Saturday, February 16, 2019

ZIMBABWEAN THEATRE CULTURE ‘EMERGING’ FROM THE SHADOWS


The inaugural Mitambo Festival will run from the 8th to the 12th of October 2019 in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe.  The theme is ‘Emerge’ and the organizers are aiming for an annual international theatre festival that will showcase local and international. Planned events include performances, master classes and presentations of papers. According to information released by the organizers:

Zimbabwe TheatreAcademy in partnership with the Network of emerging Arts professional, Zimbabwe Centre of the International Theatre Institute, Reps Theatre and Africalia presents – Mitambo International Theatre Festival.

MiTambo, a Shona word for plays, truly encapsulates what the festival is about; a platform through which local communities can access and celebrate the diversity of cultural identity and artistic expression. Mitambo Fest, aims to uncover and support what theatre can be and, what it can enable communities to do. It seeks to harness the unique energy and power of theatre as an immediate engagement tool for transformation of ordinary people. As a way of enhancing the visibility of theatre the festival will also have a cultural exchange component. This potential cross-pollination of ideas, aesthetics and professional artistic potential between local and international artistic initiatives will enhance the Zimbabwean theatre landscape towards performing arts taking on an active role in the socio-economic growth of our society.

At MiTambo Fest., we believe in the sharing of stories which foster a culture of dialogue and the upholding of the right to free expression. As a priority the festival will ensure that everyone in our community is given access to fresh, thought provoking and high standard theatre performances.’

There has been a revival of theatre and arts in general following the bloodless ouster of long-time president Robert Mugabe. One of the first indications of the change in political temperatures was the production of the hilarious stage play Operation Restore Legacy which re-imagines the military takeover in Harare that ended one of Africa’s longest and most controversial presidential tenures. Operation Restore Legacy was written and directed by Charles Mungangasa, and produced Mashingo Theatre.

A scene from Operation Restore Legacy (Photo: africanews.)

Zimbabwe is also the home of the Harare International Festival of Arts, a six-day performing arts extravaganza that for years was one of the premier theatre events on the continent. The event will, however, not take place this year. According to a statement posted on the official HIFA website on 15 Feb 2019:

The HARARE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS (HIFA) will not stage the event in 2019 and will focus on new projects leading up to a major Festival in 2020. The decision has been taken after much thought, soul-searching and discussion. Zimbabwe is dealing with many important issues, both social and economic. In this context, the Festival cannot responsibly commit to presenting a feasible and viable event this year of the same quality and impact that HIFA is known for. The Festival will use this time to work on other projects, particularly in schools, to broaden and deepen the organisation’s contribution to arts and cultural development. Showcasing the artistic outcomes of our planned new school programmes will be one facet of the next Festival, 28 April to 3 May 2020.

Years of economic hardship (exemplified by hyper-inflation) and a political crisis revolving the ageing President Mugabe led to a downturn in the fortunes of the southern African nation that the citizens are still recovering from. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

PIONEERING BLACK SUPERSTAR IMMORTALIZED ON STAGE


By Alexander Nderitu

BANANA DANCE: Zakiya Iman Markland as Josephine Baker in ‘La Négrophilie’
(Photo: www.tatianapandiani.com)
Before Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Dorothy Dandridge, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross or even Muhammad Ali, there was another Black superstar entertainer - a woman unlike any other of her time -and her name was Josephine Baker. Her story has been told in film and documentaries and it has now landed in the live theatre world with a bang: in the form of two highly-acclaimed one-woman shows titled, La Négrophilie and Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play respectively.

Written and performed by Zakiya Iman Markland, La Négrophilie has been staged in several venues across the world, including: Frank Collymore Hall in Bridgetown, Barbados; Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali, Rwanda; Kampala International Theatre Festival in Kampala, Uganda and Teatro SEA in New York, USA.

In a description posted on her official website, the playwright describes the work thus:

‘In a very racialized 1910s America, Josephine Baker is both lauded and taunted for the brown hues of her skin. Despite being incredibly talented and beautiful, internalized racism displayed by people of her own race held young Josephine in a compromising predicament concerning success in the African American theater scene. Never light enough to pass the quintessential “paperbag” test (used by blacks at this time to test the lightness of one's skin/how much white or mixed-blood one had), she left the United States and found stardom in the “land-of-the free” Paris, France, where racism was…well, different than in the States. She became an instant success; a sex icon catapulting into the first major movie star of color, an aid to French Resistance during WW2, an activist for the Civil Rights Movement, and so much more.

But what happens to the soul when fetishization, and eroticization of the body is the price you pay for fame…for freedom? Shuttling 40+ years in time, La Négrophilie takes you on the twisty ride of young Josephine’s rise to international stardom, all the while leaving behind a trail of questions about the good, bad, and ugly of oppressive love.’

Meanwhile, Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play was created by Tymisha Harris (Performer), Michael Marinaccio (Director/Producer) and Tod Kibro(Book and Musical Direction). The one-woman show wowed audiences at the 2017 Fringe Festival (USA) where it scooped multiple honors, including 'Outstanding Production of the Year',' Best Leading Actress in a Musical' (Orlando Sentinel Critic’s Pick), 'Best National Show', 'Outstanding Female Performance' and 'Festival Top Seller'. In 2016, the show scooped the ‘Best of Fest’ and ‘Outstanding Solo Performance at Fringe Festival ‘in San Diego, USA.



Actress Tymisha Harris in Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play
 Born and raised in a racially segregated America, the real Josephine Baker started dancing professionally as a teenager. Her entry into the showbiz world coincided with the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ and at eighteen she got the opportunity to tour to Europe with her troupe of African-American performers. In Paris, France, where she gained instant recognition, a new show was devised for her: the ‘Dancer in a Banana Skirt’ (and little else). She became an overnight celebrity, instantly recognizable and highly paid. According to Time, a Hungarian cavalry officer and an Italian count fought a duel in her name in Budapest, in 1928. The sword-fight took place in a cemetery, in her presence.

Unlike the US, France had no Jim Crow laws and ‘madam la Baker’ did not face overt racism (she could live anywhere and patronize posh eateries, for example). She made Paris her home and would later lose her American citizenship (although she visited America severally and participated in the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s). In France - where she branched out into singing and acting as well - she became a fashionista and socialite. Several French magazines offered her fashion columns to write. Her super-shiny hair, that stuck to her head like a coat of jet-black paint, was a major point of interest. With regard to her better treatment in France than America (then in the throes of often-violent Civil rights demonstrations) Josephine said:

‘How can I forget it (receiving a hero’s welcome in France)? They made me forget the colour of my skin. All of my good friends. They were White!’

 In Germany, the now-famous Black female dancer created a sensation – and stirred controversy – after a series of performances in post-World War 1 Berlin. She reportedly received 40,000 love letters and 2,000 marriage proposals! She was eventually ejected from the Berlin nightclub circuit by socialist moralists who were offended by her highly sexualized stage act. During World War II, she zealously aided France’s war effort and was decorated for it after the hostilities. She proudly wore her French military uniform in peacetime, even while visiting America in the later half of the 20th century. She also, finally, managed to get moderate success and acclaim in the US, in her old age, performing in extravagant costumes at the hallowed Carnegie Hall.  US author, Darryl Pinckney (quoted in the documentary Josephine Baker: The First Black Superstar):

‘You have to think of Josephine Baker as a symbol that the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance could share. That in some way the White and the Black wings of this artistic movement that we could call “Modernism” could sort of meet in her, as a symbol.’

Michael Eboda, editor of New Nation:

‘She (Josephine Baker) exported the Harlem Renaissance to Europe. And for her to do that at that time, and do it so quickly! She moved to Paris and two years later, she was the highest paid (female entertainer) and most photographed woman in the world. That’s amazing.’

The real Josephine Baker in her hey day
(Photo: ThoughtCo)
 A staunch believer in universal brotherhood, Ms Baker spent her 40s and 50s adopting and taking care of 12 children from all corners of the world, whom she christened ‘The Rainbow Tribe’. After enduring soul-crushing racism in the USA and finding success and acceptance in France, she wanted to prove that all the races of the world could, in fact, co-exist harmoniously. Despite being wracked by ill health and with her fortunes declining, she was determined to make nonsense of racial segregation. Her words:

‘My little village, this little village of the world, is badly in need of financial support so I came back on the stage to make it possible for it to live on and on and on. Because it is very important, that little village. I have a lot of children from the four corners of the world who live there (in her French château). They are a symbol of true brotherhood. I must have the money for these children. The (château, which also doubled up as a tourist attraction) must live, it must not die. This village is too important. It represents a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful ideal. An ideal (that) must not die. It mustn’t.’

Sustaining ‘The Rainbow Tribe’ well beyond her ‘productive’ years put enormous financial strain on the former entertainer, and she spent the last days of her life on the breadline. Her impact on arts and culture, however, continued to be felt across the world, like seismic shock waves. According to the documentary film Josephine Baker: The First Black Superstar:

‘Josephine’s impact stretched way beyond the theatre. She entranced and inspired a generation of writers and artists in Paris, including Picasso, Hemingway, Collette and Seminole. Alexander Colder sculpted wire models of her, and Gertrude Stein imposed an affectionate tribute.’ 


Thursday, October 11, 2018

State Honours Literary Matriarch

by Alexander Nderitu


Veteran writer, businesswoman and broadcaster Muthoni Likimani was recognized, among other female ‘high achievers’, by President Uhuru Kenyatta, on August 23rd 2018. At a function held at State House Nairobi, the nation’s fourth President presented state honours to some of the women who have ‘championed equality and played big roles in encouraging other women’ to achieve more. ‘Kenya is a nation of strong women and we salute you,’ he said. President Kenyatta simultaneously launched the ‘trailblazer initiative’ whose remit is to identify and honour Kenyan women whose heroic works have significantly contributed to shaping the country. The awardees cut across political, social, economic and artistic sectors. Prof Leah Marangu, Muthoni Likimani and Mary Okello were conferred the Order of the Burning Spear (OBS) for their achievements in their respective fields. It is noteworthy that Ms. Likimani is the recipient of a previous Presidential Award, the Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS), which was conferred to her in 2008.


Muthoni Likimani, 93, is a prolific writer and motivational speaker and has given numerous public lectures at various fora, locally and internationally. A mother, grand-mother, and great-grandmother, Ms. Likimani is living history and has participated in numerous professions and held diverse positions in her long and colourful life. She has worked has worked as a broadcaster, teacher, publisher and author.  Some of her lesser known pursuits include being a beauty queen and a Councilor in the Nairobi City Council in her younger years. Her books include Passbook Number F.47927: Women and Mau Mau in Kenya, What Does a Man Want?, They Shall Be Chastised and Fighting Without Ceasing (a memoir).

In 2014, the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace (IFLAC) appointed Muthoni Likimani as their ‘Peace Ambassador’ in Kenya. Announcing the appointment, IFLAC’s Founding President, Prof. Ada Aharoni, posted on the organization’s official website: ‘Our new IFLAC PEACE AMBASSADOR IN KENYA, Writer Muthoni Likimani is a role model for all women leaders in our global village! Welcome to the IFLAC family dear Muthoni!’ On her part, an elated Muthoni said, ‘Quite often, my advice has been on using power of the pen, not guns, to fight for one’s rights.’ In her capacity as IFLAC’s local Ambassador, she sourced peace-themed submissions from local writers for an international e-book anthology titled ‘Anti -Terror and Peace: IFLAC Anthology’ (2016). The anthology consists of articles, short stories, poems and haikus from 93 contributors in 23 different countries around the world. The Kenyan contributors are Muthoni Likimani, Henry Ole Kulet, Moraa Gitaa, Alexander Nderitu, Njeru Kathangu Mtumishi, Gilbert Muyumbu, Grace Ebby, Francline Allan and Jacob Oketch.

Born in Murang’a County in 1926, Muthoni Likimani was lucky to get an opportunity to travel to the London School of Hygiene (UK) for a nutrition course in 1958. While studying in London, her fluency in the Kiswahili language landed her a job with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Ten years later, she landed in Jerusalem for training in journalism and broadcasting at Kol Yisrael college. On her return to Kenya, she worked for the Voice of Kenya (now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation) and started a marketing/PR firm called Noni’s Publicity. In 1994, she received the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) National Award ‘in Recognition for Exemplary Service to Women Advancement in Kenya’.  In 2005, she was awarded the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) Golden Honour Award for Outstanding Leadership of Service to the Public Relations Profession.                                            

Affectionately known as ‘Cucu’ (grandma) to young scribes, Ms. Likimani is also the chairperson of FEMTEL Women Writers Association, and the patron of PEN Kenya Centre which promotes literature and champions Freedom of Speech. 

Below are some photos from her eventful life:


Also a recipient of the 'Moran of the Burning Spear' award
TV interview with Jeff Koinange
With His Highness Emperor Haile Selassie

With Hon Tom Mboya

With Mohamed Ali
With Prof. Wangari Maathai

L - R: Muthoni Likimani, Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye (r.I.P.) and Alexander Nderitu

 The author of this article is a writer/critic and the outgoing Deputy Secretary-General of PEN Kenya Centre. he can be contacted at www.AlexanderNderitu.com

Monday, September 10, 2018

WHO WAS EDWARD CAREY FRANCIS?

Carey Francis (Photo: KResearcher)
‘When I asked mum a hard question she would tell me carrey francis didnt teach her.’
- Kenyan Inspired (@ygacibi12) replying to @KResearcher on Twitter


He was the inspiration for Kenya’s most expensive poem, ‘The Mathematics of Carey Francis’ (www.AlexanderNderitu.com/mathafu.html). Amongst colonial-era Kenyan settlers, this enigmatic educators’ statuture is so great, it is matched only by the likes of Lord Hugh Delamare, Karen Blixen, Lord & Lady Baden-Powell, and Blessed Irene Stefani. But who was Carey Francis when he was at home? Like a bat trying to determine the size, speed and solidity of an object by bouncing multiple sonar signals off the target and analyzing the feedback, let as examine information from various sources and see if it paints a sufficient picture of our person of interest…

‘Carey Francis was born at Hampstead on September 13th, 1897, and died at Nairobi on July 27th, 1966. He was educated at William Ellis School, Hampstead, where he showed extraordinary promise both at work and at games; he was Head of the school, and the captain of football, cricket, tennis, and athletics. He served in the First World War, holding a commission in the H.A.C., and being mentioned in dispatches. He came through the war unscathed and after the war, he picked up the scholarship to which he had already been elected at Trinity College, Cambridge…

His mathematical interests were mainly in the area of analysis, and he was much influenced by three Trinity mathematicians, Hardy, Littlewood and Pollard. In 1923, he was awarded a Rayleigh Prize for a substantial essay on the Denjoy-Stieltjes Integral, and two papers, “On differentiation with respect to a function: and on “The Lebesque-Stieltjes Integral” appeared in the Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in November 1925…He was a brilliant and immensely popular lecturer…He also served as Secretary of the Faculty Board of Mathematics…

His heart had always been in the Mission field, and his friends were not surprised when, in 1928, he left Cambridge and went to Kenya as a lay teaching missionary under the church Missionary Society. He first taught at Maseno, in Nyanza, and it was there that his pupils gave him the name of “Achuma” – the man of steel. But Maseno was only the training-ground for his real-life work, which was the Headmastership of the Alliance High School in Nairobi. This position he held from 1940 to 1962. It was here that his most important work for African education was done…Under his guidance, the school attained an almost mystical prestige, and to be a pupil of Carey Francis at Alliance was a highly valued and much-coveted distinction. More than half of the members of Kenya’s present cabinet are old boys of his school.’ – ‘Edward Carey Francis’ (essay) by L. A. Pars, Journal of the London Mathematical Society (1968)

‘His (Prof David Wasawo’s) brilliance was best summarised by Edward Carey Francis, the legendary headmaster who taught him at the Alliance High School in an interview carried in the Sunday Nation in 1965. When Carey Francis was asked who he thought was the most brilliant student he had ever taught, the man who shaped some of Kenya’s brightest minds at Alliance was prompt in his response: “Far and away, David Wasawo”.’ - 'Brilliant Scholar Who Lectured Into His Golden Years', Business Daily 

‘Nonetheless, Edward Carey Francis, the sixth principal (1928-1940) is the man most popularly associated with Maseno School. He was born on September 13, 1897 at Hampstead where he was also educated showing great promise as an all round student at an early age. His education was interrupted by World War 1 in which he also served with distinction.

Carey Francis proceeded to Cambridge University in 1919 where his academic, sports and leadership qualities blossomed. He was particularly gifted in the realm of mathematics, especially in its more abstract form, winning many awards at Cambridge for outstanding performance and originality. Joining the academic staff at Cambridge between 1922 and 1928, he was a brilliant and immensely popular lecturer, serving as a fellow of Peterhouse and director of studies in mathematics.’ – ‘Maseno School: The Giant That Started Beneath GumTrees' (article) by Douglas Kiereini 

‘His work was to mould obedient servants of the colonial system, not to create elites.’ – From the book, ‘The Kenyatta Cabinets: Drama, Intrigue, Triumph’ (2012)

'Edward Carey Francis left a glowing career at Cambridge to teach in a junior secondary school in Kenya. He wowed many with his numerical skills, but his temper and poor opinion of Africans were also legendary...The myriad theories aside, Edward Carey Francis’ move came at a time when he had the world in the palm of his hand. Ironically, Carey Francis’ molding of young Kenyans to serve her majesty’s government unwitting sharpened the minds that would later overturn British rule in Kenya. The echoes of his actions are still felt, half a century after his demise on July 27, 1966, at the age of 69.' - 'Math Guru,Magician And Man Of Steel' (article) by Amos Kareithi

'Whenever Carey Francis name is mentioned many remember two things; Mathematics and Alliance High School...No educator influenced the destiny of the country more than he did. No white person was as revered by Kenyans as Edward Carey Francis.' - http://www.kassfm.co.ke

The author of this article can be reached at www.AlexanderNderitu.com