Diverse South African artistic spirits joined forces to create Joys of Sharing, an exuberant music and dance spectacle directed and conceptualised by Gregory Maqoma
As you experience Joys of Sharing, the dancers swoop and swirl like dervishes as the tribal rhythms build to a crescendo, the contemplative flute lacing its way through as a counterpoint to the pounding drum and bass.
Already, it’s an uplifting marriage of music and dance that sets the pulses racing and the endorphins pumping – and this is only the first day of workshops. It’s an exhilarating portent of the creative alchemy that’s to come.
The main players are GRAMMY-winning flautist Wouter Kellerman, much-decorated dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma, and Afro-soul goddess Simphiwe Dana. Add to this spicy pot of creativity ten dancers from Vuyani Dance Theatre and a band comprising Phresh Makhene (bass and voice), Luke van der Merwe (guitar), David Klassen (drums), Butana Ngubeni (keyboard) and long-time collaborator of Simphiwe Dana, Themba Mokoena (guitar) plus the sublime Complete vocal harmony quartet, and you have the makings of a recipe for magic.
It’s a dream team indeed – three artists at the peak of their creative powers, coming together on one stage to explore new horizons. And it’s evident that they are all addicted to the process of creation: giving birth to something completely new. Dana and Kellerman have won six South African Music Awards apiece, and Kellerman has bagged a GRAMMY Award (and been nominated for another). Maqoma has won just about every major choreographic award South Africa has to offer, including being named Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance (2002), and he and his dancers are in robust demand in Europe and, increasingly, the United States and Asia.
Maqoma, the founder and executive creative director of pioneering contemporary dance company Vuyani, is not one to – as they say in the corporate world – work in silos. He thrives on collaboration, and some of his best work has been in harmonious partnership with others.
He has sifted through Dana’s and Kellerman’s original material to forage the gems that are most ‘danceable’ and adapt them to the live format – while exploring the ‘spaces in between’ as well. There will also be some new songs as well as upbeat Sophiatown-era cover versions.
Maqoma explains that when he was conjuring the Joys of Sharing project, he thought long and hard about who he connected with creatively – and who shared his work ethic and commitment to artistic excellence. He recalled having met Kellerman last year when both performed at an African Union function, and they instantly gelled.
‘I’ve always a loved a flute,’ Maqoma confesses, taking a break from brainstorming the new show in Vuyani’s Newtown studio. ‘But to hear Wouter playing was quite surprising for me. It had a soulful feeling and was very poetic. I remember thinking: “This is music for dance.” And I’m big on the idea of collaboration, but not just for the sake of it. There must be a sense of immediate mutual respect, which I immediately felt with Wouter.’
Kellerman was very nearly not present at that fortuitous meeting of creative minds. ‘I was overseas at the time,’ he recalls. ‘I’m now happy I came back for that one show, though.’ Joys of Sharing is meant to celebrate not just the affinity between kindred artistic spirits, but also the intimate tango between music and dance. As Kellerman says: ‘I’ve always visualised music with dance. In fact, in Africa music and dance go together – it’s a Western construct to separate them.
‘I was blown away that night [of the AU function] at how expressive and polished the Vuyani dancers were. I thought they were spectacular, and that if I ever got a chance, I’d love to collaborate with them. So when Greg approached me, I didn’t think twice.’
Kellerman started out as a classical flautist, juggling his musical passion with a ‘normal’ career as an electrical engineer, but for the past decade has made waves as a crossover ‘world music’ musician who can coax phenomenal sounds and moods out of his magic flute. He jokes that his music is the ‘complete opposite’ of the ‘danger music’ played in thriller movies: ‘My music is positive and deep. It can be sad or subtle at times, but it’s not depressing music. Its message is of love, peace and tolerance. A lot of influences find their way into my music, since I’m a wide listener.’
Kellerman, who has always admired ‘the colour and powerful expression in her voice’, met Dana in Los Angeles recently at an event to promote South African culture. A mutual appreciation society was born, to the extent that he sent her one of his songs to sing on for his most recent album, Love Language. But Dana, being a self-confessed perfectionist, felt the work she’d done on it ‘wasn’t up to my standard’ and didn’t send through her vocals. The song may, however, make its way into the Joys of Sharing show – a mouth watering prospect.
A multi-award-winning singer/songwriter whose Twitter handle, ‘Firebrand’, echoes her artist-as-activist persona, Dana relishes ‘stepping out of comfort zones and discovering new and innovative ways of doing things. You learn so much from working with others – it inspires your own creativity and rhythm making. In South Africa we don’t collaborate much, or go outside our own artistic space to find others. It’s an anomaly in SA, so I’m looking forward to this show.’
Maqoma relates how he met Dana ‘as a young girl who was new in Joburg, who invited me and friends over and cooked pasta for us, and we listened to her first single. Ever since then, we’ve stayed connected. She still sends her material to me to listen to.’
She remembers ‘hitting it off’ with Maqoma straight away. ‘The first time I worked professionally with Vuyani was an eye-opener for both of us that we could do so much together. And Greg has also featured in one of my shows, doing an improv dance to my song Mayine.’ It will, however, be the first time that Dana collaborates with Kellerman, although they came within a whisker of doing so before.
Dana believes shows such as Joys of Sharing can help ‘grow an appreciation of the arts beyond just pop – you hardly ever find appreciation for that among a sit-down audience. It’s going to be a stellar show – I guarantee it.’ Adds Maqoma: ‘Both Wouter’s and Simphiwe’s music comes from a caring place, and our dance is rooted in that. We want people to walk out of the theatre and think differently, after seeing the care and love put into the show.
The developments in the country definitely affected the title. We wanted to create a sense of hope for our country, and the world. That doesn’t mean the show is all happy smiles, but we do want to give people a sense of joy and hope in our amazing country. It’s a very artistic work that is highly entertaining while being accessible. We hope to open minds and change perceptions.