There are two parts to every concert by the singing trio we call The Soil. Their first performance here at National Arts Festival at the Guy Butler Theatre of the Monument confirms it too. The first of these is a child-like streak that defines their likeable charm. It’s a playfulness that the trio shares with their ever-eager audiences. The easy allure and often relished pandering to the crowed turns The Soil’s performance into a kind of unplanned, impromptu spectacle of song and fanfare. They seem to be doing it just off the cuff.
However, this playfulness can easily obscure the musicianship that goes into the acapella outfit’s performances. It’s easy to mistake the jollying for lack of method to the joyous madness. But, that would be a misreading. Their harmonic drive of the music, the lyricism and the swing of each lilting phrase and the infectious call and responses are all traits of hard-won technical prowess.
The doo-wop singing along with its uniquely South African variants, isicathamiya and others were born on street corners and mine compounds
with the adoration of the joyful horde as their goal. This is another way of understanding the happy-chirpy veneer and the playful spirit of The Soil’s shows. They can’t help it. It’s in the DNA of what they do.
The second part of the architecture of the trio’s shows belongs to something deeper. It is especially visible when they perform traditional tunes and some of the historically meaningful tunes written by some of national heroes and heroine of song. Like when they treated the cover of a Simphiwe Dana tune, Inkwenkwezi. It was a well-chosen song that resonated with the audience. Dana’s song provided a much-needed variation to the night’s repertoire. It has a hopeful thrust to issues from a sombre emotional theme. As they moved into the spirituals, with feet stomping and hands clapping in formation with the off-beat of the tunes, the fans became an army of sorts. The full theatre became something more than itself. It was not a concert anymore, but a gathering of children of the soil.
The Soil comprised the trio original members Bhuhle Mda, Luphindo Ngxanga and Ntsika Ngxanga cavorting with their fans in Grahamstown.