Songs of the Soil: More brimstone than fire

You’ve got to like Gospel for this one. Even then, I’m not sure.

Songs of the Soil is a musical, but the thing with musicals is that there needs to be some upbeat numbers,even if you are dealing with serious content. The only one that got a vibe going was the toyi-toyi to the Azania struggle song when the cast of this musical within a musical rebel against the piety of Gospel, which is a bit ironic.

There was some laughter brought in the form of the excellently cast ‘director’, whose job it is to get these church members to create an amateur show that will attract the wayward youth back to the house of the Lord.

His task is hamstrung by a quarrel between two of the cast members over whether the church is a refuge that ‘is in this world but not of this world’ or whether it should be following Jesus’s revolutionary example and fighting for the rights of the poor and oppressed.

It was a quarrel that never seemed to end and the issue of the way so many churches are ripping off the poor they’re supposed to be helping, as well as so-called pastors subjecting their ‘flock’ to sexual, physical, and verbal abuse, was an issue skimmed over in a few lines.

More prosaically, there are some unresolved questions about the costuming. Early on the cast of 10 singers are brightly dressed in attire harking back to the style of the ‘50s. Then they return to sing a scene about the Israelites trekking through the desert and they’re dressed in a hodge-podge of army browns, which they remained in for the rest of the performance, the dull colours doing little to lift the spirits. The inclusion of three very competent musicians on stage (drums, keyboard, bass) creates the sense of being inside one of the many mega churches established in old halls and warehouses in the city, but the projection onto the back of the stage of the Judaic Star of David and Islamic star and crescent flanking a tall Christian cross, was odd to say the least. The play never once mentioned Islam or Judaism. It was set firmly within the realms of the Christian church, creating confusion and making me wonder if the symbols weren’t just a flimsy nod to the members of any other faith who might be in the audience.

Basically, and despite many of the cast showing more promise than the show allows them to fulfill, Songs of the Soil came across as the amateurish show it pretends to be creating.

Then again, I just don’t get Gospel, and there appeared to be many in the audience who did.

Songs of the Soil was presented by Artscape at the second annual Arts Incubator’s Trade Fair which took place at the Market Theatre Precinct over the week 16 to 22 September.

Director: Mthobisi Mpandle, Lwanda Sindaphi

Written by Lwanda Sindaphi

Musical director: Bongani Magatyana

The Arts Incubator’s Trade Fair sees the six publicly funded Performing Arts Institutions (State Theatre, DurbanPlayhouse, Artscape, Pacofs, The Market Theatre, and Windybrow Arts Centre) showcase the work produced by their Arts Incubator trainees, attend workshops, share best practice and mingle with their peers. It is funded by the DAC.

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