Although several of the composer’s works have previously been used for ballets, “The River People” was the first work written specifically for dance. The music reflects the composer’s love of indigenous African rhythms and melodies blended with a Western style. This work was commissioned by SAMRO and premiered by the NAPAC Dance Company in July 1987, choreographed by Tossie van Tonder with story concepts by Shirley Treger.

Although the story is based on an indigenous African legend, it is a universal portrayal of the human condition. The twilight world that links the material with the spiritual is permeated with superstition and fear of the unknown.

The power of the ancestors is at work when the character Zandile is ‘chosen’ to be called to higher things. The horn ‘call’ comes from the ‘Mythical River People – Abantubomlambo’ – who are the ethical protectors of the tribe. She tries to resist the powerful forces calling her to the water, yet knows that ultimately her separation from her people will elevate her to the level of Healer and Prophetess. (The ‘Other World’ is omnipresent, symbolized by creatures such as birds, reptiles and primarily the python snake). After attempting to restrain her, the tribe is finally resigned to the coming of a new order. Rituals are now observed, including the slaughter of cattle.

Seven days pass after Zandile is taken by the python into the depths of the pool. A catharsis takes place and she returns purified and transformed. Her new wisdom and status are acknowledged by the tribe; she is now totally dependent on them for her material needs and they in turn are dependent on her for their spiritual needs.


Uyashisa - It is hot

Ushisa/Uyasha - She is burning inside

Hlala, hlala lapa - An appeal to ‘stay here’

Woza - Come