The Iyasa you don’t know

Takudzwa Chihambakwe
The multiple award-wining Inkululeko Yabatsha School of Arts (Iyasa) may be popular as a dance powerhouse locally, but to the rest of the world they are known for something totally different.

Globally, Iyasa is known as an African theatre juggernaut. The Sunday Mail Society spoke to Iyasa founder and director Nkululeko Dube who said it was all about meeting different market tastes.

“When we started the group, the Zimbabwean market was more receptive to dance. It was easier to sell it to the local audiences as compared to theatre,” recalled Dube.

“Because we were still a developing group, we needed something that would generate cash for the group to survive and dance was bringing in more money compared to theatre. So because of this and other reasons, many Zimbabweans began to know us for dance,” he said.

Dube added that hit tracks like “Banolila”, which were complemented by eye-catching dances, also made locals view them more as a dance group and nothing else.

“The song ‘Banolila’ was a hit but people remember the dances only. ‘Bum Jive’ was another hit but again people were enthralled by the dances and forgot the music.”

He also explained that they became known as a theatrical powerhouse to the rest of the world because of various collaborations that they did that were centred on theatre.

“When we started trying to push our various projects to the world, our entry point in Europe was through theatrical collaborations. We began to invest a lot of our energy into that area, hence the reason the rest of the world views us as a theatre group. Also, unlike in Zimbabwe, there was and still is a ready market for theatre, hence we took advantage of this and the rest is history.”

Dube explained that in all their productions they make use of their other various art forms such as dance and music, which add more flavour to their work, making it standout even more. He said their theatrical journey has been an educational tour.

“Our journey as a theatre hub has been exciting I must say. Theatre has taken us all over the world. We have literary been to all European countries, Asia, America and many more other places.

“The trips around the world have taught us a lot. We have learnt that theatre is categorised and audiences differ. There is a need to classify what we do to identify who really is the consumer of our work,” explained Dube.

Iyasa through their theatrical arm have won several awards worldwide, with the recent one being a 2016 Austrian Stellar Award for the Best Musical Theatre Production for the play “My Farm House”.

Besides dazzling audiences and scooping awards on the global stage, Dube says that the most critical thing he has learnt from touring is the power of collaboration.

“I encourage all players in the creative sector to stop thinking as single entities but be open to collaborations. Recently audiences in Harare and Bulawayo watched a production dubbed ‘Black & White Ain’t No Colours’, which was a collaboration between a German theatre group and us.

“This production took us three years to develop and we learnt a lot about the German culture during the numerous exchange programmes held to produce it.”

Continued Dube, “Collaborations help the artiste attain cultural freedom in the sense that they are able to dig deeper into people’s cultures. They also build bridges among people from different nationalities and belief systems.

“The world at large is going the collaborations route and that is the only way to survive going forward. Through collaborations it’s easier to speak to bigger audiences.”

Founded in 2001, Iyasa continues with collaborations into 2018. The group is finalising an agreement with artistes from Czech Republic and are currently working on some projects with their partners from Austria.

Speaking on their future plans Dube said, “We are currently working on setting up an Iyasa band. Music is another art form we are not popular for locally but internationally we have albums that are selling very well.”

“We are also working with schools, in a venture called Isiphiwo Sami Talent Search – we are hoping to grow this to be recognised internationally.”

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