By BRUCE DENNILL
Tribute To Margaret Mcingana / Produced by Stunkie Vundla / John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg
On a night when freak flash-floods wiped out scores of cars on Johannesburg’s highways, there was still only a half-full theatre by the time the delayed beginning of this new musical tribute show rolled around. It’s fair to say that this distraction – and latent concern for those caught up in the weather trouble – might have affected the focus of the performers. The other explanation for the many mistakes, from both the singers and the technical team, was that the material was under-rehearsed, which – specifically in the case of a tribute show featuring proteges of the artist on the poster – is unacceptable.
Nevertheless, this is a tribute worth delivering. Margaret Mcingana, better known as Margaret Singana, was known as “Lady Africa” after her considerable musical success in the Seventies (she was the lead in Ipi Tombi and the voice behind the definitive version of Mama Tembu’s Wedding, among other achievements) does not enjoy the profile she deserves in the mainstream music scene. This remains true even though she was also responsible for the then-ubiquitous We Are Growing, the theme tune for the popular TV series Shaka Zulu, in the Eighties.
Once you hear the songs from Singana’s varied repertoire, which included reworked versions of the works of some of the great names of her era (including Simon & Garfunkel, whose At The Zoo gets a jazzy overhaul), the importance of her contribution becomes very clear. The generous setlist then allows for a solid overview of what the late singer – she passed away in 2000 – was capable of.
The production is fronted by the Vocal Queens three well-known singers who have built the bulk of their collective reputation as backing singers.The charismatic Mandisa Dlanga is a permanent fixture in Johnny Clegg’s band, and the list of artists she and co-stars Faith Kekana and Stella Khumalo have worked with includes Letta Mbulu, Caiphus Semenya, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Mcingana herself. Dlanga’s voice is the strongest standalone instrument of the the three, but as they take turns with the lead vocals, each proves to be a good fit for the arrangements devised by musical director Ntokozo Zungu and the rest of the talented band.
This is an entertaining show regardless of context and an important one in terms of the opportunity it creates to introduce new audiences to a catalogue of superb music. It must be more polished, though, if it is going to fully deliver on its potential.