By Damola Awoyokun

The biopic musical is a superb production of acting and playwriting. It is not easy to keep interesting a sequence of scenes in which a single character appears in all the scenes. In 2006, Crown Troupe overcame this problem in their own masterful stage adaptation of Okot P’bitek’s poem, Song of Lawino. They repeatedly froze the main actors at one part of the bare Beckettian stage letting a different set of main actors take over the action in another part of the stage in order to creatively defeat the monotony and boredom of allowing the same personalities to carry on the not-action-driving poem for so long. In the musical, Fela (Sahr Ngaujah) is the narrator of the story of which he is the main actor so he is monotonously bound to be in every scene. To keep his appearance interesting, he takes up multiple charismatic personalities: he is a showman, dancer, saxophonist, spiritual leader, military general, stand-up comedian, husband, civil society activist, prisoner of conscience, torturer, journalist etc. To counterbalance all these manifestation of charisma and gust of energies, the playwrights Jim Lewis and Bill Jones introduce Fela’s mum, first in Fela’s imagination, then in the physical, then in chthonic realm, the Fourth stage. And her presence is marked by awe, calmness, gravity and grace superbly delivered by Melanie Marshall.

After early support from tastemakers in Kenya such as DJ John (Homeboyz) and DJ Pinye, the tune is now on heavy rotation all over Kenya and has started to create a buzz here as well. Guaranteed to rock any party, 'Mjanja' has an addictive hook and shows of Wawesh's tight flow.

Truth in Translation is about how difficult it is to forgive, and the ways language fails us all the time. How do we speak of the unspeakable? How do we recognise our own lies? The piece takes place in the 1990s during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, set up to examine the crimes of apartheid. It focuses on the interpreters who, day after day, listened to the terrible testimony of those who suffered at the hands of the state - and sometimes at the hands of their neighbours too. These were the people who never found out what happened to their vanished husbands, wives, sons and daughters. As one mother says: "To look for your child and find nothing. Not even a speck of ash."

What it does not make clear is that the bill did not abolish slavery itself, which would persist in Jamaica and other British colonies for another 30 years. When younger and more militant abolitionists pressed Wilberforce to enter legislation to that effect, he replied that because of the effect “which long continuance of abject slavery produces on the human mind…I look to the improvement of their minds, and to the diffusion among them of those domestic charities which will render them more fit, than I fear they now are, to bear emancipation.” In other words, the slaves were not ready for their freedom. In the 1960s, the call was for “Freedom Now”, something the Kennedy brothers shrank from just as did William Wilberforce.

This movie is part of the self-congratulation of the English ruling class excusing itself for the most odious and reprehensible crimes in history. This self-congratulation is accomplished with all the charm that money can buy, with cute production values of costume, scenery, English character acting, and camera work. If you want to see how that self-congratulation works, go to the movie and watch the gentry and the politicians, row upon row of them, wearing their powdered, white wigs clapping their fair, uncalloused hands: you'll hear the sound of humanitarian hypocrisy. The name of William Wilberforce became a by-word for liberation in the Caribbean islands thousands of miles away, but at home in industrial Yorkshire his name was a synonym for prudery and political repression. Say his name with a West Indian intonation - William Wilberfarce.

There was a time, a few years back, when films like ‘Blood Diamond’ would have been most welcome, not least by the long-suffering people of Sierra Leone. The diamond-fueled war in the country began in 1991, but scarcely got a mention in most of the world’s media until 1999, after fighters of the demented Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a criminal, nihilistic group, attacked and nearly destroyed Freetown, the country’s capital. Their campaign was distinguished by gratuitous attacks on civilians, including the crude mutilations of women and children. A large UN force, 17,500 strong, backed by some British troops, was then sent in, and two years later succeeded in disarming most of the militias. In 2002, with the successful conduct of nation-wide democratic elections, the war was declared over. Most estimates put the number of those killed at 70,000; well over two-thirds of the country’s infrastructure, already seriously troubled by the time the war started, was destroyed during the conflict.

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