Art

Mbalamwezi players back together for a day or more

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Youth group, Pillars of Kibera, performs a traditiona Giriama dance at the Kenya National Theatre. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Kenyan theatre, just like most aspects of the performing arts, came to a grinding halt over the past year when the Covid-19 pandemic locked down most folks in their private abodes.
  • Granted a few groups tried to meet over Zoom, but that never could compare to the ensemble experience of acting and working with others on stage.
  • But a significant sign that the art’s world is opening up in a remarkable way is the long-overdue reunion of the Mbalemwezi Players.

Kenyan theatre, just like most aspects of the performing arts, came to a grinding halt over the past year when the Covid-19 pandemic locked down most folks in their private abodes.

Granted a few groups tried to meet over Zoom, but that never could compare to the ensemble experience of acting and working with others on stage.

But a significant sign that the art’s world is opening up in a remarkable way is the long-overdue reunion of the Mbalemwezi Players.

The theatre company that started off in the mid-1980s and ran with regular productions up until the turn of the new century could be coming back. There is speculation to that effect. But pulling those early thespians together is a humbling way to begin. And that will happen this coming Sunday afternoon in Rongai, out at the Full House Hotel from 1pm.

No one has yet to explain what transpired between the founding fathers of Mbalemwezi, namely Kennedy Musumba, Peter Mudamba, and Eliud Abuto, that could have led to the troupe’s demise around 2005. But there is little doubt that none of them lost their love for local theatre.

Eliud Abuto went ahead and started the Festival of Creative Arts (FCA) which proceeded to perform regularly with other Mbalamwezi players like Mbeki Mwalimu and Caroline Odongo.

Peter Mudamba shifted gears and moved over into film, joining with Judy Kibinge of DocuBox Film Works. But he can still be seen on the occasional local sit-com or film.

And Kennedy Musumba went into business, though he too occasionally can be seen in local productions like one he was in sometime back with Walter Sitati and his theatre troupe, the Heart of Arts.

There is no question that Mbalemwezi Players had played an important role in the development of Kenyan theatre. Granted, they didn’t take part in the roaring debates around why not stage more indigenous Kenyan theatre? But they felt no shame in staging works by some of the best contemporary British playwrights, like Derek Benfield, J. Lee Thompson, and Trevor Rhone. In those productions we saw local luminaries on stage like Ken Musumba, Jimmi Gathu, Carole Njage, Tonny Njuguna, George Orido, and George Mungai.

Mbalemwezi was shameless because they also staged African productions like John Ruganda’s The Burdens, first with Ken Musumba and Pauline Njau and later with Charles Bukeko and Katherine Damaris. They also performed West African favourites like The Gods are not to Blame by Ola Rotimi, The Night Before by Bode Sowade, and The Marriage of Anansewa by Efua Sutherland.

Many of the original Mbalemwezi Players will be there on Sunday, but the event is open to thespians who might want to take part in discussing future plans and also watching the afternoon performances.

There will be comedic acts by Wanjiku Ber aka Teacher Wanjiku and by Captain Otos as well as others. Music by Fadhilee is also scheduled to be part of the days’ entertainment, as is some Spoken Word artistry inspired by Musumba and others.