For the members of Black Umfolosi performing on stage is about much more than entertaining audiences; it’s a way to share their African culture and heritage with the world.
“When you go on stage and do a performance you represent the way of living that is found among your people. When we come on stage it’s giving people who have no chance to travel to have glimpse of what Africa looks like,” said founding member Thomeki Dube.
Through songs, dance and storytelling, Black Umfolosi share the rich traditions and cultural diversity found in areas of Zimbabwe and South Africa where members of the group can trace their ancestral heritage. Even the group’s name has a connection to that cultural diversity and heritage. Black Umfolosi is named after the Umfolozi Omnyama River in South Africa where the group can trace their ancestral roots.
Dube said the traditions and culture found in Zululand in South Africa relate in many ways to the cultural landscape found in Zimbabwe.
“It’s the same group of people, the same traditions, the same culture, but when people move to another location the originality changes, other cultures provide an influence. That’s what makes our culture very rich and highly diversified,” said Dube.
Those various cultural influences are part of the South African gumboot dance, which Black Umfolosi will perform. The dance is performed by dancers wearing rubber boots. Dancers build rhythm through slapping their rubber boots in a unique pattern. Music is created through the process of stomping, slapping, and dancing. Dube said the simple yet highly entertaining dance has evolved quite a lot from its oppressive roots. In South African mines, immigrant miners worked under hard conditions and were not allowed to speak or communicate with one another. Many of the workers came from different countries in Africa and did not speak the same language. Needing to create a way to communicate, the workers began to create sounds by slapping their gumboots.
“They would slap them in a way that they could understand but the boss or mine owners could not understand what was going on,” said Dube. “Later it was transformed into an actual dance because it sounded very nice to communicate through slapping and stomping.”
Revelstoke Arts Council Executive Director Miriam Manley said the gumboot dance is incredibly powerful to see.
“It’s super visceral and unique,” she said.
Black Umfolosi has shared their cultural roots on stage through song and dance for the past 35 years. Having performed internationally, Dube said the group’s roots have a much humbler beginning. As a youth Dube and his friends attended a boarding school in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The school lacked in social facilities such as a pool or music room. Dube said it was sheer boredom that led to the students creating a choir in 1982, where they performed songs and incorporated dances. In 1986 when the members were getting ready to leave the school, they sat down to decide what would become of the choir. Some choose to leave and some chose to remain, forming Black Umfolosi. Decades later, Dube says Black Umfolosi still feel privileged to be invited to perform internationally. Their performance is one of the only times an international group has come to Revelstoke.
“We prefer to share as much as possible. It’s important for people to share cultures. It makes a beautiful global village where people can begin to appreciate much more,” he said.
Black Umfolosi perform at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, March 23 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20/adults and $10/kids. Tickets can be purchased online at revelstokeartscouncil.com. Tickets are also available at the Revelstoke Visitor Centre at 301 Victoria Road.