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Rhythms and sounds out of ancient Africa.

Byline: Penny Fray and Fiona Bray

THE heartbeat of Africa is brought to North Wales this month in a spectacular stage show.

Dancing to the rhythm of tribal drums, a cast of 20 in traditional costume convey the cultural vibrancy of the Zulu nation.

Africa Africa, which comes to Rhyl's Pavilion Theatre on April 12, has played to high acclaim around Britain.

Presented by leading African performance company, the Mighty Zulu Nation, it uses song and dance to tell the tale of a tribal wedding and the interference of powerful witch doctors.

Writer and director Iain Storey explains: "It communicates the positive traditions of the Zulu nation.

"History has branded the Zulu people as a barbaric tribe who struck fear into the British armies and Boer settlers during the 17th century. But in fact, they are people with tremendous integrity and a belief in superstition."

He says tradition is important to the Zulu people and men still follow the custom of labola, where the father of the bride receives wealth in the form of cattle from the prospective husband.

This custom is incorporated in the performance which features the tale of a wedding ceremony as performed before missionaries came to South Africa bringing with them their Christian influence and teachings.

The story opens with a young apprentice witch doctor who discovers, while reading the bones, that he is soon to be married.

However, his bride to be is the daughter of a chief who once laid claim to 10 cows that belonged to his family. He views the wedding as an opportunity to cunningly claim back the valuable herd. In order to accomplish this, he enlists the help of the mighty and all-powerful witch doctor Dlondlobala.

Otherwise known as the Sangoma (Zulu name for witch doctor) he is concerned with the psychic world and is charged with ascertaining the cause of bad events and protecting the clan against evil spirits.

In former times, Iain says that the training of such a person would take about 25 years. Today though, it covers a span of five to seven years and those who take on the position regard the Sangoma as a second job.

Wearing traditional costumes of cow tail leg warmers and aprons made of calf skin, the performers wow audiences with movements such as the bull dance, where the arms are held aloft and the legs brought down with a thump. There is also the umBhekuzo dance, which represents the ebb and flow of the tides with the men alternatively advancing and retreating on those who watch them.

"We auditioned extensively throughout the province to find the creme de la creme, " says Iain. "The majority are from disadvantaged backgrounds but some had diplomas and were involved in the academy of performing arts."

Originally involved with cultural education, Iain was invited to create a show about Africa, more than five years ago. As such, the production company Mighty Zulu Nation, promotes the appreciation, understanding and practice of Zulu and African people's dance, its music and cultural heritage.

He says the cast have quickly adjusted to the differences between their own nation and that of Britain.

"Half of the performers had never been to Britain before. But the only thing that bothers them is the cold, " he says.

But there is no sign of their discontent on stage, as they jump around semi-clothed.

"They are professionals, " says Iain. "But I hope that audiences come to appreciate the incredible vitality, harmonies and traditional sounds of the show."

Africa Africa is at the Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl on Wednesday April 17, 7.30pm. Tickets pounds 14.50, pounds 12.50. Box Office: 01745 330000

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POSITIVE TRADITIONS: The traditional Zulu dancing which will visit Rhyl on Wednesday
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 5, 2002
Words:623
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