Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Joe Legwabe's Bones

"I just happen to have a djemba in my hand that I was tuning," says composer, Joe Legwabe down the phone from his London base. "Listen, it should be like this…" After which comes a noise that sounds like hundreds of tiny rubber balls being fired in waves at a drum.

"I never had to learn to play the djemba," says Joe. "I just started playing it one day. And I came home and told my mother and she said 'Of course you can play, because I taught you by playing the djemba to you all the time when I was pregnant.' And I said 'why didn't you tell me!"

Legwabe, a virtuoso on the djemba, a mushroom-shaped hand drum, has been in Dublin recently, working as musical advisor on the latest from Calypso Theatre Company, Bones. The South African, who has worked on the soundtracks to films such as The Constant Gardner and Cry Freedom, created the score for the original London production of Kay Adshead's play about the legacy of apartheid. So when it came to the Irish premier, he was the obvious choice to put the local ensemble through its paces.

The first issue was that Solomon Ijigade who will sing the songs that Legwabe himself sang in the original production, is Nigerian, and therefore speaks none of the three South African languages that feature in the lyrics. "So I had to teach him how to pronounce words in Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho to start with. It was difficult for him…" says Soweto-born Legwabe. And when that was sorted, it was just a matter of getting up to speed on the djemba…

Adshead's play tells the story of how two women deal with a past that refuses to stay buried, both literally and emotionally. Legwabe's songs, the composer says, reflect that. "The play is about a lot of people who suffered and died and who are kind of trapped in the play. So I wrote the song Hambami Kahle for them all, which means 'go in peace' and wishes that finally all these people will be able to do that, to go in peace."

* Bones, Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin,

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