Friday, July 22, 2016

Concert in Thembalethu

After our day exploring the area surrounding Oudtshoorn, we headed back toward George and the township of Thembalethu, where we were scheduled for a joint concert at the United Reformed Church. We arrived late afternoon and were met by our hosts, who greeted us and gave us an opportunity to rehearse before making a quick costume change on the buses in preparation for the concert. The church was surrounded by a fence and razor wire, a common sight throughout South Africa, but one that was always jarring. Each town, each house–surrounded by walls, fences and wire. The space inside the church was smaller than the church in Soweto but warm and welcoming. There was an arrangement of objects on the floor at the front whose significance we could only guess at. Chairs for choir members were draped in white cloth and red ribbons–a place of honor for us.  No matter how long the day, singing is revitalizing and we were excited to experience the voices of another South African choir.

Part of each concert involved a short (or long) church service. The pastor talked about "Ubuntu" which translates roughly to "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity." Sitting in a church in South Africa and being reminded of our human connection was powerful. My mind wandered back to the States, thinking about the political campaigns and general fractious climate. We had just learned that police officers had been gunned down as payback for lives that had been lost at the hands of law enforcement. Our hosts made reference to those events and offered their condolences and support. They have known injustice and so have we and that connects us, too.

The concert "Program Director" was introduced, brought in especially for the occasion. She was young and spirited and seemed to take her cue from reality TV shows like "The Voice" or "America's Got Talent." She told us that she hoped we brought our "A" game. This was both amusing and a little disconcerting and Jeff immediately started thinking about how to take control of the mic during our portion of the concert so that we could avoid commentary following each song. He was successful!
Their choir was wonderful–exuberant singing, as we had come to expect, and colorfully adorned. Dancing and percussion are a part of everything. Our western, European style of choral singing is so different. The contrast is especially evident when sharing a stage.


The concert ended, we said our farewells, then boarded the coaches and headed out to have a bite to eat before returning to our hotel in Mossel Bay. We departed the next morning for Cape Town. More on that to come.

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