tonight is also highlighted. Chowles explores how the song was first created, and the version that became an international success. “Solomon Linda composed the song in 1936 – he was working at a record company factory at the time as a packer, where he sold it for 10 shillings.

“It was then sold to an American publishing company after which it became a worldwide hit, so we look at the three versions of it,” says Chowles.

Stars such as Johnny Clegg and Mango Groove, who fused rock ’n’ roll with South African rhythms, are also recognised.  “They combined Western rock with African styles. It is the same as what happened with Paul Simon when he worked on the album Graceland. We were living in cultural and musical isolation and Paul Simon helped open many doors,” says Chowles.

Set and costume

“The set is like a shanty town that were common in South Africa, where there are Third World living conditions,” he says. The costumes run from the Sophiatown era, when men wore tailor-made suits and women wore evening dresses, via traditional costume of the 1970s to modern African print.

Wednesday to Saturday, First Group Theatre, Madinat Jumeirah, sponsored by The Meat Co, at 7pm (Wed and Sat) and 8pm (Thu and Fri). Tickets cost Dh185, available at the box office or from Time Out Tickets. Visit www.madinattheatre.com