‘Shona the Musical Choir’ (Neo Vilakazi & Neo Productions) | Review By Lewis C. Baird

Last night (Monday 16th August 2021) at Edinburgh International Festival’s enormous pop-up venue at Edinburgh Park, Shona the Musical Choir presented the original music from the in-development production of ‘Shona the Musical’. This new original musical is packed full of vibrant, emotional and dynamic music inspired by the native sounds of Zimbabwe. The story and music of ‘Shona the Musical’ are inspired by historical events and the socio-political turmoil of Robert Mugabe’s rule of Zimbabwe. 

Before discussing the performance itself, I just want to commend the team at EIF. The pop-up venue at Edinburgh Park is incredible, a huge space which looks amazing and has been thoroughly thought-out. The atmosphere in there last night was electrifying. I really hope this becomes a re-occurring venue for the festival as there are many acts which would jump at the chance to play such a vast and energetic space. 

Shona the Musical Choir is made up of supremely talented performers and creatives, the vocals showcased last night were simply stunning. Each individual member of the choir showcased their artistic input into this project, which makes it so exciting to see what awaits this production in the future. The choir are as follows; Neo Vilakazi, Caesar Hurst, Kat Brooks, Khanyisani Beato, Morgan Njobo, Nandi Sawyers-Hudson, Oratile Letsholo, Phindile Duma, Rushand Chambers, Thanduxolo Booi and Zanele ‘Zaney’ Ndlovu. 

Neo Vilakazi’s lyrics and composition for ‘Shona the Musical’ is varied, joyous and breathtaking. Vilakazi is accompanied in composing this music by Morgan Njobo and Ramcise Modie (DJ Ramsy). Each piece of music has its own energy, and is met with equal praise by the audience’s echoing applause. Without seeing the narrative play out, we are of course unaware of how the production it’s self will fair, however with this preview of the featured music, it seems like we are about to have an exciting new musical debut in the upcoming years.  

While watching last night, the full experience reminded me of the time a certain Lin Manuel-Miranda stated he was going to perform a song from a rap/rnb musical he is developing about one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, while at a showcase in the White House. Everyone found that prospect humorous, until the man began to sing, then the room fell silent in awe of his talent. Everyone was apprehensive at what to expect when coming to see the Shona the Musical Choir, and then when the music started, the audience fell silent, until the end of the first song where the cast were met with rapturous applause. 

‘Shona the Musical’ has the foundations to be a strong and highly entertaining musical. The music featured last night, brought a joyous and incredible atmosphere to the Edinburgh Park venue. By the end of the night, the audience were cheering, clapping and stamping their feet on the bouncy tent floorboards, it’s clear that the music and talent of the performers made an impact on the Edinburgh crowd.  

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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