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The Theater: Jungle Drums

2 minute read
T.E. Kalem

IPI-TOMBI

Conception and Music by BERTHA EGNOS

Lyrics by GAIL LAKIER

Choreographyby SHEILA WARTSKI

Additional Choreography by NEIL McKAY and MEMBERS OF THE CAST

In the Zulu tongue, Ipi-Tombi means “Where are the girls?” On the New York opening night, the show not only brought on the girls but also offered an offstage line of black pickets. The cause for complaint is that the musical was conceived and produced by South African whites. The reiterated theme of the pickets is that anyone who supports the show lends his approval to genocide and infanticide. That is an exaggerated description of South African racial policy, however much one may deplore it.

The musical is as innocent as the birth of song and dance. One legitimate objection to Ipi-Tombi might be that it seems rather closer to Shubert Alley than to the tribal life and customs of the Zulus. The story line is simplicity itself. A young man (Daniel Pule) who lives in the village of Tsomo is drawn to the big city (presumably Johannesburg) in the hope of earning more money for his wife (Linda Tshabalala) and family. He finds urban life unappetizing and dehumanizing and returns to his hometown. That a simple, unspoiled child of nature can be corrupted by urban industrial life is a longstanding cliché of Western civilization. The simplicity best comes to life in Ipi-Tombi in the dances that illustrate how close to nature some Africans apparently still are.

The gestures, the rhythms and the sounds indicate an unbroken totemic relationship with animals. The members of the troupe slither like snakes, stalk like the great cat family of the jungle, stamp and trumpet like elephants. This is all done with agility, grace and energy that is breathtaking.

The lead drummer (Junior Tshabalala) plays with galvanic fervor and propels the best number in the show, a warrior dance into a Dionysian frenzy. The cast appears to be having the best time of its urban life. It’s a pity the pickets cannot see the show. T.E.K.

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