World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Jikelele South African Dance Theater

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: Thamsanqa Hlatywayo
First appearance in SF EDF: 2014

Jikelele South African Dance Theater was co-founded in 2012 in Oakland by Thamsanqa Hlatywayo and Andrea Vonny Lee. The company performs traditional dance and Township Theater developed during the apartheid era in the Bay Area. The company was created to teach, inspire, and create artistic works to revive Township Theater and other African-derived cultural traditions that are rarely experienced or in danger of being lost entirely.


DANCE ORIGIN: South Africa
GENRE: Zulu, Xhosa, and Migrant
TITLE: Yizani
DANCERS: Imani Abernathy, Shay Australia, Yvonne Henderson, Phindi Latha, Ammar Lee-Fowler, Sade Monette, Tommy Nguyen, Tiffany Rabb, Samantha Serrano, Lindi Weshangase
MUSICIANS: Thamsanqa Hlatywayo (drums), Tacuma King (drums)

Photo by Mark Muntean


Yizani is a traditional initiation ceremony from migrant Zulu and Xhosa tribes, presented as South African Township Theater. The initiate is a sangoma medicine healer.

The opening dance, Amarasharasha, invokes spirits of ancestors. Next, Nco Ndo is performed in a community gathering. Dancers poke fun at their friend, and the song—Nomhlotshazana, by Artistic Director Thamsanqa Hlatywayo—sings:

Did you see Nomhlotshazana?
With ashy, skinny legs? Back up Nomhlotshazana!

Finally, Whistle Dance builds the energy of the initiation. Originally a rural dance with reeds, it’s now an urban dance with whistles, performed for love of dance and to preserve tradition.

This sangoma healer is seer, priest, and shaman. She throws bones, reads signs, and ascertains influences, in order to solve physical, spiritual, or emotional problems. A sangoma—male or female—is born with a powerful ability to heal, and a calling can manifest at any age. Initiation occurs through a force of nature—with the help of spirits of a forest or river, or in the vitality of thunder and lightning. Thamsanqa emphasizes this receptivity to an elemental power: “People chase after lightning bolts with a spear trying to connect with the energy, and some people catch it—in a positive or negative manner.”

The dancers wear ankle shakers as musical instruments, made of amarasharasha nuts and pebbles in cloth pockets, synchronizing sound and movement. They wear beads and skirts for beauty and creativity, and effects inspired by traditional initiate clothing. In rural communities, a sacred goat is slaughtered and its parts are used in ceremony: the hair, meat, sacred goatskin, an inflated gallbladder tied in the sangoma’s hair.

Township Theater is South African black urban theater developed during apartheid by Gibson Kente. Through expert storytelling in dance, theater, and mime, black communities shared what was actually going on in people’s lives. This transformation of an authentic South African cultural phenomenon to contemporary stage was developed as a repertory piece for Jikelele South African Dance Theater by Thamsanqa. He grew up in South Africa and learned these dances from first-hand observation of Sangoma healing rites. Associate Director Andrea Vonny Lee is responsible for the staging of Jikelele repertoire.


DANCE ORIGIN: South Africa
Zulu and Xhosa Traditional
Sizolihamba; Gijima; Bhul’ubethe; Amangwevu
Thamsanqa Hlatywayo
Shay Australia, Alexander Brown, Ammar Lee-Fowler, Halima Mahdee, Sade Monette, Tommy Nguyen, Tiffany Rabb, Dezi Solèy, Matthew Wickett
Thamsanqa Hlatywayo (drums), Tacuma King (drums)

These dances from the Zulu and Xhosa (Bantu language) communities of South Africa are traditional and also choreographed with a modern twist. They reflect a culture both broken and intact, its people living within a traditional culture and also a modern one. In 1970, the Bantu Homeland Citizenship Act bound Zulus together as citizens of KwaZulu-Natal. Five million Zulu live there, and two million live in disconnected territories. Twenty percent of Johannesburg residents speak Zulu. Thamsanqa Hlatywayo—originally from Johannesburg—leads this powerful performance.

Sizolihamba is a dance of confidence with traditional hip movements, leg lifting, and stamping, dance to overcome obstacles—“The world is yours. Anything you do, do it with assurance and confidence!”

Jikelel’umhlaba wonke

Sihlala kulo, Thina sonke

Siyinto enye...

We’re going to travel all over the world.

We live in it. All of us being one...

GijimaTo Run—is a Zulu men’s celebration dance for war victories and weddings. This old form brings out the intense beauty of men dancing in unified rhythm.

Bhul’ubethe, meaning to move even the morning dew out of the path of an important person, is danced in traditional Zulu ceremony by a soloist to clear the way for a royal procession. Today it’s an introduction, an opening dance.

Amangwevu, or Upper Cut, from the Xhosa people, is named for its physical power. This solid dance is packed with jumps and kicks and surprises (in this case, good ones). Rhythms change quickly from the opening mellow mood, to a warrior beat, wide sweep, and—suddenly—trickery.

Jikelele’s Zulu maidens wear skirts of South African cloth, cut above the knee to represent their availability for marriage. (Newly-married women wear dresses to the ankles; all married women cover knees.) Beads of stone, seeds, glass, wood, and bone are gifts honoring a girl’s coming-of-age, engagement, or a friendship. The furry umgobo stick symbolizes celebration. The male dancers wear skins—traditionally from impala or zebra hunted for food and accented with feathers and bone and teeth necklaces. The cowhide shields (made in South Africa) symbolize protection and celebration.

It is said that the spirit of the Zulu and Xhosa people is “in the voice.” Most dancers accompany themselves by singing in harmony or a cappella, or with the “calling” style. The drum is always an inseparable partner to dance. The drummers must also dance in their minds, shaping intricate poly-rhythms on the dikosha drums.


DANCE ORIGIN: South Africa, West Africa
GENRE: Traditional
TITLE: Tribute to Nelson Mandela
ARTISTIC DIRECTORS: Naomi Diouf (Diamano Coura West African Dance Company), Thamsanqa Hlatywayo (Jikelele Dance Theater)
CHOREOGRAPHER: Ouseynou Kouyate
DANCERS: La Tashia Bell, Tamika Davis, Kine Diouf, Dedeh La Foucade, Bis-Millah Loving, Kimi Scott, Ousseynou Kouyate, Marcus Cathy, Christopher Scott
MUSICIANS: Dr. Zakarya Diouf, Madiou Diouf, Mohammed Kouyate, Darian La Foucade, Nimely Napla
SINGERS: Naomi Diouf, Coco Kelly, Veronica La Foucade, Sieyenne Windross

“It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world, and at peace with myself.”

—Nelson Mandela

When Nelson Mandela passed away in December of 2013, people around the world felt a deep collective grief. And we also felt a collective gratitude for Mandela’s astonishing leadership in an essentially peaceful revolution against apartheid, and for his tireless work against racial division as first president of a democratic South Africa.

The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, in partnership with Dancers’ Group and San Francisco Grants for the Arts, honored Nelson Mandela on his birthday—July 18th—presenting a traditional homegoing ceremony and tribute to this beloved leader. Under the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, all were welcome to join this program of praise, singing, dancing, and drumming.


- A procession of outstanding African drummers led by Festival co-artistic director CK Ladzekpo, including many of the same musicians who drummed so powerfully for Mandela’s appearance in 1990 at the Oakland Coliseum.

- Thamsanqa Hlatywayo, artistic director of Jikelele Dance Theater, led the singing of the South African national anthem.

In English, the words are:

God bless Africa
Let its horn be raised,
listen also to our prayers,
Lord bless us, we are the family of it
Lord bless our nation,
Stop wars and sufferings,
Save it, save our nation,
The nation of South Africa
Ringing out from our blue heavens,
From our deep sea’s breaking round,
Over everlasting mountains,
Where the echoing crags resound,
Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom
In South Africa our land.

- Jikelele Dance Theater led a traditional South African Praise.

- A sacred offering, including a libation, and brief tributes from dignitaries.

- Finally, Diamano Coura Dance Company presented three African dances celebrating Chief Mandela’s life and transitioning—choreographed by Ouseynou Kouyate of Senegal, with musical directorship by Dr. Zakarya Diouf.

The first piece is Kebebourama, traditionally danced in honor of the king or chief, with the griot singing his praises and he dancers and musicians celebrating his life. The second piece is a Liberian dance, with powerful ancient spirits gracing the stage in full-body masks. In the final piece, the drumbeats rise, inviting everyone to join the high-spirited dancing—in celebration of the extraordinary blessing of Nelson Mandela’s life.

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