When Mama Africa The Musical ruled The Artscape, Cape Town
And so legendary African cultural and civil rights activist, Miriam Makeba, returned to Cape Town last Friday and she was a show-stopper, filling the land with memories and recalls of her extraordinary life of struggles and accomplishments in the arts.
Makeba returned gloriously through Mama Africa The Musical, which opened on Friday, and will run till February 12 at same space. The opening night was phenomenal, with the 40-man cast of superb performers giving their very best in tribute to a woman, who was herself a super show-woman. It was a full house of mixed audiences, and each member had fun re-encountering the truly noble and exemplary life of Mama Africa.
It was the second time the musical, written and directed by United States-based Nigerian writer, director and theatre scholar, Perof. Niyi Coker (Jnr), winner of the Kennedy Centre award for directing, will be berthing in Cape Town. In fact, it had been born through a collaboration of the University of West Cape and University of Missouri, St. Louis, where Coker Jnr is the Desmond Lee professor of African and African-American Studies. It was realised through the collaboration of the ZM Makeba Trust.
After a successful run in Cape Town, the show had then moved on to the United States where it had a total of 10 performances in three states. The current return is through the United kingdom’s office of the Nigerian company, ZMirage Multimedia Company, led by theatre technician, Teju Wasee Kareem, who had secured the franchise for the musical. After Cape Town, the musical will tour the United Kingdom, and later Nigeria before end of the year.
At the opening, The Artscape Theatre Centre throbbed to rhythms of Mama Africa, as it welcomed throngs of audiences, including senior government officials from the Cape Town City Council. They had started to converge by 6pm and the camaraderie was superb, showing an overarching enthusiasm to honour a legend of the South African political and cultural history.
While some people where just curious, others were genuinely looking forward to seeing the iconic Miriam Makeba portrayed on stage.
The theatre hall was full to capacity as the show started at 7:30pm. The atmosphere was electrifying as the first sequences of music, dance and praise-chanting rented the air. The excitement of the audience was obvious as they watched the story gradually unravel. Audience members could be seen responding to the moods of the performance as it switched from celebration, to sadness, to the fighting spirit and finally to freedom.
At intermission, one could hear the excited chatter of the crowd as they clustered together in groups to discuss the nostalgic feeling the play had evoked in them. It was a reawakening and apt reflection of the past struggles of great South Africans like Miriam Makeba. The play also gives young people an opportunity to identify with the activist spirit of Mama Africa.
Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa The Musical showed in time to coincide with Black History Month Celebration during which virtues and heroism of African heroes and icons are usually brought into global light.
Mama Africa The musical proved a unique production mix for Artscape Theatre Centre, which presently exhibit 90 per cent western-oriented theatre contents for their mostly African audience consumption.
Mama Africa has travelled the world, equipped with African energy, resilient with messages of love and brotherhood, coincidentally, in the current traumatising world order.
Words of praise poured in from guests for the producers of Mama Africa The Musical, Teju Kareem and Shabaka Thompson of Zmirage U.K., for making Africa proud. The meet and greet with members of cast and crew lasted till almost midnight as guests seemed reluctant to leave as they re-lived over and over the wonder they had just witnessed.