House of the Holy AfroA buxom African woman clad in a sixties mini; sunglasses that would make Nicole Richie envious; and a colossal blonde ‘fro, turns up the volume dial of a cardboard boom box. “Sydneeeey, are you ready to partaaaaaay?!!!!” Two bare-chested male dancers with grass-skirts decked in sparkling tinsel, rainbow-striped ‘Bert and Ernie’ leg and arm warmers, and giant kaleidoscopic sunglasses, jiggle on stage. Meanwhile, DJ Dino Moran pumps his fist into the air like it’s another hedonistic night in Ibiza, as he spins distorted Motown with pulsating house. Clearly, this isn’t going to be another typical celebration of Africana.

Comical yet sexy, kitsch but cool, chaotic and graceful, House of the Holy Afro turns its fingers up at any notions of romantic Africa. With fragments of melodic African gospel, contemporary clubbing music, traditional gumboot dancing, slam poetry, hip hop gyrations, and reenactments of Xhosa rituals, intertwined like an intricate, frenzied mesh of colour, Brett Bailey’s beast is a true cultural explosion. Designed to be a literal party with no seating to encourage the audience to shake their booties, the House features South African dance theatre troupe, Third World Bunfight, which comprise three men and three women, all untrained and hand-picked from disadvantaged backgrounds across the country. Enhancing the vitality of the show is renowned performance poet and rapper, Odidi Mfenyana, a charismatic, androgynous figure whose feline presence adds a sexiness to the show, as he flirts in his white spandex cat-suit, batting his eyes with lids scrolled thickly with bright blue make-up. Mfenyana is not just a pretty thing though. With his witty and succinct lyrics, he guides the path of the show’s journey; an exploration of the afro and what it is to be black, in particular, what it is to be a black South African. Afro is hair but it’s also Foxy Brown and Shaft, but most of all, as Mfenyana, points out, “afro is Nelson Mandela.” The crowd goes wild, whooping and clapping in agreement. Afro is clearly above all, an attitude. As the old saying goes, “hip hop is not just a music form, it’s a way of life,” and so the show goes.

Mfenyana together with the troupe, and internationally acclaimed DJ Dino, build a montage of South African reflections. The segments aren’t always fluid and are sometimes difficult to digest with beautiful, traditional, (almost a capella) singing being overpowered by electronic beats, but perhaps this is the point that Bailey tries to make; that South Africa isn’t just a clean, accessible terrain; it’s bumpy, confusing, noisy, even frantic, and you have to look hard and concentrate, to see the beauty. Or perhaps it is this very mess that makes it such a fascinating paradoxical melting pot of splendour?

Bailey, who spent considerable time studying Xhosa tribal culture, weaves in some of the traditional rituals. At times, the dancers appear to be entranced with the music, frenetically spinning or swaying their bodies. This is then juxtaposed with more contemporary choreography, typical of a hip hop music video. The audience is a very integral part of the show. This is after all a dance party, and if you’re faced with wallflowers, then the party is going to be a struggle. It’s an impressive mix of ages and ethnic diversity and as people loose their inhibitions and become taken by the spell of the House, the party starts to rock.

House of the Holy Afro
Third World Bunfight

Venue: Metro Theatre 624 George Street, Sydney
Dates/Times: January 7–11 at 9.30pm; January 12 at 8.00pm & 11.30pm
Duration: 1hr 30mins, no interval
Price: Monday–Wednesday $45 | Thursday–Saturday  $50
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 723 038

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