Sunday, September 16, 2007


Africa Umoja is the internationally award winning South African show filled with music and dance celebrating African life and culture.
Africa Umoja is created by Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni two long time friends from childhood. Todd and Thembi both grew up in Soweto, a township outside Johannesburg. They first met at Vuka Îbambe Higher Primary School in Soweto.

“We just clicked! She knew that I was an outsider coming from another town. Later I moved to another school, losing contact with Thembi.”

Although the two friends had lost physical contact with each other, their paths would cross again in the future as both choose careers in the entertainment world as singers and dancers.

Thembi and Todd
Africa Umoja Founders

With the enactment of apartheid laws in 1948, racial discrimination was institutionalized. Race laws touched every aspect of social life. Black South Africans were restricted from performing musical or theatrical acts before white audiences. However in the 1970s the white minority eased the restrictions and black artists could perform before white and mixed audiences. It was during this period that Todd and Thembi developed their artistic entertainment talents. Todd began her theater career in 1976 with Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke’s production of Meropa, whereas, Thembi joined Ipi Ntombi. In their new roles, they performed locally and internationally. The two were to meet again in 1978 whilst on tour with their production companies in London. In the same year Todd joined Thembi entertainment group Ipi Ntombi soon after Meropa closed its doors after a long and successful run.

For years they toured the world with Ipi Ntombi from London’s West End to New York’s Broadway, across the United States, then back throughout Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand. Whils they were performing in America, they were given a few months’ break. Todd and Thembi used this spare time to choreograph their own dance pieces, and performed in front of small audiences. These first pieces were the building blocks of Umoja.

After a long and successful run with Ipi Ntombi, Todd and Thembi returned to South Africa in 1982 and formed 'Pals of Africa'. The group that took Southern Africa and neighbouring Swaziland by storm. Todd and Thembi used to perform to backtracks of the South African band, Juluka.

Todd and Thembi would put back the money they made when performing with Pals of Africa into costumes and recruiting more members. Todd took on other roles within the music industry performing along side renowned South African Music artists. Thembi joined the world of television, becoming a South African television soap opera star winning accolades and awards for her TV performances.

"As they move from one sequence to the next, you can clearly see the progression of the dance styles, as each influenced the next, until at the end all the styles are shown to come from the same place: the music and drums of Africa. In the sinuous movements of the Venda Umashona (snake dance) you can see the precision mirrored by the Zulu stick fighting; you see the sangoma's invocation influencing the arm movements in later styles and the women could teach Beyonce a thing or two about shaking her booty . Forget about krumping, check out the kwaito, which comes right at the end. Having watched the dancers go through their paces you see what the pantsula morphed into."

Africa Umoja - Feel Africa's Rhythms By Theresa Smith June 29, 2007

Both were still involved in their dance company, pouring money into it whenever they could and doing performances for companies and events. Pals of Africa grew and the group began to perform internationally. They changed the name to Baobab, after inspiration from longtime friend and fellow artiste, Hugh Masekela.
“He said, ‘..every time I see you, you are stronger than before! Like the tree, the baobab, always growing and getting stronger even though it grows in the toughest soil.’”

Baobab was doing well when Todd and Thembi decided to rename the show. They wanted to give it a name that represented what they were all about. The word ‘umoja’ meaning ‘the spirit of togetherness’, came quickly to mind. They wanted to unite and empower as many underprivileged kids as they could, giving the kids the opportunities they had had. Today they are doing just that. Umoja is not the last page of the story of Todd and Thembi’s journey together. It’s the beginning of a success— a long, hard-earned one, that will carry on around the world for years to come

“There is an unlikely collaboration with Todd and Thembi — a partnership of complete harmony and trust, raucous laughter, shared cups of tea, commiseration and commitment. It’s the true spirit of togetherness.”







Jeff Msangi said...

I had a chance to see Umoja when they came to Toronto last year and I can not agree more with you.They are the bomb! I had one of the greatest times of my life.

Inspired_09 said...

Umoja is amazing..!!It fills the room with hope,excitement and it just blows you away.Pure Talent right there.**

Todd and Thembi ,Thank you.