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Sarafina! Comes to Kenya’s National Theatre

by Eva Rose Tesfaye on June 22, 2018

Sarafina! the musical will be showing at Kenya’s National Theater throughout the month of July.

Sarafina! is a South African musical written by Mbongeni Ngema. It is based off of the Soweto uprising in 1976 during Apartheid. This uprising was led by black students in response to the introduction of Afrikaans and English as the language of instruction in local schools. The 16th of June is now a public holiday in South Africa, called Youth Day, and this uprising served as inspiration as the recent #FeesMustFall and fallist movements created by university students three years ago.

The play follows the character of Sarafina who is ashamed of her mother’s role as a domestic servant in a white household and well as outraged by the imprisonment of her inspirational teacher. Sarafina starts an uprising with her peers.

The protests she starts are similar to the Soweto uprising. The police shooting that occurs in the play is reminiscent of that which happened to student Hector Pieterson, who was shot by police that opened fire on the students who were protesting.

The musical was first put on at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in 1987. The role of Sarafina is originated by Leleti Khumalo. The show premiered on Broadway on 18th January 1988 and closed a year and a half later after 597 performances and 11 previews.

There is also a 1998 movie in which Sarafina is played by Khumalo, her mother is Miriam Makeba, and her teacher is played by Whoopi Goldberg. The production of the play was documented in the film Voices of Sarafina!.

Despite being rich with all different kinds of entertainment-musicians, comedians, actors-the Kenyan entertainment scene has only been introduced to musicals over the last couple of months. British Theatre Director Stuart Nash is the artistic director at the Kenya National Theatre is leading this change.

He has spearheaded musical productions such as JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR starring Mugambi Nthiga (Nairobi Half Life), MakmzeeMwatela (Mali – NTV), Nice Githinji(House of Lungula, Makutano Junction, Changing Times) and Martin Githinji (The XYZ show, Noose of Gold); GREASE starring ElsaphanNjora (Kati Kati), Nick Ndeda (XFM Radio personality) and Ian Mbugua (Tusker Project Fame). Most recently he directed the classic plays Caucasian Chalk Circle and Kigogo, all at the National Theatre.

Now the latest show he is bringing to Kenya is Sarafina!. Sarafina will run at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi from the 13th of July to the 22nd. It is directed by Stuart Nash and starts Brenda Warimu as Sarfina, Mkamsee as Mistress, and Helena Mwatela as Mama.

One of the theatre’s most notable productions was I Will Marry When I Want Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. The play had a cast of 500 people and landed Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in prison in the 1980s.

Sarafina has played at the theatre before in May 2003 and was also a notable production. It had an all-Kenyan cast and was praised by Ngema and Khumalo for its accurate and powerful portrayal of the world-acclaimed musical theatre piece. The producers of the show, Peter J. Oyier and Paul J. Oyier also hosted Mbongeni Ngema and Leleti Khumalo for the premiere of the show.

Hopefully this year’s show can live up to the impressiveness of the last one.

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Eva Rose Tesfaye
Eva Tesfaye has traveled around the world her whole life but thinks of Africa as home. She loves reading novels and watching plays (especially ones with people of color in them). She has a love-hate relationship with her big curly hair.
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