Our Quest For That Elusive Identity


Photo by Paul Munene (Drum Magazine)
Photo by Paul Munene (Drum Magazine)

(A version of this review appeared in the Sunday Nation on 17th May 2009)

KigeziNdoto & Githaa, a musical performance created by Mumbi Kaigwa was staged at the French Cultural centre on 6th and 7th May.

This musical performance was created during the first year of a Ford Foundation-funded project by The Theatre Company.

The production, which has an episodic structure, “examines pre- and post-colonial history and the lessons that might be learned today from our past”. (This is what is stated in the program.)

The examining of our pre-colonial history seemed to be a reminiscence of an idyllic past while the post-colonial history was presented through solemn speeches about the men and women who resisted colonisation.

While realist theatre presents psychologically coherent characters in a detailed environment, non-realistic theatre, which is what I assume this production was trying to achieve, expresses the essence of human existence through theatrical imagery.

But in both cases, theatre strives to engage the audience’s imagination through symbol and metaphor.

However, in this production, the text was plain- completely devoid of rhetoric. In Githaa, it was improvised and in KingeziNdoto, it was more like a lecture or a political discourse about our forgotten heroes.

The choreography showed little innovation. It may have dazzled the European audiences in the various places the performance toured in Europe, but from a local perspective, it wasn’t that impressive, as the dances were the kind that we go to see at the National Schools’ Drama Festivals, where students devise lively dramatised dances, all in one term, without any grand funding.

There were “dramatic poses” which came across more like photo shoot opportunities than theatrical imagery, in that they lacked abstraction or poetic metaphor.

In the same breadth, the costumes, beautiful as they were, merely gave the African Heritage Design Company an opportunity to showcase their work, but did not reflect any effort on the part of the director to make them an integral part of the production in terms of characterisation and consideration of the movements and lines of the dancers.

In theatre, all the elements of production need to express the central theme such that, in a production like this one, this idea could still be communicated even without the text.

The only aspect of the production that managed to achieve this was the music performed by Andrea Kalima from Tanzania. He played the limba, zeze kubwa and zeze ndogo, traditional instruments from the Gogo community.

He did not say a word. He did not ask the audience to reflect on the past. He just sang and the sheer beauty of his songs made everyone in the audience connect with that elusive past and our beautiful heritage, earning himself a well-deserved standing ovation.

I acknowledge that the theme of this production, which is, “to find ourselves” is a worthy one. But I’m of the view that this “finding ourselves” should be complemented by a quest for refinement and perfection, so that our arts have an equal footing with arts from any other culture in today’s world.

Take for instance, the case of award-winning playwright August Wilson (1945-2005). Because of the racial oppression he endured in his early years, he dropped out of school but went on to educate himself. He made so much use of his local library (Carnegie Library), that they later awarded him a degree.

Through his literary legacy, ten plays under the title Pittsburgh Cycle, he chronicles and celebrates the richness of Black American life in the 20th century.

This is really what I would call “finding oneself”. There is a dire need for artistes in general to read extensively and learn more about the world, life and their craft.

© Anne W. Manyara 2009


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Ahai Luvai says:

    Spot on. Kenyan artistes and professionals in general need to spend time reading so that they are up to speed with their international peers. Sometimes you get the feeling that there are a few too many one-trick-ponies masquerading as experts.

  2. sebirine says:

    I like the new look of your blog.

    1. Anne Manyara says:


  3. Muyesu Luvai says:

    On the button, Anne.

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