The Durban Playhouse is staging a musical that pays tribute to South African music icons, who dominated the 80s and 90s. The musical is a landmark event for the playhouse under lockdown regulations.

Its first production since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was a hybrid production in June. The current production, Music In The Air, tells the vibrant history of music during the dying years of apartheid.

The play features songs by musical giants like Brenda Fassie, Johnny Clegg, and Hugh Masekela.

Their iconic music is brought to life by a cast of mostly young people.

The play centres around a middle-aged man, Buttons, who owns a music store.

Buttons is a walking encyclopedia of the music of the 80s and early 90s. He remembers this era as a time when music carried the pain and aspirations of a people wounded by apartheid.

He believes that modern music has no substance.

The cast 

The cast is made up of dynamic, young South African performers, who are returning to stage for the company after months of not performing due to the lockdown.

Young artist Phakanyisiwe Mbanjwa says being in this production has helped her understand the theory in music back in the day.

“Well, I feel like the music back in the 80s had a lot of meaning. People wrote from the heart; people wrote from things they were going through back in those times. Comparing to now, people are just writing songs because of trends. I feel like back then there was a message for people. So, I think being part of this production and understanding the theory and the terminology of all the music that was produced back in the 80s and 90s, groomed me and also made me understand why people wrote those songs because those songs created freedom for us today.”

Another member of the cast Siphiwe Nkabinde says although they do appreciate the role music plays in people’s lives, there is still a lot that needs to be done to improve lyrics.

“We always go for commercial because it’s a quick buck. But we somehow easily forget that we are building the nation. We have our kids and we need to have, lyrically, words that are really building someone, words that are really bringing hope. I think we can still do more as a generation because our legends have actually paved a way for us and in respect of what they’ve done for us, we need to sort of reference them in a way.”

The writer and producer of the show, Joel Zuma,  hopes the play will attract a varied audience of young and old.

“I want people to enjoy themselves. I want people to be taken back in the journey of the 80s and 90s times of Brenda Fassie, Lucky Dube Chicco Thwala, and all of that. But more than anything else, I wanted them to understand the role that music played. Why did Letta Mbulu say, ‘not yet uhuru’?”

Zuma says the play will be staged at the Playhouse Theatre in Durban until Sunday. He has appealed for sponsorship to take the play on a country-wide tour.

Zuma hopes that they will be able to stage more productions in the playhouse with the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Author- Nonhlakanipho Magwaza