Art

Intimate stories of African women amplified

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Cast of 'Sex Lives of African Women' at Alliance Francaise, April 28, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • It was a week night at Alliance Francaise, but still, the show attracted a massive crowd, many of whom had to be turned away since there was a house-full of Sekyiamah-enthusiasts and Kaz fans.
  • In any case, this audience apparently had no problem forking out the pricey ticket fee of Sh5000, a cost prohibitive to many Kenyan theatre-lovers.
  • They all settled down fast once Kaz came to the mic and introduced the eight lovely persons who paraded onto the stage, prepared to read juicy passages from Nana’s book.

Kaz and eight other elegantly-dressed Kenyans recently celebrated the Ghanaian feminist writer and researcher Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah by staging passages from her revelatory book, ‘The Sex Lives of African Women’.

It was a week night at Alliance Francaise, but still, the show attracted a massive crowd, many of whom had to be turned away since there was a house-full of Sekyiamah-enthusiasts and Kaz fans who didn’t mind waiting till nearly 9pm for the selected readings to begin.

The attraction might have been partially due to the provocative title of the production and the book (which quickly sold out that night). It further could have been that the niche market of feminists and LGBTQ+ persons is much larger in the city than was previously known.

Additionally, it might have been that many had heard about this singular production while listening to Kaz’s weekly podcast, ‘The Spread’ which, like Nana’s book, explores intimate issues affecting African women and LGBTQ+’s.

In any case, this audience apparently had no problem forking out the pricey ticket fee of Sh5000, a cost prohibitive to many Kenyan theatre-lovers.

They all settled down fast once Kaz came to the mic and introduced the eight lovely persons who paraded onto the stage, prepared to read juicy passages from Nana’s book. These were no ordinary readings, since several in the cast had a theatrical background.

And all had met to rehearse with Kaz for several weeks before their performance. So the drama of every story came through their sonorous voices and emotional inflections as they took turns sitting before the main microphone on centre stage.

The readers included Anna Mitaru, Aston Laurence, Julia Gaitho, Majic, Nice Githinji, Patricia Kihoro, and Silsyio.

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Nice Githinji was one of the actors in 'Sex Lives of African Women' at Alliance Francaise, on April 28, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

The stories themselves were all selected from Nana’s book which contains a total of 32 true tales drawn during interviews in 31 countries across Africa and the Diaspora.

All were based on ethnographic research that Nana did between 2014 and 2020, according to Kaz who had scheduled their performance to coincide with the author’s trip to Kenya where she was the keynote speaker at the recent Moto Books and Arts Festival at Village Market.

“I heard she was coming to Kenya for the Book Festival, so based on my previous experience with ‘The Vagina Monologues’, I assembled the show and timed it so Nana could be there,” Kaz told BDLife several days after the show.

Sekyiamah was indeed in the audience that night and stayed after the show to respond to questions from an audience appreciative of the quality of her research as well as her quest to build a collective consciousness around the politics of pleasure and sex.

Having conducted in-depth interviews with mainly members of LGBTQ+ communities all the way from Canada to Cameroon, UK to Zimbabwe, Germany to Rwanda, the author had encouraged her subjects to speak freely and candidly about their experience of sex.

What she collected was a rich reservoir of information which she hoped would serve African women who’ve previously been deprived of in-depth sex education.

What we heard on Thursday night was at once weep-able and revelatory. Most weep-able was the true story of the five-year child who was raped multiple times by her own relations.

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Kaz with the author of 'The Sex Lives of African Women' at Kenya at Alliance Francaise, April 28, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

What was revelatory was the way women and LGBTQ+’s could speak so freely about the most intimate aspects of their sex lives, including the sexual pleasures they’ve enjoyed as well as the threats of physical violence, including murder, that especially ‘trans’ people lived with practically every day.

Terms like transphobia, polyamorous, and feminocentric or just ‘femcentric’ were new to me. But they all made sense since they were spoken in a broader context.

For instance, a term like transphobia referred to the phenomenon of fear, prejudice against, or even open hostility towards persons who are transgender or, as the dictionary puts it, “people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth.”

And polyamorous is pretty obvious. Poly refers to many and amorous relates to sexual desire, so the term refers to being involved in multiple sexual relationships at the same time. And then, femocentric is just a fancy term for being attracted to women.

The Sex Lives of African Women wasn’t a show for the Puritanical or fanatical Christian moralists since Nana had a knack for getting her subjects to speak freely about the most intimate aspects of their lives.

But as for the rest of us, we applaud Nana Darkoa for her courage, intellectual curiosity, and rich insights. And Kaz for her production which amplified the beauty, depth, and diversity of African women. And also, photography for the show was by Shem Obara.