In a post-apartheid South Africa the notion of interculturalism is a popular one to tackle in any media but few shows have been able to address with as much poise and vocal clarity as Silence of the Music.
The music was exquisitely transcendent. The performer’s voices were skilfully contrasted, so that each brought their own unique pitch and tone into play. This created a thorough vocal dynamic, juxtaposing singing styles from a broad spectrum of cultures, from the Islamic chanting of young Khalil (played by Sury Boltman) to the Hindi mantras of Yashika (played by Asmina Alekar). Accompanied by live instruments, the performers sang the song of a love story between a Sufi man, Khalil, and a Christian woman, Maria.
The staging consisted of large white triangular pieces of fabric stretched vertically from floor to roof. Changes in lighting coloured the fabric in different shades to set the tone for each scene. The stage itself was populated by four musicians; a percussionist, a guitarist, a violinist and a keyboard player, seated on a raised platform made to look as if it were carved from granite. The effect was more spoof than sophistication, which was tragic considering the richness of the music unfolding on stage. It should be noted however, that the production has evolved from a kind of concert into what should be a musical. Unfortunately, the show remains in limbo between these two poles. But the potential is staggering. With its witty lyrics, catchy tunes and soaring melodies, Silence of the Music could well be a South African broadway extravaganza.
The story, although simple, taps some precious nerves in religious debates, particularly in the Muslim community. Issues around marriage, such as religious superiority and conversion, are skilfully woven in without presenting didactic views. The discussions and conflicts inherent in the story remain unresolved in the dimension of spoken language. Instead, the show uses music as its epicentral discourse, fusing sounds from diverse traditions to create new meaning.
Silence of the Music captures what can be broadly termed as ‘world music’. It revels in hybridity, crossbreeding pitch-perfect Western operatic voices with sombre Arabic prayer. The result is voluptuous vocality. Despite its anaemic production design the show transcends the visual into the realm of aural bliss. And as it celebrates difference and invokes glorious mutation it reminds us of the opulence of our cultural wealth. At one point Khalil says to Maria, “Between all wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field. Meet me there.” In this show, music is that field.
Silence of the Music runs at the Baxter Theatre in Rondebosch until 30 April 2011.
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