Nationwide tour for one of Africa’s greatest musical ambassadors

Black Umfolosi 5 who are performing at Clitheroe's The Grand. (s)
Black Umfolosi 5 who are performing at Clitheroe's The Grand. (s)

Black Umfolosi 5 have survived the political turmoil and struggle in Zimbabwe, emerging as one of Africa’s greatest musical ambassadors.

Inspired by the traditional song and dance of their native Southern Africa, the dance ensemble have just begun a nationwide UK tour and make their first visit to the Grand, Clitheroe, tomorrow (Friday October 14th).

“We are very blessed and it is a humbling achievement to be together for 34 years, because we’ve faced many, many hurdles on that path,” said the founder member of Black Umfolosi Thomeki Dube.

“Many groups in Zimabwe have not been able to withstand those difficult challenges and have broken up.”

Their experiences in their troubled homeland would be inspirational enough for most songwriters but they capture that repression in their music and performances.

All broadcasters in Zimbabwe, and many of the main newspapers, for example, toe the party line.

“It is very sad that Zimbabwe is supposed to be a democratic republic, but we are not recognised by our own country,” added Thomeki.

“When we play there the crowd is vetted, meaning that the people who come to see us have to have the approval of the authorities.

“We’ve survived on our own and it has turned into a journey that none of us would have ever imagined.

“However, we have remained united through our love and passion for the world.”

School friends in Bulawayo, they named themselves after the Umfolozi Omnyama River in South Africa – to where their ancestors can be traced.

Their famous Gumboot Dances showcase the traditional styles and rituals of the South African mining regions and their harmonies, mixed with intricate rhythms, with clicking and clapping a mainstay of their beautifully choreographed shows, have thrilled audiences all over the world.

“Our message is self expression through music, and we sing of life and love,” said Thomeki.

“Dance and the inspiration of music pulled us together.

“It also allows us to see the world and help to understand our differences in the world.”

He added: “We do two songs in English, the rest in Zimbabwean, but the reaction from you guys in the UK is always amazing.

“We are more than a singing group, though. Black Umfolosi has a mission to spread Zimbabwean culture, providing jobs for performers and fostering social harmony with people of different backgrounds and beliefs.”

Umfolosi’s new album – Umhlaba – contains a dozen of their most popular songs, including Summertime, a huge chart hit in Africa.

“People ask us to describe our sound, but that’s a difficult one,” he added.

“Well, it is a harmonic blend of male voices, all microwaved and baked to produce a shimmering sound of the soul of Africa.

“They are so many inspiring things in the world, and bad things too, but music cuts through those borders.

“There’s no need for unfriendliness, we must always try and embrace each other and be peaceful.”

Black Umfolosi 5 is also staging a youth workshop (4-30 to 5-30 pm) before the main show at 7 pm at Clitheroe Grand Theatre, October 14th. 01200 421599.