Everyone should go and see the Young Zulu Warriors, not just because they are Aids orphans, nor just because paying for a ticket helps to support their community, but because they are brilliant.
The energy and excitement of the musical drama Thula Sizwe had audiences at Clickimin absorbed for nearly three hours on Thursday and Friday, and the memory of their passionate performance and traditional dress of animal skins will last a lot longer than that.
Thula Sizwe is the story of a king. Orphaned at a young age, he makes the right choices in life, studies hard and qualifies as a doctor. His sister by contrast makes the wrong choices – having a brief affair with a young doctor, becoming pregnant and infected with Aids – and pays the ultimate price. In a simple moral tale, our hero goes on to marry and become king himself.
The uncomplicated plot formed a vehicle for what the warriors do best – singing and dancing, so important in the Zulu tradition. It also highlighted the scourge of Aids, all too familiar to the 27 male and female performers from Kwa Zulu Natal, the very epicentre of the HIV/Aids pandemic in South Africa.
The cast provided a colourful spectacle in costumes they had in some cases made themselves thanks to sewing machines donated to God’s Golden Acre, the community that cares for more than 70 young people who have been orphaned or abandoned through Aids.
The warriors in animal skins with traditional shields were stunning from their first appearance. They electrified the audience with their dancing, accompanied by rhythmic drumming and joyful whistling when the future king was born.
A fighting scene in which the king is killed provided drama, followed by an unaccompanied lament with a duet in perfect harmony mourning his death.
More singing was showcased in a choral competition which was woven into the plot. The sight of the female singers in white dresses decorated with beadwork (making beaded jewellery to sell is an important occupation in the area) and the males in white shirts and red bow ties singing O Happy Day recalled a well-received performance of gospel songs on Wednesday at St Columba’s Church.
Their versatility was demonstrated in changes of scene from village to city, with accompanying changes of costume and music. Sometimes the singing, coupled with enthusiastic dancing with lots of high kicks, would resound through the bowls hall. At other times, as in the scene of men in cloth caps going to the city, it was more contemplative.
Their range was further shown in the joyous celebrations for the new king and his choosing a wife – with solo dances from the females and hectic dancing, including break dancing, from the males, which culminated in the presentation of a headdress and huge shield. This contrasted with the death of his sister and the haunting singing about events “somewhere in the ghetto”.
The change of pace provided a sombre end to the first part of the show, which really came into its own after the interval, being more optimistic and dominated by traditional music and dancing. The new king was getting married and the excitement built.
Village women sang of the old times and the warriors entered with shields and spears. Special effects of dry ice and orange lighting were hardly needed as the barefoot dancers formed a cermonial circle to an insistent drumbeat.
The dancing went on with lots of high kicking, whistling and clapping, sometimes with a solo performer, sometimes with a dozen or more with a relentless show of energy to the ever-present drumming that was almost trance-inducing. The Zulus break danced and executed almost impossible moves, appearing to fall but always rising, as tirelessly as the drumming.
The audience went wild at the display, the very pinnacle of physical performance from a well-drilled and superfit troupe who did not put a foot wrong (the result of nightly rehearsals in their own theatre at God’s Golden Acre).
Many in the audience gave the Zulus a standing ovation, and appeared reluctant to leave the hall even after such a long show, which had ended with a personal testimony from the warriors’ bus driver, Simon.
So taken he had been with the youngsters he had been driving that he had responded to the appeal for people to donate £5 per month to God’s Golden Acre by pledging instead £100 per month.
This act of generosity was marked with his being urged by organiser Heather Reynolds, owner and founder of God’s Golden Acre, to present the first instalment to the Zulus on the stage. The sight of him appearing in traditional skins proved highly emotional to members of the audience.
The money will go to help the community, which provides stability to the orphans, enabling them to go to school. All of the community had “gone through pain”, Mrs Reynolds said, but some have achieved amazing school results, with one wanting to be a doctor and another a teacher.
The project also has an outreach programme that supports families affected by Aids in the rural valleys.
? More information can be found at godsgoldenacre.org.uk or by emailing the From Shetland with Love charity at momcalpine@btinternet .com or phoning Beatrice Clark on (01595) 840 541.