Saratoga Springs

Zimbabwean singers will start a ‘new’ SPAC season

Nobuntu performs Friday night at Spa Little Theatre.

Nobuntu performs Friday night at Spa Little Theatre.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Now that renovations to the Spa Little Theatre have been completed, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is scheduling concerts year round that start this weekend with Nobuntu on Friday and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on Saturday.

“Part of my vision for SPAC when I started six years ago was to transform the organization from a seasonal presenter to a year-round destination for arts and culture,” said Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of SPAC. “Now with the opportunity to breathe new life back into the Spa Little Theatre — after being vacant following the onset of the pandemic — that vision is becoming reality.”

But what acts to book?

“Because we had less lead time to book coming out of the pandemic, we had to focus on music on the short term of global artists of different cultures, styles and genres,” said Chris Shiley, SPAC’s vice president of artistic programming. “We listened to the acts, learned how they did at various venues and what shows they’d bring to determine if their style was what we wanted and how the community would respond to it and who would work in a 500-seat venue. It was a collaborative decision.”

More: Life & ArtsEverything Saratoga Springs-Ballston Spa

After consulting their lists and putting in the above effort, they zeroed in on Nobuntu, a group of five ladies from Zimbabwe who sing a cappella in a style reminiscent of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and are currently on a two month U.S. tour; and CMSLC, who will be expanding their summer season to a year-round residency.

While local fans are familiar with CMSLC, this is the first time Nobuntu has appeared at SPAC. Nobuntu is an African concept that means humbleness, love, unity and family from a woman’s perspective. The group formed in 2011 and in 2013 released its first recording “Thina” (10th District Music), said Shane Cadman, booking rep for Alliance Artist Management. Two more discs followed along with frequent U.S. tours and international acclaim.

“All the women are from different areas of Zimbabwe and sing traditional Zimbabwean to Afro-jazz to gospel,” he said.

Their distinctive style of South African singing involves rhythmic unity and complex harmonies accompanied by some percussion such as the mbira or thumb piano and dance movements. A quick look on their numerous YouTube videos show five ladies dressed to the hilt in bright, colorful garb in celebratory mode. And according to their brief bios, Zanele Manhenga, Thandeka Moyo, Duduzile Sibanda, Heather Dube and Joyline Sibanda are all songwriters with Moyo also a fashion designer. (The Sibanda ladies are not sisters.)

“The group is very popular,” Cadman said, who was already working on Nobuntu’s 2023 tour schedule. “They work with local choirs and workshops. They’re amazing women.”

The CMSLC concert will feature pianist Michael Stephen Brown; violinists Kristin Lee, Richard Lin and James Thompson; violist Matthew Lipman; cellist Mihai Marica; and bassist Joseph Conyers in music by Bach, Schubert, Handel/Halvorsen and Mendelssohn.

The rest of the 2022 schedule is focused on the holidays: Danu, a leading traditional Irish ensemble that hails from four counties in Ireland in “An Emerald Isle Christmas” on Dec. 11; the internationally known Canadian Brass in their first Spa Little Theatre holiday brass concert on Dec. 13; and Damien Sneed in “Joy to the World: A Christmas Musical Journey” with 10 singers/instrumentalists performing well-known holiday classics on Dec. 18.

“They’ll be fun programs,” Shiley said. “We think the brass will sound nice and present. It’s a live acoustic in the theater but people will change the sound level. And we did not know Damien except through our jazz dealings. We didn’t know his show. But he’s big in New York City. It’s a beautiful ensemble — a gospel/jazz show. This has all been a great opportunity to put different genre and styles together. Being closed for nine months of the year was not where we wanted to be.”

SPAC’S Fall and Holiday Season

WHERE: Spa Little Theatre
Nobuntu: Friday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m. – $30
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Saturday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m. – $45-$65
Danu: Dec. 11, 4 p.m. – $30-$50
Canadian Brass: Dec. 13, 7 p.m. – $50-$75
Damien Sneed: Dec. 18, 4 p.m. – $30-$50

More: Life & ArtsEverything Saratoga Springs-Ballston Spa


Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Saratoga Springs

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