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Art

Dangerous steps Kenyan women achievers cover to make history

Aleya Kassam
Aleya Kassam. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

This month, the Too Early For Birds (TEFB) team is staging an all-women Brazen edition. The Too Early For Birds outfit was birthed out of a need to tell Kenyans’ history to Kenyans and this fifth edition has been researched, written, acted and produced by women.

“In October, [poet] Aleya Kassam had come for a Too Early For Birds show and while watching she asked herself ‘Where are the women?’ Even from the first staging that is one of the critiques that we received: that there weren’t enough women on stage,” says Zosi Kadzitu, who has been a member of the group’s all-women production team since inception.

TEFB bases all its acts on people in Kenyan history who exemplify badassery. Kassam says that from learning about phenomenal women in Kenya and around the world at this moment, she often wonders about the ones that came before them.

“For me what inspired it was a search looking for myself as a woman in our history trying to see the world and the place that women before me played in it,” says Kassam.

“Sometimes I feel this energy of women around me and there’s a fierceness that is really magnificent. There are women who have gone before us but their stories are smudged out from history. We don’t learn about them,” says Ms. Kassam.

Apart from Kassam, the Brazen writing team comprises Anne Moraa and Laura Ekumbo, whose unforgetable acting has wowed audiences during past shows.

Giving the example of the environmentalist Wangari Maathai, Kassam explains that even when women are seen as more than a footnote in History, they are portrayed in just one way.

“I really wanted to see these women’s lives in full texture and colour and see all of their brazen behaviour. Not just the good, also the ways in which they might have been outrageous and dangerous and vulnerable and tender and to really kind of step into their skin and share those stories so that women in Kenya can see themselves in these women and know that we were there and we have been there and we are here,” says Kassam.

History storytelling has surprised Kassam.

“These women’s lives are full of so much texture and there’s scandal and hilarity and it’s helped me see the women before me more fuller, which I love,” says Ms Kassam, whispering as she says the word ‘scandal’ as if she is letting you in on a dark secret.

Scandal, humour and a much-needed dose of education on one’s history seems like enough reason to attend the upcoming TEFB Brazen edition.

The show will be, as Ms Kadzitu puts it, “about ‘uninvisibling’ the invisible parties who have literally made history but they are never mentioned because history has never been told from a woman’s voice, it is always from the male perspective.”

According to her, the show is appropriately named.

“To be brazen is to be bold and unashamed, to be headstrong even when facing difficult times. That totally embodied the essence of the women and the stories that are being brought to stage,” says Ms Kadzitu.

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