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Black Umfolosi brings Zulu song and dance to Millennium Place

African a Capella group braves Canadian winters and sweeps in with their new album Summer Time



Thomeki Dube has stories about Canadian winters that will curl the toes of even the most battle-scarred, frozen Canuck.

The Zimbabwean singer, who is performing with his a Capella group Black Umfolosi at Millennium Place in Whistler, has partaken of our wind chills and brutal road conditions from Winnipeg to Whitehorse.

The group once went dog sledding in Yellowknife.

"It was amazing, we were so shocked. It is unthinkable back home to say that a lake can freeze and you can actually go over the lake when it is frozen. We went over a small lake and we were sort of, like, terrified, thinking we would come to a point where we would fall in," Dube recalls.

"If someone had videoed it and put it on YouTube people would have laughed, seeing us so petrified.

"Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, no water, so to be in a place like that, you think about so many things. And we were there when it was -37C, some years ago, so we have an idea of how cold it can really be in this country."

How does an African deal with -37C?

"We were all eager to experience that, but when we got subjected to it, it was a different story. You really feel like you can die in a minute when you are outside. You want to rush inside your houses and shut yourself inside and look for the heat, drink some tea and some soup," he says.

Dube laughs when he is told that this is exactly what many Canadians do.

"Yes. It is very cold, but it is a change for us. It is nice, for a contrast, to experience this. For us that's what makes this place called Canada. Canada has to be different from other places and we so much appreciate that," he says, with spectacular African generosity.

He adds: "But we are here for a short time. I don't know about if it gets worse, then it would get very hard for us."

Black Umfolosi was formed by a group of young Zulu friends in 1984 and has performed steadily around the world ever since. Dube is one of the final two original members of the five-member group.

They sing primarily in their dialect of Nebele, which originates across the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe, away from the better-known traditional Zulu homelands in South Africa, he says.

Black Umfolosi has released 14 albums internationally. Their most recent, funnily enough, is called Summer Time.

"It is a beautiful album. We definitely talk of summer as sunny and warm weather. But it also talks about a good time, when you have peace in your heart it's like you have summer in your heart. Everything is bubbly and everything is possible. Your spirit is up," he says.

The current Canadian tour kicked off on Nov. 4 in smaller communities in Nova Scotia and the end of the trail comes in Trail, B.C., on Dec. 9.

Catching him over the phone on the deck of a ferry going to Nanaimo, Dube is full of praise — and relief — for the West Coast sunshine.

"It's like we are back home now," he laughs, before agreeing that this is not really true.

They've been to Canada many times, but their last visit was five years ago, so Dube was happy to play in tiny venues like Antigonish or Flin Flon. Their last visit to Whistler was years ago, he says.

Dube gives a hearty laugh when I tell him he knows the country better than I do.

"It is a big country, wide country. Very amazing. Sometimes you have some of these destinations where you fly for quite a number of hours and the time changes in the same country. And very nice people, so that's very good," he says."We know Canada is a beautiful place and our performances are followed very nicely by people here, they support our music. We enjoy it so much, every minute."

He says Western audiences have become more sophisticated over the years in understanding their music.

"People here have been more exposed to a lot of international music. It makes our lives easier when we come here because they know what to expect from the kind of rhythms we do and they straight away get into it, they clap and stand up. When we ask them to dance they come and dance with us. It makes life easier and even nicer," Dube says.

"And technology advancement, and so forth, has also taken us to another level."

Dube says Black Umfolosi hopes to return next summer. Not because of the weather, but because they want to.

Black Umfolosi performs at Millennium Place on Sunday, Dec. 7; doors open at 7 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $26 to $29 for adults, $15 for those under 18. Tickets are available at the Millennium Place box office or at www.whistlerartscouncil.com.


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