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Gregory Maqoma ǀ Thuthuka Sibisi Broken Chord

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A group of five Black dancers wear colourful shirts and cardigans decorated with diamond patterns. Three crouch to drum on wooden boxes and watch as two men dance in the centre, raising their arms and lifting one knee to hop or stamp.

Broken Chord moves between concert, dance and performance, retelling of the story of the first African choir which performed in Great Britain and the US, in the late 19th century.


Featuring four soloists and Echo Vocal Ensemble, Gregory Maqoma’s work tells the story of a South African–based chorus whose tour through North America and England in the late 19th century was marred by the realities of racism. The piece lays bare the burden of the white gaze and what it feels like to move beyond its constraints.

Broken Chord charts the journey of a group of singers who travelled by boat in order to collect donations to build a school. Despite the tensions between South Africa and the colonial power Great Britain, the tour became a glorious success. Maqoma offers a rare insight into how Africans were perceived in Victorian London. Using atmospheric sounds and both traditional Xhosa and contemporary styles of dance, Maqoma gives a voice to this remarkable story.

South African choreographer and Soweto-born Gregory Maqoma became interested in dance as a means to escape the political tensions growing in his place of birth. Here he collaborates with Musical Director Thuthuka Sibisi, who himself started his career at the world-renowned Drakensberg Boys Choir School. Together they present a unique work about past and present issues concerning borders, migration and identity.

Echo is an acclaimed vocal ensemble that stemmed from the Genesis Sixteen Young Artist scheme. Led by conductor Sarah Latto, they made their St John’s Smith Square debut in 2017, and have since performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as Ensemble-in-Residence at Ryedale Festival and live on BBC Radio 3.

[Image description] A group of five Black dancers wear colourful shirts and cardigans decorated with diamond patterns. Three crouch to drum on wooden boxes and watch as two men dance in the centre, raising their arms and lifting one knee to hop or stamp.

Header image © Lolo Vasco

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Between 1891-1893 a group of young African singers travelled by boat to Britain, Canada and America. This ensemble of the missionary-educated black elite, named The African (Native) Choir, were on a mission to raise funds for a technical school in Kimberley, South Africa. Using traditional Xhosa and contemporary dance styles alongside atmospheric soundscapes, we weave together recorded personal accounts of the African Choir, revealing a drama of truly global dimensions , whilst simultaneously looking at the black body as a political site. Further, questioning the relationship between the colonised and the coloniser; and either’s complicity in shaping and shifting a South African narrative – past and present. Broken Chord not only reflects on an archive but looks to trigger, critique and comment on urgent issues of migration, dispossession, borders and paths of forced closure – a deliberate and disturbing gesture on the part of the West against the other.NOTE FROM GREGORY MAQOMA & THUTHUKA SIBISI

A work sung and danced, but above all felt.BACHTRACK

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Post-show talk
In conversation with Gregory Maqoma, hosted by Rob Jones. BSL interpreted.

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