'Drumstruck' Showcases South African Musicians

Allison Keyes reports on Drumstruck, an off-Broadway show in New York City that features South African musicians. The show is billed as the world's first interactive drum theater experience.

ED GORDON, host:

A group of South African musicians have brought their way of life to the stage. Their drums and songs are part of an unusual off-Broadway show currently being staged in New York City. "Drumstruck" is billed as the world's first interactive drum theater experience. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

(Soundbite of drums)

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

Stage 2 at Dodger Stages on West 50th Street is jumping these days. Eleven African percussionists, dancers and singers are exuberantly rehearsing for "Drumstruck." Ayanda, a singer who doubles as a narrator between some of the scenes, says this production gives her the chance to celebrate everything about her heritage.

AYANDA ("Drumstruck"): It's an honor to have to be here as a South African and represent my country and tell people about our history. And it's not really history, but it's just really giving them a bit of information of the joys and why it's so cool to be an African.

(Soundbite of drums)

AYANDA: The experience is what tells them more. So that's why we do lots of music and drumming. You have to feel it to understand it.

KEYES: "Drumstruck" played to sold-out audiences in South Africa and Australia, and watching a rehearsal, you can see why. The joy on the faces of the performers and director David Warren is infectious.

Mr. DAVID WARREN (Director, "Drumstruck"): I am having a ball, yeah. I feel like I should be more serious. But no, it's really fun.

(Soundbite of "Drumstruck")

KEYES: Warren says this has been an amazing experience. He says he learned some of South Africa's culture during the months he spent in Johannesburg with the cast, and it's important to him that others see part of a culture they may not have encountered before.

(Soundbite of drumming and clapping)

KEYES: As an example, Warren talks about a scene in the show where the performers dance in large black gum boots. They look a little like galoshes.

Mr. WARREN: There's a gum boot section which is so important to South African culture because, you know, it was created there. It's the men in the mines who obviously lived profoundly difficult lives. One of the things they did was they created this art form, and you can't see gum boot dancing and not go, `Oh, that's where tap dancing came from.'

AYANDA: (Singing in foreign language)

KEYES: Ayanda sings one of the songs from the show and says she teaches the audience its meaning.

AYANDA: I do explain what the song means, which is basically about young men preparing to go for initiation. That is a very strong--one of the strong traditions back home with every culture, whether you're Zulu or Kosawat(ph). That section for me feels like the women are actually giving honor to who men are, and it feels good, you know.

(Soundbite of drums)

Mr. NICOLAS COTE(ph) DJANIE (Master Drummer): This show is how the people feel in Africa, where they sit together, they play music, they have fun, how the music brings them together.

KEYES: Nicolas Cote Djanie is a master drummer with the production. His nickname is Africa. His eyes gleam as he pounds intricate rhythms on his drum. He sits in the midst of the Boma. The set is a re-creation of a meeting place in a small South African village with high walls to keep animals out. Cote Djanie thinks the music in this production gives the crowd a glimpse of how people in South Africa live.

Mr. COTE DJANIE: This has been in the community several years. Like, they use the music to fight, they use the music to resist, they use the music in everything. When you sit in the train, you hear the people singing. Everywhere you go, you hear the people playing the drum. And, I mean, that's the feeling we brought here. So it's kind of like you're in Africa when you come to watch the show.

(Soundbite of "Drumstruck")

KEYES: "Drumstruck" is in previews right now. Allison Keyes, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of "Drumstruck")

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program today. Farai Chideya will be here the rest of the week, and I'll talk to you again on Monday.

To listen to this show, visit npr.org, or if you'd like to comment, call us as (202) 408-3330. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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