After helping Paul Simon conquer the charts all over again back in 1986 with one of the decade’s truly classic albums, Graceland, Ladysmith Black Mambazo went on to work with Michael Jackson, release some successful albums of their own and memorably (if somewhat bizarrely) soundtrack an ad for Heinz Tomato Ketchup building on a rich history that dates all the way back to the band's formation in 1960...or the beginning of mankind itself if you want to be a little more romantic about it all.
First performed at the Edinburgh Festival last year Inala mixes the band’s music with traditional Zulu dances and groin splittingly impressive ballet moves no doubt intended to replicate the leaps of gazelles, impalas and other wonders of wildlife that occupy South Africa’s plains. Couple this with the gentle chirrup of cicada’s (presumably pre-recorded...I didn’t see any in the bar after the show necking a cheeky cider) and the beautiful harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and it’s easy to feel transported from the soggy unseasonably cool British summer to the all enveloping warmth of the band’s home country.
Split into a series of set pieces the show doesn’t offer a narrative thread which could be seen as both a strength or a weakness depending on your attention span and, unless you’re fluent in the band’s native tongue, you won’t understand the lyrics but the emotions and feelings transcend such mundane matters. There are charming moments of gentle humour from the band too, some of whom attempt some impressive high kicks of their own whilst others just grin at the audience and shake their heads accepting that they’d end up in A&E if they tried anything so seemingly physically impossible.
As you’d expect from a previous member of both Ballet Rambert and Sadler’s Wells Mark Baldwin’s choreography is as lively as a springbok on heat fusing the two worlds of ballet and traditional Zulu dance brilliantly.
The musicians backing the band do likewise and it’s refreshingly different to hear their voices against a backdrop of viola and cello.
Whilst Inala might well be as close to South Africa as most of us get it really does seem to invoke the spirit of the place, or at least our perception of it, magical, timeless and wild but strangely familiar and comforting all at the same time. A truly unique and beautiful experience.
Inala is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until Wednesday July 29th. (spring)bok your tickets right here!