Brighton Fringe 2014
Simply Soweto Encha, renamed from Africa Entscha are a five piece group that have been delighting crowds all over the world with their high octane brand of a cappella for nine years. In this new show they look back over those nine years and share their story and new songs with us.
A name change and a new show, and the five are back in Brighton. Encha seem to tour relentlessly but I was still delighted to see them back on the Fringe, hopeing they hadn’t become burnt out or jaded by so many gigs. So, it’s a good move to refresh the repertoire almost entirely with a show that celebrates and chronicles the last nine years since this award-winning phenomenon began.
So Africa Entsha becomes Simply Soweto Encha but the magical formula is still there: 110% energy, commitment, pitch perfect singing, playful and energising dance and plenty of comedy moments, tender theatre, and banter between the five guys.
A church venue is ideal for this production and I was delighted and relieved not to see boy band microphones stealing the natural acoustic sound. These performers know how to make use of a high-ceilinged venue and the sound was wonderful.
This show is outstanding. Near the beginning they sing of victory, and this production is just that – a victory. It’s a winning performance because all five peromers are not only of the highest quality is singers, but also with their own expressed charisma, able to range tenderness, intensity right across to light comedy and physical clowning. The group move together with an tightness but also vas a ten-legged, ten-armed, five-headed creative beast. Song and movement weave together and, though much of the material leans into sentimentality, it rarely feels cheesy. It’s sincere, rooted in authenticity, and though one must necessarily package a show like this to tour so often to so many places, it always feels as if the group meet the audience as if for the first time. That’s outstanding because many groups on repeated touring get into a groove where the spontaniety feels forced and often false and insincere. The sincerity here lifts the performance from just music into theatre.
There isn’t too much theatricality – just the right amount, measured out into the many songs that pack the hour. This is a group that makes eye contact with its audience. Here we have redemption songs, songs that invite us to free ourselves from mental slavery, modelled by the flow and movement of this able quintet.
We get a lot of variety in the show, their usual potent mix of uplifting spiritual songs and a bundle of upbeat fun. This is an hour spent exploring a nine-year journey. The songs are often passionate; many tease with a slow start only to erupt into rhythm and dance further in. Soime are sung in native language, others in English and I must admit to prefering the ones in African language over English. But South Africa is a land of many dialects and languages and it is variety that is a strength of this show. Among the words, the songs, the stories are the light and shadow of South Africa’s own story – the enigma along with the magic.
Now, I admit to having become a fan over recent years, but a reviewer for FringeReview must see past that.
You won’t find an a cappella group on the Fringe with such an outstanding combination of skill and zest, of freshness and ability to work so competently together. You won’t find improvised moments slotting so playfully and easily into precisely delivered song and movement. A gentle, but firmer narrative lies at the heart of this new show but it never interferes with the flow of the music. And these singers often do with their mouths what Riverdance do with their feet – mouth and body percussion of the highest order, delivered with ease.
On many levels this is a show about freedom, but it also is about being on the road, as well as on a journey through life. We lose people along the way, new replaces old, and we grow and develop, if we are lucky. We can all walk in the footsteps of Mandela and take the long road back to freedom. It is the style of texture of this show that makes that invitation feel easier to accept. The standing ovation was deserved and decisive from the audience.
So, this is much more than just a gig. It’s a piece of musical theatre. There’s shameless sentimentality mixed with nuanced emotional delivery and power. Choreopgraphy is often simple, tightm occasionally playful and innovative. The balance is pitch perfect. There’s comedy laced with a bit of drama, storytelling laced with physical clowning. And it all creates rare synergy. Uplift but also depth. Young performers deliver with maturity and everyone was motivated, touched and delighted, from toddlers to octegenarians.
Outstanding work. Unmissable.