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South African soul star Simphiwe Dana’s new show is a...

Maverick Life

THE CONVERSATION

South African soul star Simphiwe Dana’s new show is about healing

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 08: Simphiwe Dana at the presentation of Moya at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre on April 08, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The production speaks to the significance of one's spiritual health, particularly following the traumas associated with loss and feelings of helplessness owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape)

Singer-songwriter Simphiwe Dana is working with fellow South African creative director, theatre producer and dancer Gregory Maqoma and his Vuyani Dance Theatre company. The new theatre work featuring Dana on vocals is called MOYA. It’s subtitled, “An artistic reflection on the role of spirituality in healing”.

MOYA speaks to the significance of one’s spiritual health, particularly following the traumas associated with loss and feelings of helplessness owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. It seeks to use music and theatre to draw performers and audiences alike to a deeper connection to their spiritual roots. As articulated by Dana and Maqoma, the show seeks to help one reconnect to the self – to introspect and rediscover inner peace – after over two years of feeling isolated or distanced from one’s core. Dana uses her gift of melody, harmony, and songwriting and poetry to create the sonic and thematic content that guides the underlying narrative inspiring this concert.

Simphiwe Dana at the presentation of Moya at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre on April 08, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Simphiwe Dana at the presentation of Moya at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre on April 08, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape)
Simphiwe Dana at the presentation of Moya at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre on April 08, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Simphiwe Dana at the presentation of Moya at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre on April 08, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape)

Both internationally acclaimed, Maqoma and Dana have a relationship that spans more than two decades. MOYA is their fifth collaborative project. They attribute the success of this partnership to a shared synergy and vision, and a mutual respect and love for their crafts. Their relationship is one that has also served as a continuing inspiration for them to expand and keep exploring the possibilities within their work.

MOYA features works composed and performed by Dana, supported by ten voices, under the musical directorship of Titi Luzipo, and choreography expressed by Vuyani under the direction of Maqoma. I asked them to share some thoughts about the upcoming concert.

South African dancer, choreographer and director, Gregory Maqoma (R) performs during the Dance Umbrella 2012, Johannesburg, South Africa, 19 February 2012. The Dance Umbrella is a two-week festival of dance held annually. The show was an adaptation of Julius Caesar. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

‘Moya’ is a word that occurs in many African languages. What does it mean in this context?

Simphiwe Dana: In this context Moya means spirit. It also means breath. Breathing is juxtaposed with spirit because breathing is a sign you’re alive, and when you stop breathing it is associated with the spirit leaving your body. Spirit also symbolises that zest for life. It also symbolises immortality, that part of us that never dies. It is in light of this spirit that we question and we gather to remember the meaning of life in MOYA.

Gregory Maqoma: To be moved by spirit, to be guided by it, to be connected by it.

Simphiwe, where do we find you musically here?

Simphiwe Dana: Here, I was in a desolate place having suffered tremendous personal losses. You find me questioning the meaning of existence. You find me seeing the pointlessness of life after my mother, a prayer warrior, died without any of her prayers answered. And I find myself asking if this is what I have to look forward to. This wondering led me to search for my divinity in earnest. And I can say I found more than I bargained for, including the meaning and purpose of my life.

What was the creative process involved in creating a show of this nature?

Gregory Maqoma: Firstly, we went back into the archive of Simphiwe’s original compositions, as she had originally written the songs, some were never released. What we discovered was her sincerity and rawness of the compositions, which are both haunting and tranquil. The complexity of her voice arrangements gave us the idea of bringing on stage an extra ten voices to provide the harmonies and to embody her musical richness. The choreography is born from the idea of the composition and meanings of songs. The directorial composition of the show highlights the spiritual journey MOYA is seeking, with a projected video montage of nature – human nature.

Simphiwe Dana: There is never a formula. Each circumstance is different. I became drawn to the studio after my mom died. Little did I know I was writing songs that would shape this show. With regards to how I selected songs for this, I was guided by a theme my mother has always lamented she longed for, from me: an album/show that addressed our relationship with our divinity. The songs I have been writing since my mom’s passing became the guidelines for how the whole show should be. Given that I revere how dance can portray our emotions, especially at the part where we give of ourselves to a higher vibration, I find that dance has a way of cementing the intent of the music.

Simphiwe Dana presents Moya at Joburg Theatre
Simphiwe Dana at the presentation of Moya at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre on April 08, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape)
Simphiwe Dana presents Moya at Joburg Theatre
Simphiwe Dana at the presentation of Moya at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre on April 08, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape)

What do you hope the audience is feeling when they leave?

Simphiwe Dana: I hope the audience will feel better. Just better, more comforted. Less alone. And that they will catch a glimpse of their life’s purpose.

Gregory Maqoma: Hope. We all need it. The world is changing and we are threatened by its demands. We hope, with MOYA, that humanity can prevail and hope can be fuelled so that we can find the courage to love, to trust and be one with our ancestors, with God, Allah and all the spiritual superpowers.

What impact has the pandemic had on South African artists?

Simphiwe Dana: COVID has in many ways incapacitated the engine of the music industry so badly that you have to be exceptionally popular to make money at this time. And the industry’s lifeblood is the ordinary everyday artist. Generally, the South African industry creates artists that live hand to mouth. Two years of no income has effectively halted many artists’ careers. The industry is bleeding talent, and there is no sign of any meaningful intervention from the government. DM/ML 

This story was first published in The Conversation

Phuti Sepuru is a lecturer at the University of Pretoria.

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