Once you see the show, you will become “Umojanized.”
Ernest Kelly, the president of International Arts Foundation which has organized Africa Umoja’s North American tour, made the prediction on the eve of the opening night musical and dance performance at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St.
The show has returned for the second time in seven years after completing a seven-city U.S. tour.
“The audiences here can expect something they have not seen since 2006 when the group first visited this country,” said Kelly who is also the chief executive officer of a New Orleans accounting firm. “I have been in touch with people in Toronto who saw the show three and four times and just can’t wait to see this high-energy and raw-emotion production again.”
Kelly, who saw the musical while visiting Johannesburg – he estimates he has been to South Africa nearly 50 times in the last 16 years – said this edition pays tribute to former South African president Nelson Mandela who has been hospitalised since June 8 with a recurring lung infection.
“There is a segment that gives credence to this great man and his contributions to mankind,” said Kelly. “The decision was made to insert this piece before his most recent hospitalization.”
Though seven performances are slated for Toronto, Kelly said the musical could be extended for another week in this city.
“We are ecstatic with the response we have received so far by people in Toronto,” he added.
A joyous celebration of dynamic talent with almost 70 South African singers, dancers, drummers and marimba players, Africa Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness was created in 2000 by childhood friends Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni who both grew up in Soweto.
Prior to the opening night performance, the production’s choreographer and costume designer were presented with an Icon of the Year award by the Toronto-based Africa Women Acting Organization started by Nigerian-born singer, songwriter and cultural activist, Sonia Aimy.
“I have been inspired by these two women and their remarkable artistic contributions across the globe,” said Aimy, who was raised and educated in Italy before arriving here two years ago to join her fiancé. “Todd and Thembi are role models and mentors for me and many other African women.”
Twala, who is accompanying the cast on this tour, accepted the award.
Africa Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness runs through August 11 with two shows on the last two days, starting at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.