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Dolly Parton and Drumstruck at Festival of Nations

Dolly Parton and Dollywood celebrates the 34th Grand Opening Season with “Festival of Nations” at Dollywood on March 16, 2019. Picture: Supplied © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood.

Article originally published on IOL, 15 April 2019.

Seven local drumming masters are making their way home after sharing a stage with award-winning country music legend Dolly Parton, at one of the largest theme parks in the USA.

Drum Café’s Drumstruck team – consisting of Mpho Rasenyalo, Patrick Pobee, Richard Carter, Sabelo Mgaga, Bafana Mahlangu, Emmanuel Quaye and Joshua Zacheus – entertained international audiences with their interactive drumming theatre experience at Dollywood, in Tennessee, USA. They performed in the popular Festival of Nations at the Dollywood theme park, which attracts close to three million visitors a year.

The local performers participated in the 2019 opening ceremony of Dollywood, with Parton exclaiming that she had been left “dumbstruck by Drumstruck”. Parton joined the South African cast at their opening show, wearing a drum and playing it on stage with Drumstruck.

In her opening talk, Parton emphasised the importance of connecting through the international language of music. She introduced Drumstruck, describing them as group that “will get your heart pumping”.

“Meeting Dolly Parton and performing with her was one of many highlights for the performers. She joined the performers backstage and spent time getting to know them – it’s a memory that the entire cast will treasure,” says Drum Café founder Warren Lieberman.

“Dolly Parton is an icon whose popularity is at an all-time high, so being affiliated with her is a defining moment for the Drumstruck crew.”

Drumstruck showcases South African music and culture, drawing on gumboot rhythms and Zulu dancing, while weaving in West African influences. Over 80 000 people attended Drumstruck in the beautiful Palace Theatre, where they performed for 900 people playing 900 drums, three times a day for 5 weeks – and closed to standing ovations.

The team took 1000 drums on the trip, to allow them to share traditional African drumming techniques with the international audiences. The performers will be making their way home to South Africa on Tuesday 16 April.

Drumstruck was developed due to the popularity of Drum Café’s corporate entertainment events, as a way for the public to participate in the interactive drumming experience. The theatre show has proven to be so popular that audience members frequently return to see the show again, often as many as three or four times.

Dollywood has not been the only high-profile performance Drumstruck has given. The master drummers have shared the stage with Shakira, Will.Iam, K’naan, 30 Seconds to Mars and performed at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.

They have also toured Japan, Korea, Australia, and Scotland, amongst others and enjoyed an almost two year run off-Broadway in New York. The show embodies the same principles taught by Drum Café, educating guests about African music and the heritage of drumming, while connecting people through the joy of playing a drum.