Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the UK Tour Inala
"I guess because I work in production music and I’m always serving a vision of a director or the like, in the end I’m always thinking about what’s going to go down best with an audience…without selling out my soul too much!"
Following a phenomenal 2014 tour and sell-out runs at both the Edinburgh International Festival and London’s Sadler’s Wells, Inala brings together four time Grammy Award-winning South African choral legends, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and multi-award winning chorographer Mark Baldwin, in this unique artistic collaboration for a creatively reworked production that kicks off at the New Theatre Oxford on 23-24 June.
Inala, meaning ‘abundance of goodwill’ in Zulu, delivers a spiritually uplifting live experience, powered by a cultural explosion of music, song and dance.
Featuring world-class current and former dancers from The Royal Ballet and Rambert,
this critically acclaimed production embraces an exhilarating fusion of South African and Western cultures live on stage, to create a unique, immersive experience that reflects both cultures.
Inala’s original score is composed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala and British composer Ella Spira, who created the concept of Inala with First Artist of the Royal Ballet Pietra Mello-Pittman.
Blending the intricate rhythms and infectious harmonies of their native musical roots with live percussion, piano and strings, Mark Baldwin’s choreography unites Zulu traditions with classical ballet and contemporary dance, performed by an exceptional company of 18 dancers and singers.
OX talked pressure, inspiration and self-indulgence with Ella Spira…
You’ve written music for film and stage…is there one that you prefer?
No they really isn’t. I commit myself to every single project that I work on – if it’s an advert, a game show, film or whatever – I just want to write music.
What I would say is that I have a particular interest in collaborating with people musically as well as with directors and commercial people in advertising.
I’ve never been somebody that felt my strengths and interests are in writing music for the concert hall, my language isn’t right for that and it’s not what I’m inspired by. I’m inspired by working with other people and having a bit of a visual idea of something as well.
How did you write the Inala score?
It took quite a long time! I always had quite a clear idea of why I thought it was a good reason to propose this type of music to Mambazo. So when I as the composer approached them and said “Here’s why I think you should work with me” – sounds very arrogant and potentially kind of could be! – I really believed in my heart that I was totally the right person to be proposing this.
I’d really thought beforehand about what I could bring to them that they couldn’t do on their own as an acapella male choir. Part of that was range, part was about moving between keys and part was helping vocal parts go in different places. If you listen to most of their music, it’s quite upbeat and major. And some of the songs that we did were in the minor key…it’s just different. So that was my starting place.
I also put together a lot of what I felt were really good strong references from things like Nina Simone to less obvious things like Ravel and Chopin, as well as bits of film music.
I tried quite a lot of things as well. The parts, especially for the strings and piano, are in themselves quite simple parts but they needed to be because Mambazo’s harmonies are so rich that anything over complex muddied things. I’m a big fan of keeping things simple and clean and not putting in stuff that isn’t needed.
You’re based in London which is rich with arts and culture; that must be a constant inspiration?
Definitely. But I grew up in Gloucester. My parents were both artists so I was in a very artistic environment. I remember as a kid being aware of African music, my dad playing different African CDs in the car. So even before I lived in London I was surrounded by lots of different types of music.
What you’ve also done with Inala is avoid writing a score that is self-indulgent; did that just happen or was falling into the self-indulgent trap something you consciously tried to avoid?
That’s a really interesting question because I have had debates with people who work in particular areas of music who really think that artists must be allowed to do whatever they want to do; and while I agree with that I also think in a time when audiences don’t have as much money to spend on going to things and Arts Council funding is being slashed there maybe isn’t space to be too experimental.
I guess because I work in production music and I’m always serving a vision of a director or the like, in the end I’m always thinking about what’s going to go down best with an audience…without selling out my soul too much!
I’m the eldest of 6. I’ve got younger siblings who are 17. And I quite often think about what they and their friends would like. Would they find this completely inaccessible? Or would they think “Yeah, I can listen to this”. So that’s another reference point.
The show has been hugely successful already – does this increase the pressure?
We’ve been talking about how much more stressful it feels this year!
There was a lot of pressure last year which was down to the fact we’d been developing the show for 5 years and if it didn’t work then that was 5 years wasted, and that our idea of what could be new and exciting for people was wrong and all the rest of it.
There’s not that pressure so much this year but there is definitely a different kind of pressure – the responsibility we now have.
Yes, there’s an expectation now isn’t there?
Exactly. We were so overwhelmed and honoured by the audience response which was incredible at all the venues. We had standing ovations everywhere and everyone was really generous with the feedback they gave; it was also lovely to see the amount of people that left venues with big smiles on their faces.
To then be invited onto the Royal Variety Performance was massively overwhelming and lovely!
And then this year you think “Oh my God! We’ve got to try and find a way of maintaining the story!” It’s had success but we still need to keep driving the story and telling people about it.
This year we’ve added a new song which we’re really excited about and we’re putting in a few other little elements to keep progressing it.
Is there a venue where the show wouldn’t work?
I think we could take it anywhere. And that was tried and tested last year. We did amazing big conventional theatres like Edinburgh Playhouse and Sadler’s Wells. After that we did concert halls and it worked really fantastically!
That’s the thing with Inala; it’s somewhere in between being a dance show, a musical and a concert – so it fits into any of those types of venues.
Fundamentally all the artistic elements in it are really strong. Our lighting designer did an amazing job, the set designer did a great design, there are all those elements. But in the end because it’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo and dancers together, as long as you can hear it and see a bit of it, it delivers the same kind of effect.
Inala comes to New Theatre Oxford on 23-24 June.
Tickets can be purchased from the New Theatre box office on George Street, by ringing 0844 871 3020 or by visiting our website (phone and internet bookings subject to booking/transaction fee).
For bookings of 10 or more, or for Equal Access bookings, please call our dedicated in-house team on 0844 871 3040