Nyani Cultural Village – Di Tipping Woods point of view

Roots of Rhythm

A group of passionate young performers are using music and dance as a way to share their heritage, cultures and identities with visitors to South Africa’s Lowveld region.

South Africa’s stories aren’t just in the way we live or the food we eat. They’re not just in the traditions we practice, the histories we repeat or the languages we speak. They’re in our music and movement. They’re in the powerful rhythms of our songs and the physicality of our dances. Sometimes they only begin where words end.

Watching a performance called Roots of Rhythm by a song and dance group in South Africa’s Lowveld region, reminded me that the body has its own language. It’s older and more universal than any of our 11 official ones and eloquently speaks itself through movement and music.

The show’s performers are a group of about a dozen young people who come from the towns and villages on the western edge of the Kruger National Park. Working with Maureen Lahoud, who traded the bright lights of the international entertainment scene for the more laid-back pace of life in the bush, they’ve put together a show that uses song and dance to share the area’s rich and diverse past and its mix of languages, cultures and identities with visitors.

“I’ve been on my own journey of discovery, learning more about South Africa through the young people that I work with,” says a proud and enthusiastic Lahoud. This morning, the group is working on part of their routine for their lunchtime show at the Eco-academy just outside of Hoedspruit. It’s their current base, but they also regularly travel to events and lodges to perform.

While the dancers and musicians aren’t formally trained, their talent is unequivocal. “The technical stuff you can teach, but that other thing, that comes from somewhere deep within each one of them,” says Lahoud.

The story-telling component of the show is a mix of folk-lore, fact and perhaps some fantasy – they’re not historians or anthropologists– but with Lahoud’s choreography, it works together as a compelling narrative. “It’s a journey for all of us,” says David (?), who plays the drums for the group.

As almost the only member of the group with another job (he is a hairdresser), he also notes that the show, and the training the dancers and musicians receive, has real economic importance in an area like Acornhoek or Bushbuckridge, where high youth unemployment is a real problem. The show is a way to help young people benefit from the tourism in the area and, adds value and diversity to the experiences people can enjoy when they’re visiting the area.

“There is no doubt the show is about creating jobs while conserving culture, but it’s also about passion and entertainment and that’s what makes it so enjoyable for people to experience,” says Lahoud. The thread of dialogue that runs through each performance to provide context and interpretation, is probably not what you’ll remember when you’re back home.

Instead, you’ll recall the soaring sound and the athleticism of the dancers. You’ll recount the drama and emotion the performers channel through their voices and their bodies. You’ll recollect the energy of the show; of David on the drums, of (name) as she sings her solo, of (name) as he defies time and gravity, becoming (name of one of the characters) as he leaps into the air…” You’ll think of the colours and the camaraderie and the conversations you will have with these talented performers if you choose to linger and chat.

The stories will stay with you because you felt them in your body, right from the moment the rhythm reached out and pulled you in…