Where giggles and song should part ways

keyboardkillers

MAGIC fingers: Ian von Memerty. Photograph courtesy Pieter Toerien Theatre.

A MEDLEY OF songs is a curious thing. It’s a bit like a Reader’s Digest compilation: enough to get your heart racing with nostalgia, but not enough to include every word. It’s a tight juxtaposition of hits that doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive, and yet the cohesive whole is delicious. This is the strength of Ian von Memerty’s Keyboard Killers, a celebration of eight men who wielded the piano with their fingers and their voice in a way that shaped the world, effectively.

From the simple melodies of Irving Berlin to the complex navigations through Beethoven and Handl that features in the beautiful complicated diversity of Billie Joel’s work, von Memerty is at the helm of his Yamaha piano, with a rich sense of self, a double bass on his right and a set of bongo drums on his left. Who could ask for anything more?

The show, structured like many of its ilk, is simply about entertainment, and conjoined with the incredibly fine work by pianists including Freddie Mercury, Noël Coward, Cole Porter, Stevie Wonder, Fats Waller and John Legend, it contains a rash of obligatory funny bits. The truth is, these funnies hurt the intensity of the programme and the potential brilliance of von Memerty on keyboard. Spewing self-deprecating jokes at various interregna in the show, von Memerty doesn’t do complete justice to his own skill, which soars and reaches out when he plays the work of Billie Joel and Freddie Mercury, but loses a sense of momentum in the bum wiggling exercises, the tired political jibes and the impromptu clowning.

Keyboard Killers is a pleasant enough show, but one not convincingly directed to celebrate von Memerty’s true fire – the kind of work that earned him his veteran keyboard king status.

  • Keyboard Killers is compiled and performed by Ian von Memerty with Bronwyn Clacherty on percussion and Andrew Warneke on bass. It performs in the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino, until October 30. Visit pietertoerien.co.za
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Ketekang: celebrating so much, it hurts

Performers in Ketekang. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer.

Performers in Ketekang. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer.

From the moment band leader Tshepo Mngoma lets rip into his electronic violin, in the opening number Bungazani, you are convinced that this anthology of music, theatre, dance and poetry will be extraordinary. And you won’t be wrong, but Ketekang is not without decision-making flaws, which bruise its impact.

Couched in celebratory cliché, the work is not monolithic, and boasts an unusual body of song, poetry and snippets of theatre in its repertoire of 30 works. In many, though, the narrative thread holding them relevant, is disappointingly absent.

What does pin the work together is the choreographic moments. By and large, choreographed and danced by Luyanda Sidiya and dancers associated with Vuyani Dance Theatre and Moving Into Dance Mophatong, they pepper Ketekang with a bold freshness which really takes your breath away. There’s a moment commemorating Sam Nzima’s iconic photograph of Hector Pieterson on June 16, 1976 which will etch itself into your heart. Embodying a sense of the urgency and horror of the situation, it is beautifully constructed, like a piece of poetry.

Similarly, there’s a paean to “dustbin men”, important characters in the grotesque pedestrianism of apartheid. It’s danced with a brusqueness and a sense of potency that will resonate with your heart.

But after the show, as you glance through the rich song list, you might be forgiven for thinking “Really?” There are too many really important iconic works here that jostle with each other for focus. With snatches of Athol Fugard, Khayelihle Dominique Gumede, Zakes Mda and Omphile Molusi, some of them too obscure to trigger memories of the full works, songs from the likes of John Legend, Sibongile Khumalo, Simphiwe Dana and Hugh Masekela are pushed, cheek by jowl with snippets of poetry from people such as Fred Khumalo, Professor Keroopetse Kgositsile and Langston Hughes, to name a few.

There’s an unmodulated richness to this work which makes you so heady your focus sways. And while there are references to dates: there’s a ‘1940’ on the back of one dancer, and the 1976 riots are beautifully clear, the trajectory of time is not convincingly developed, and the work does feel hurriedly put together, with no time for the piece to breathe easily and come into its own.

Also, there’s a jingling and a jangling between South African and American values, accents and works: it’s not clear what this is pitched at.

While the performers, including the gorgeous Aubrey Poo, Lesedi Job and Lebo Toko are honed and articulate and smooth as can be, there’s several jarring elements of discomfort. Costumes are not always comfortable on the bodies of the singers, which troubles the act of watching the work.

The production’s set is defined by a halo of barbed wire that surrounds the piece, teetering between a strangely celebratory image and one of oppression, and a curious interplay of spaces used in the theatre, which are innovative and exploratory, but not always comfortable to the viewer.

In short, Ketekang is magnificently celebratory: it showcases some of the finest musicians, singers and dancers on our stages right now, and gives voice to songs obscure and well known. But it’s a production in which you can’t easily see the wood for the trees and you become lost in the spectacular spectacle of it all. It just tries too hard.

  • Ketekang is directed by James Ngcobo with musical direction by Tshepo Mngoma, choreography by Luyanda Sidiya, set by Nadya Cohen, costumes by Nthabiseng Makone, lighting by Nomvula Molepo and sound design by Gladman Balintulo. It is performed by Caroline Borole; Nokukhanya Dlamini; Lesedi Job; Katlego Letsholonyana; Vuyelwa Maluleke; Mahlatsi Mokgonyana; Aubrey Poo; Sonia Radebe; Dionne Song; and Lebo Toko on stage and musicians Ezbie Moilwa; Godfrey Mgcina;Ntokozo Mgcina; Johan Mthethwa;and Sakhile Nkosi. It performs at the Market Theatre’s John Kani theatre until December 14.