Ipi Tombi

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Ipi Tombi or Ipi N'tombi, both corrupted transliterations of the Zulu "iphi intombi", meaning "where is the girl?". [1]

The original text

A wildly popular yet controversial musical show created and produced by Bertha Egnos. [Book, lyrics, music, choreography???***] It utilized a “Jim comes to Jo’burg” scenario as an excuse for flimsy costumes, dances and popular songs.

In 1973 the show went directly to Perth, Australia, where it made a huge initial impact before the backer disappeared with the takings leaving the company stranded in Sydney.

Translations and adaptations

Performance history in South Africa

1974: Opening on 25 March 1974, having received permits to play in a "white" theatre, the show played for a year at whites only venues such as the Brooke Theatre in Johannesburg, before playing in Soweto and other townships to great enthusiasm. It which went on to become a legend – praised by many, performed all over the world in one way or the other, and vilified by others, including Black intellectuals and BCM Organisations, for what was perceived as its blatant exploitation of its cast and the cultural heritage it represented. A number of the cast members became well-known performers in their own right, a number touring the world in off-shoot Ipi Tombi companies doing extracts from the show, and some of the songs became international hits, notably Mama Tembu’s Wedding (attributed to Margaret Singana) and the “click song” immortalized by Miriam Makeba. Deriving its roots from King Kong and similar productions, Ipi-Tombi in many ways reaffirmed existing notions of “African culture” which were utilized by many subsequent productions.

1997: Civic Theatre, Johannesburg, 29 May to 14 June. The cast has been chosen from a varied cross-section of local dancers and actors, many of whom have performed on stages in Europe and the United States. Some of the singers and dancers are children and grandchildren of members of the original musical cast. Bertha Egnos remains at the helm. Working alongside Bertha is internationally accalimed South African actor Ken Gampu who is responsible for the management of the cast, and Carlo Spetto, the staging director.


Kruger, Loren, 1999: 137, 141.

Tucker, 1997. 296-7.

Report by Craig Canavan, Pretoria News, 23 May 1997.

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