The Sunday Mail
Features & Entertainment Editor
BEAUTIFUL and sad seldom go together.
But that is the best way to describe “Bongile We Are”, a musical based on Chiedza Makwara’s book, “Bongile: Journey to Redemption”.
The story is well-woven. Simple enough for the most ordinary mind to follow, yet told in a multi-dimensional artistic language that appeals to a human being’s various senses.
Aurra Kawanzaruwa’s addictive voice narrates the whole story from start to finish while a variety of dancers from different dance companies, including Tumbuka and some individual ballerinas, tell the story through physical theatre.
Various instruments — from the guitar, mbira, percussion, electric drums and even a keyboard — take turns to provide the soundtrack to the story while sometimes they all come together in an orchestra of sorts, complete with a conductor.
The show premièred on Friday, but this writer had the privilege of watching it two days before it debuted on Reps Theatre’s storied stage.
For over one-and-a-half hours, the carefully selected guests for that preview showing were enthralled by the amazing cast, the music, dances, singing and magical acting.
The musical is a girl child tale revolving around Bongile, whose life meanders, taking the audience on a journey from a rural setting to the bright lights of Harare, the capital’s party scene, the corridors of a school and back to a chicken bus and the ever warm embrace of a proper village set-up.
“Bongile We Are” is also about women empowerment — even a form of activism.
The production is 90 percent scripted, directed and produced by women — the leading roles of the play being Hope Masike, Gemma Griffiths and Tahle we Dzinza.
“This is a bid to promote women in the arts industry in Zimbabwe,” said the executive producer, Makwara.
Makwara, on whose book the musical is based, describes her experience working on the production.
“My experience with these guys has been amazing. In fact, the whole cast has been incredible. The three leads in particular, the three women, it’s been such a great standard of excellent collaboration. Three different genres, so diverse, yet they worked together with so much chemistry.
“Bryn K came in and added a bit of bad boy flavour in terms of the character he plays. He worked so well with the ladies. When I see the cast backstage, goofing around and exchanging notes, I feel very proud of our Zimbabwean artistes because there is no diva mentality or competition, even though they are all big names. They are just professionals who take full ownership of the product,” said Makwara.
She also praised the director of the show, Yeukai Chandiposha.
“Adapting this book into a script and finally the musical would not have been possible without the director of the show. She has carried this show and has done an excellent job. She helped translate the vision I had on paper and on my mind onto the stage.
“She was also able to give me some things I didn’t even know I wanted until I saw them on stage. I have to give her a huge thank you. She is my partner in this and she is absolutely amazing.”
An aura of both sadness and hope gripped the audience every time the main narrative voice of Aurra, a radio personality and spoken word artiste, gave speech to the actions of a younger Bongile (Ndomupeishe Chipendo) or her older version (Charleen Chimara). The two dancers were exceptional in their respective roles.
But it was Aurra, the voice actor — who stole the show. Her accent was on point as well as the emotion, as the story went through its various twists and turns.
The biggest name on stage, Hope Masike, also did not disappoint, and if this play is to go on a world tour as is largely expected, her international profile and music will play a big role in filling up auditoriums. She might not have had a chance to play her favourite instrument on set, mbira, but she sizzled on the microphone, owning the stage as her music provided the soundtrack.
In an interview after her Wednesday performance, Masike immediately admitted that they were all nervous before the show but was excited they pulled it off.
Masike is not new to the theatre stage. She was part of the cast for Shimmer Chinodya’s theatre musical adaptation of his book “Harvest of Thrones” a few years ago. It was staged at the Harare International Festival of the Arts. She was also part of a touring Zimbabwe-German musical called “Kuenda”.
Said Masike: “This production features my music. So in a big fashion, performing it is in a way performing and promoting my music.” Masike, who recently released “The Exorcism of a Spinster”, her latest album, also spoke about balancing her music career and the theatre stage.
“When it comes to possible clashes with my personal gig schedule, yes, this is always a tricky one which requires intricate forward-thinking and planning. Once that is done correctly, it can be easy and even beneficial to intertwine the two,” she said.
The way Bryn K, Tahle and Gemma also performed in the musical proved that the so-called big stage, where artistes perform for multitudes, is an overrated concept. In fact, not every artiste appeals to the masses — some are born for audiences such as Reps Theatre, Royal Opera House, The Old Vic or Dorfman Theatre.