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How the Visual Direction in Africa Umoja: the Spirit of Togetherness, Create a Distinct South African Aesthetic

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Africa Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness is a musical production that celebrates the evolution of South African culture through its history of music and dance, sharing the joy that comes with overcoming obstacles of poverty in their own lives, the cast, which includes former street children, moves audiences with their explosive energy and earth-shaking beats. The show celebrates freedom, and encourages people to move past their differences with love. Africa Umoja not only celebrates South Africa, it aims to elevate the human spirit through song and dance from South Africa’s many different cultures. Joe Theron, one of its producers, describes the show as one that “intertwines all of the hardships South Africa faced, like apartheid, in a manner where you will never feel oppressed. It’s uplifting. Even in hard times there is always laughter.” How does Africa Umoja reveal a distinct South African aesthetic?

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Looking at the visual and sonic components that make up this remarkable performance, Umoja utilizes a multi-talented cast that delivers a two-hour explosion of song and dance in a production that celebrates African culture as it moves through the journeys made by Africans from the country to the city, from tradtional to modern, from the earliest rhythms to kwaito. The show’s use of costumes and make-up clearly show this transformation from the traditional to the modern as seen in the images below.

The use of tradtional African garments accompanied by the vibrant blue, red, green and yellow lighting is reminiscent of the African flag. As the dancers move from one sequence to the next, so do their dance styles progress, each influencing the next. From the flowing movements of the Venda Umashona (snake dance), the percision of the Zulu stick fighting, the sangoma chants to the more modern mine workers gumboot dance, kweito and pantsula, they are all shown to have come from the same place: the music and drums of Africa.

Throughout the show, the drummers are well supported by a five-piece band and a passionate marimba-playing duo. In combination with the visual and sonic elements, narrator Hope Ndaba binds the songs together with comments and memoirs from past times, in an effort to bind the message of hope, change and togetherness.

How do these elements enhance or amplify the narrative form of the production? The narrative of the production, as stated above, is about freedom, love, culture and togethermness and the cobination of a narrative and a culture based song and dance routine creates a performance that is educational and entertaining. The use of different dance routines based on the different styles of dance as it has progressed through the ages, keeps the audience intrigued and holds their attention. The use of vibrant colors and the various different instruments, educates the audience about African culture and the subtle diffirences in cultures. Africa Umoja has seen much success around the world, as it stands out from most musical performances, due to its vibrant and energetic nature.

“Besides learning about culture, Umoja is about who you are – where you are coming from, and where you are going. The spirit of togetherness will live on in your blood, your soul and your heart.” – Thembi Nyandeni, co-creator of Africa Umoja.

In conclusion, the composition and arrangement of visual and sonic elements play a big role in creating a unique voice and a unique aesthetic, one that is distinctly South African. As proven by Africa Umoja, there is no other production with the same unique voice and aesthetic. African. As proven by Africa Umoja, there is no other production with the same unique voice and aesthetic.

“Besides learning about culture, Umoja is about who you are – where you are coming from, and where you are going. The spirit of togetherness will live on in your blood, your soul and your heart.” – Thembi Nyandeni, co-creator of Africa Umoja.

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