Matata: Some effort there

LEE Kabongo in his one-man act play on pan-Africanism Matata. PICTURE: SHIKANDA KAWANGA

LAST weekend, Lusaka Playhouse was host to a newly founded Lee Senford Arts with its insightful political conscience theatrical performance of a one man act play titled Matata.
Written by Lee Kabongo Senford who also plays lead and only visible character, the play elicits unity and ubuntu among Africans. It was directed and produced by Fabian Mumba.
Pan-Africanism, the political ideology meant to re-calibrate the mindset of Africans to be self-dependent, build capacities, encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent, is the theme of the production.
The movement, influenced by among many, the likes of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (W.E.B Du Bois), an African-American who actually did ‘come back home’ to Africa (Ghana) and died there in 1963.
Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was prominent on the continent. These leaders believed that united Africans, wherever they may be, are a sure means and goal to survive in this a ‘cruel world’.
The show was on time, and opened to some traditional dance, as a curtain raiser. That African drum-beat, with its infectious healing sound, the gyrating, swaying and thrusting in bare air by the young maidens, was suggestively entertaining.
Then, our thin audience of the house was treated to some poetry recital, nice and informative. “My mouth, no man should shut”, is a running resonance in Andrew Bagabo’s poem; an obvious cry for freedom of expression.
Well, the play had to start; it opened to a single set albeit an inherited make-shift one from the previous production. The director and crew should have built a befitting set. An aptly constructed set aids in choreographing movement of a play. Worse of it, the stage curtains are a heck to draw close. Okay, the theatre club management is fine with it.
Forget it, Matata is at a village grave site, or shrine, somewhere in Africa, beseeching his forefathers, on the need for the people to protect and uphold the African values, culture and identity. African is not inferior to anyone.
He gets to ask, where are the leaders of fortitude and moral high-ground, with interest to improve the lot of the masses. Progressive leaders with country and African at heart like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Sankara and Kenneth Kaunda. But his question ricochets as a clear lament of desperation.
Kid not, a one man act performance comes with challenging demands. It requires a lot of stage energy and remarkable versatility. The actor has to assume different roles as the acts unfold, that calls for artistry.
Last October, in Malawi, at the Blantyre Arts Festival, I watched a two man act called Nyasa Effect; well, it was more of, a one man act, for the other character only appears briefly in the first scene. I admired hard work and dexterity displayed.
Even our own greats of the Headers & Footers; Benne Banda and Augustine Lungu, one would marvel… the ‘goons’ have talent and agility. They etched a foot on Edinburgh Arts Festival (a month-long arts affair of Europe) some 15 years ago and it’s still indelible.
Lee, acting as Matata, though propounding edifying messages on the beauty of African unity, tried his lot, but only to sequentially tell the story. He lacked the sharp edge, to accelerate the pace and fully actualise the drama in the play.
They needed more time in rehearsal to thread up final stitches and even some vigorous exercise time to lubricate the production. Otherwise, the actor will surely mellow with time.
I wonder if the producer or whoever did the marketing of the production did enough. A play needs an audience. A play performance is not a theatre show when there is no audience. In performance arts, audience size and much audience status or type, hugely influence the artistic wealth of a production.
Wilfred Phiri observed after the show, “I have never watched a one man act before, it was a good play. Though, the business part could have been better, most seats were empty.” And his nine-year old son Muketiwa was more to the point, “Fantastic! I like the play, I enjoyed myself”.
Also the scene transitory gaps were too long; the stage lights would be off, creating a total black out. I wondered whether there was crew to help the actor change from one costume to the next, or pick right properties. It was cumbersome to keep waiting, hoping and wishing.
Matata was married, with a blooming son Wilonka who he fondly kept referring to as Mutoto, (Kiswahili for young one) whenever assigning him responsibilities and duties. And Mutoto always obliged to his father’s endless whims. Come to think of it, gradually, I started to see the physical presence of Mutoto on the stage, maybe the actor, executed this one better.
As of the technical part of the production…oh! The recorded speech or broadcast was squeaking, perhaps mixer panels/knobs unbalanced. Forget the lights, I already talked about complete darkness.
Without having to throw bathwater with baby, it was a great effort, the beauty is that these are young artistes, plying the art and not just talking. I am hugely consoled, keep doing.

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