by Lebogang Mashifane
“Birth Life Death
Men Women Children
You Me Us
1 2 3
4 5 6
We black out”
Those were Billy Langa’s closing words on his performance Tswalo, showing at the Playhouse Theater in Durban from 8-11 May 2019.
Tswalo, which means birth, is given life through this performance – one hander, bilingual, fusing poetry, song, dance, sound and light; based on an abstract delivery of life, from the beginning of nothingness to evolution of mankind. The performer plays the role of several characters and throughout the performance is a blanket as a prop. The blanket also has several significances as a garment, royalty, a baby, a spirit, a transformation of roles by both the performer and prop.
Billy’s body moves steady, strong and swiftly from that of a female, a male, an animal, an old person, a young person and a spirit. His delivery of song, dance and poetry with clear respiratory reveals his stamina and experience as a performer. He also interacts with the audience where he picks a dance partner, a female closest to the stage. After dancing with her, he then gets the audience to applaud for her and applaud again for her beauty, and applaud again.
In the play is brilliant work of physical art that clearly expresses the evolution of mankind from apes, this is also revealing different stages using lighting and how the performer and lighting technician were in sync was remarkable. There is also a part where the performer depicts a baby in the stomach of a pregnant mother. Just by watching that scene you can feel submerged in the amniotic fluid and the sounds he makes that could resemble a heart beat, a kick and also a knock of the being inside another. The storytelling in spoken word hits the conscience and evokes the spirit of Ubuntu and the feeling of love.
Throughout the play one gets mixed emotions of struggle with the spirit as “there is war in the heavens, power as native identity is portrayed, romance when his parents meet, fuzzy joy when they dance, taking instructions when the spirit of the elderly brings forth the child that and tells the parents to give the child strength, wisdom and humility and that the child can not go astray in the presence of the parents.
Inkanyiso crew conducted an interview with Billy Langa. Langa’s roots that stem from Kwa Zulu. He is Pedi speaking even though his Culture is Ndebele with a isiZulu surname. Hence a English and Sepedi play was performed in KZN, to bring it back to its roots. He also mentions that the piece was written over a period of 6 months by him working with Mahlatsi Mokgonyana who was based in Cape Town at the time. They created the writing process in bits and sending it online until it was a full script. After performing at the National Arts Festival last year they arranged with the Playhouse group to bring the play to Durban.
After his last performance, having performed twice a day, Billy Langa was still energetic and welcoming to speak to us about his craft that has been a journey since 2012 and on going.
Previous by Lebogang Mashifane: