THE SPIRIT OF TOGETHERNESS
The musical extravaganza, Umoja, was created in the South African township of Soweto by two women who were old school friends, Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni.
In the early 1990s, Twala and Nyandeni, veterans of the original cast of the show Ipi Tombi, returned to South Africa after years of touring around the world. They wanted to help the many young people from disadvantaged communities who had little or no access to any type of meaningful work, education or training. So they decided to form a performing arts school, which opened in Soweto in 1996, to teach young people to dance and sing.
"We wanted to empower our children," says choreographer Twala. "We wanted to give them a goal, something to live for. We want to take them far as the skies!" Within a few short years they had trained many children in song and dance, and created the music group Baobab which subsequently toured all over the world.
Following on from that success, in August 1999 Twala and Nyandeni got together with producer Maurice Fresco to develop the musical Umoja. 700 were auditioned for the parts, and a cast of 36 were chosen. One of South Africa's top theatrical directors, Ian von Memerty, was called in to help with the show's script and direction and Umoja-The Spirit of Togetherness was born.
Its first season was spent at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, but the show struggled with its lack of equipment and finance. It had to rely on just three old microphones, some backing tracks and an undeveloped storyline.
But slowly the show developed, new costumes were designed and made, the storyline streamlined, and new songs and dances were added. Music producer Joe Theron was bought in to record this, the CD, which features artists such as Hugh Masekela, Don Laka, McCoy Mrubata and Numba Numba. Subsequently, Theron became the show's producer.
International acclaim followed the production's move to London in the UK in November 2001--although the musical's pulsating sounds proved too much for the original theatre's neighbours who asked that it be moved to a venue...