Since then, I have endured stand up comedy (dodgy as anywhere and quite a lot of it very anti-white in sentiment – which is sorta weird when you are the only whitefella squirming inwardly, trying to be invisible, in the audience), watched political theatre with the most hilarious (and no doubt very risqué) impersonation of the President… and witnessed a lot of amazing dancing. Traditional groups from Zambia and Zim have been extraordinary – with wild percussion and butt and pelvis shaking that make bellydancing and south pacific islander forms look quite frankly lazy and tame.
I have seen dances that I imagine to be the precursors of tap routines, astonishing in dexterity and articulation, and a whole lot of fusion of modern, traditional and contemporary forms. Phantoms of Josephine Baker, Beyonce and Michael Jackson arise and I am forced to reconsider all I have taken for granted as Western culture.
Then there is the music… marimbas and mbiras – ubiquitous drumming – and the singing – the sheer talent and capacity puts too many of us first worlders to shame. It is glorious, proficient and joyful.
Opening night was a big success – G & I worked on the performance together and it was great fun in spite of intense jetlag and feeling like the afore mentioned white, blobby, flatfooted fraud. I have never worked with folk who could integrate and take direction so instantly – immediately embodying whatever was suggested and executing it first time off.
It was fun working with Ishmael too – who leads the singers – I felt a bit audacious suggesting tempo changes and then the interweaving of other themes and vocal lines – but he took it all with great good natured gusto and we made a lovely vocal score together. Fun.
Ishmael is a singer and actor and was one of the gang (of many) who greeted me warmly each day and who kept a weather eye out for me at night, when the festival ground transformed into a live music venue and folk from townships poured in to groove, fight, drink and generally carryon as festival goers anywhere do. I felt safe as houses. I know festivals and at the very least can read the vibe of a crowd fairly well.
The only thing I couldn’t really take was the interminable lip synching and sing-along to very nasty backing tapes… inevitably played too loud so that the bass throbbed distortedly and the treble whined like a swampful of mosquitos (of which by the way there are very many varieties here). This sort of hybrid karaoke performance is ‘in’ at present – which breaks my heart when you consider the talent! America and the West – you have too much to answer for – you borrow and steal forms and give back junk!
I teched for Tumbuka when they performed ‘Rebirth’ in the local theatre. Fun also – nice to be engaged in stuff even if it is just pressing GO for sound cues. Maylene and Cathrine (Gilbert’s sister) are lovely dancers – very different physically – but I loved watching them dance together particularly in a piece G had choreographed form them about birth &women’s business – sounds weird I know – but it was very tender and beautiful. A young actor/ musician – John Lennon as we call him – played mbira and sang in accompaniment – his voice is glorious. One day I am sure this guy will be a BIG star. He has that actorly way about him – that self obsession, drive, ego – but man, he does have big musical talent that’s for sure.
Erina, one of the Outreach team who teach dance at schools, took me shopping at the flea markets one day. Nice to hang out with a chick and do girly stuff I confess – mostly just wandering and looking… laughing, eating chips and sipping coke… we bought a pair of shoes each – blingy, strappy, flat, bronze sandals for me and something equally out there for her.
Erina is, of course, in to bling – and like most African women has a serious hair do going on. When we first met she had a magnificent weave, which framed her very pretty face in a cloud of frizzy dark teased fluff. Nowadays she is sporting a very stylish angular cut with a vastly long fringe and the odd strands of wavy copper amidst glossy flat dark fibres. I envy this continuing reinterpretation of personal style, but at the same time realise what a bloody hassle it must be to have to maintain such wayward African hair.
I am determined to find a wig – just for the fun, you understand.