Heartbreak: Sitawa Namwalie’s stories filled with wit, music, insight

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Sitawa Namwalie during a past performance. FILE PHOTO | COURTESY

Sitawa Namwalie may be best known for being a poet and performing artist. But there are many more theatrical facets of this dynamic actor, playwright, director and storyteller who can use multiple media to make her stories palatable and entertaining as well as enlightening and inspiring.

Sitawa is currently working on her first musical production. Fortunately, she found time to return to her strong hand, that of poetry and performance, blended with music by solo musician, and singer-guitarist Otivo Stingotho.

Stories from the Capital of Broken Hearts was staged last weekend at Braeburn School Gitanga in Nairobi where Sitawa’s cast served up as an “intergenerational conversation between the young and the old”. This she told BDLife and other audience members before the show began last Sunday afternoon. Produced and directed by Sitawa herself. She also assembled the quartet of actor-storytellers, including Mufasa ‘the poet’ Kibet, Wanjiku Gicheru, Mudamba Mudamba, and Sitawa who included guitarist-singer Otivo Stingotho to make cool music during interludes between the 12 poetic story-conversations.

Sitawa’s ‘conversations’ were filled with a wide range of emotions, from humour and irony, passion and pride to resentment and jealousy, sorrow and remorse. Memory also played an important role as the actors interrogated a diverse set of broken hearts and wondered what could have caused all this grief. It was then we discovered how deep one had to delve to find out the actual cause (multiple causes) that led to hearts being broken.

The quartet arrived on stage walking as if they could be one of the broken-hearted or one of the heart-breakers or both. Ultimately, we would see that almost everyone had experienced a bruised or broken heart and that no one cause could be seen as the sole source that caused the breakage. But first, there was a wonderful delivery of Sitawa’s 12 inspired poems by an inspired cast.

Set on a bare stage with actors mostly standing, or occasionally sitting on stools, the costuming was casual apart from Wanjiku Gicheru’s elegant red evening dress and the two thick black wigs worn by Mudamba and Sitawa, while Mufasa donned his classic black Beret.

Then began the conversations, with the first two, an amusing interchange between the older woman (Sitawa) asking ‘Was I ever’ as beautiful and desirable as this young woman here, referring to Wanjiku who enjoyed being admired like the young slay queen she probably was. Then came the slay queen herself, asking, ‘Will I Ever’ be as dilapidated as that old woman over there? She’s a nasty, insulting child who got a solid verbal slap from the mama for her abuse.

Sitawa even warned the slay queen she wouldn’t be beautiful forever, that age would also catch up with her, so wise up or else she’d be caught off guard.

From then on, we heard about a whole range of heart-breaking experiences. For instance, Mufasa delivered a tragic monologue about ‘When My Father Got Sick’ which broke the son’s heart. But what caused the heartbreak wasn’t a single event. It was evolutionary, starting with his mother leaving his dad which broke his father’s heart.

After that, his dad lost his job and took to drinking, which the son found most disheartening. Then the dad got sick, and we never heard the end of the story. But it was clear the son’s heart was also broken by the family rupture, the tragic loss of both his parents, all three of whom had been damaged in their way.

We also heard from Mudamba who lightened up the scene as he mused on the power of memory and ‘The First Hello’ that he struggled, as a youth to get from an early version of Sitawa.

This conversation laid the groundwork for a cat-and-mouse game between the soon-to-be lovers, Mudamba and Sitawa. But their mutual ‘First Love’ status was badly shaken by the time they gave their final monologue cum conversation.

Before that, we heard Mufasa mocking the whole concept of first love, given he was a specialist in breaking young women’s hearts (including Wanjiku’s) and allowing them to ignorantly believe that he was the faithful type, meanwhile enjoying his status as Casanova (the male equivalent of slay queen).

In the end, the middle-aged male accused his wife of letting him down by having only four children. He broke her heart with his vanity and selfish pride. But finally, it would seem that everyone was guilty of breaking somebody’s heart somehow somewhere.

Forgiveness and love looked like the only means of emerging from the breakage and liberating hearts.

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