From Gumboot to Hip-Hop

The sound effects of booming African drums and chirping birds transformed Kemper Auditorium into a small community in South Africa. Juxtapower introduced Andover students to the spirited native dance and history of South Africa. Although the crowd was small, the students and faculty present were enthusiastic and eager to learn more about Juxtapower. Conveying the vibrant culture of historical and modern South Africa, the group’s act featured a mix of languages and art mediums. Dean of Faculty Temba Maqubela said, “They were authentic and…it would have been wonderful if more members of the community had had a chance to witness this aspect of history of the South African people.” The founders of Juxtapower created the group in 1999 with the intent of increasing cultural exchange between American and African countries. The six incredibly talented performers joined together to express the roots of South African culture through a theatrical performance. The show now includes a skillful blend of acting, singing, and dancing. Performer Sandile Mbili said, “We are very technically trained and have danced all over the world. There wasn’t enough representation of South Africa in this industry, so we decided to put something together.” Members of the group, though raised in different parts of the world, are dedicated to the same goals of spreading the beauty of South African art. The members of Juxtapower displayed a striking sense of pride for the country and culture they represented. Juxtapower is committed to changing the negative vision of their home. In the mid-90’s, South Africa finally dismantled its apartheid system, giving the vote and raising civil rights standards for millions of blacks. Nelson Mandela led the African National Congress in gaining political power for the new black voters. While the performers admitted that South Africa still faces many obstacles, they reminded audiences, “South Africa has been free only a couple of years and has made much progress and is very accomplished.” They noted South Africa’s Nobel Prize winners as an example. However, while South Africans are “happy to be [politically] free,” they must now work toward economic freedom. For this, they call for international recognition and support. Though it may be an uphill battle, the members of Juxtapower are optimistic. As the performance began, one of the six dancers proclaimed, “This is our story!” The lights dimmed and a steady drumbeat emerged out of the darkness. When the lights flickered on, the performers portrayed exhausted workers toiling in a gold mine. The dance that followed represented the new style of dance that South African miners’ created, called Gumboots. This style of dance, influenced by the workers’ frustration with poor working conditions and low wages, eventually gave rise to Stepping, a modern style of dance. The show also featured Zulu, an ancient warrior dance. Audience member Brittany Achin said, “It was cool the way they incorporated Zulu dance with hip-hop!” English instructor Seth Bardo added, “I thought the piece that replicated the miners’ movements was terrific.” To further the cultural exchange, the performers invited audience members on stage to learn a routine from the show. Students and few adventurous adults worked with performer Charmaine Trotman to experience an early form of stepping. Aside from showcasing these various types of native dance, the performers also featured their musical skills. Two of the performers showed the similarities of modern rap and South African rap, when they did a parody of American rap by impersonating Eminem and Snoop Dog. After this entertaining imitation, they reclaimed their own cultural identity by rapping in their native languages. Juxtapower did more to integrate their South African art and Western pop culture by performing the “Zulu of James Brown.” On the other hand, sometimes their mixes were not as seamless when a traditional South African dance was awkwardly interrupted by plies and pirouettes. Although all the performers have extensive experience in Western dance, ranging from ballet to modern dance, they were all dismayed by a vacancy of South African dance in the international realm of performing arts. Edwin Diaz, president of Af-Lat-Am said, “Af-Lat-Am invited Juxtapower to represent African culture using two of the most free forms of expression; music and dance. The audience members were able to experience African culture in person.” Performer Bafana Matea concluded, “We want to portray our world. Our main goal is to get it out there as much as possible and to reach out to as many people as possible. This culture is glorious and we want to share it with the world.”