This is a review of TEFB’s Tom Mboya Edition that went down Saturday 5th October 2019

A damaging political climate between the 1950s and 70s culminated in a number of infamous assassinations. So, when the Too Early for Birds team returned to the stage this past weekend, they brought with them one of these fascinating histories – the production of an assassination that is perhaps Kenya’s greatest mystery yet.

The team conceived of their setting in memoriam Tom Mboya at a time when Kenyans are living out a series of national dramas to the tune of The Drunkard, Grand Theft Ruto, Mega Scandal among others. Would Tom, one of Kenya’s most gifted sons, have changed our country and its systems? We will never know. Thomas Joseph Mboya died on 5th July 1969.

The Good

Having watched and loved one of their shows last year, I was keen to make their acquaintance again. They did not disappoint and I liked their latest edition for several reasons. Admirable and well researched, the anthology was directed by Mugambi Nthiga and produced by Gathoni Kimuyu. The show was delivered by a versatile ensemble of actors who helped us retain a sense of place and timing through TJ’s life’s moments.

The staging consisted of a screen on which a couple of videos played. In addition, was a lining of prop boards on which, plastered, were newspaper cuttings featuring the late Mboya. Each act had the same fundamental setting. This was only spruced up every once in a while and on a different scale. The narration was, overall, a strong one as was the interweaving music through which I sat with my eyes closed and taken out of myself.

There were a number of arresting moments especially struck by Mercy Mutisya, Elsaphan Njora and Pauline Kyalo all of whom had a great ability to leverage on stillness. In addition, Anubhav Garg may have taken some time to settle into his role but once he did, he proceeded to offer a performance of considerable admiration.

The Bad

Still, there were some weaknesses. In an attempt to drive my point home, it is that too many cooks spoil the broth. Firstly, there were simply too many narrators who in turn had a downturn in the show’s pacing. Clocking three hours, this was a long show and it certainly felt it.

Secondly, there was an overcharge of puns and an over reliance of internet jokes. It may be that this affected my experience owing to the fact that puns should really not be rehearsed.

Third, is that some sections dragged on for far too long and in other sections, the intrigue wasn’t sufficiently built. By the time the show ended, I had a heightened sense of impatience. Needless to say, the show started 45 minutes late and the check-in desk was a mess with few attendants.

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I have since turned Tom Mboya’s fate over and over in my in mind; he has stayed with us as a tragic symbol of a time when politics was a theatre of cruelty. Under the circumstances, I am grateful that we have had brave enough a people who have stood up for what was right. Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya was one such person.

Finally, I credit the TEFB team for making me realize that theatre in Kenya is coming of age.

As with music, stories too command attention; but too often, we let ourselves down with the lack of it. Let us think for a minute, shall we? When was the last time you had a pining to dig into a book or article about Kenyan history? While chances are that it has been quite some time now, I have a better answer; some time soon!

August 2019 marked what would have been Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya’s 89th birthday. To celebrate this anniversary, we will be benefiting from a stage production by Too Early for Birds; a powerful production that has a great deal to say about their art of storytelling. Perhaps the greatest they can say is that it permits us to learn about a history misrepresented or otherwise dismissed.

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So far, the success of Too Early for Birds has been a matter of daring and dedication much more than money and fame. So, why not show up in support and appreciation of all that and more? For details about this year’s show, refer to poster below.

Blick Bassy has been one of my greatest finds this year. His latest album, 1958, grounded in both melody and voice, is what happens when making music actually matters. The album, done in Bassy’s native language, Basa’a, is a eulogium for Ruben Um Nyobè. The depth in which he sings is remarkable and so are his compositional skills; a blend of African and Latin musical influences.

Ngwa is a work of memory; it starts with a cello solo before Bassy brings us up to speed with the ghost of Um Nyobè. Both the song and the visuals stimulate a sense of foreboding; something so vivid yet beyond, something perhaps after a war. Maqui and Lipem, both limpid and graceful, remember the freedom fighters (maquisards) and unsung heroes of Cameroonian independence. Certainly, all those who fought to preserve the independence and exclusivity of our nations ought to be revered.

Mpodol happens to be my favourite track on the album. Drawing from Nyobè’s nickname ‘Le mpodol’, I cannot think of a more fitting tribute. Performed with a fine supporting cast; Clément Petit on the cello, Johan Blanc on trombone and Arno de Casanove on the Trumpet and keyboard, mpodol lends a wonderful and compelling story of he who carried the voice of the people.

Alcohol, often misused as a sedative, reduces our anxieties and wills us to forget our worries and fears a while. And yet, what happens when a country is drunk with fear? In Woñi, Bassy talks about the fear and timidity that we still bear following the stark colonial years. Delivered in a style reminiscent of Cesaria Evora (whose birthday we celebrate today), Woñi highlights the volatile influence alcohol has on a community where heavy drinking has become a way of life.

Regardless of whatever virtues they may possess, there is a lot to be said about people who sabotage their countries. In Pochë, Bassy condemns political Judases like president Ahmadou Ahidjo; who protected the interests of the French during the Franco-Cameroonian struggle. In Ngui Yi and Sango Ngando, he criticizes the ignorance and indifference towards our histories. Lamentably, going by how much has culturally changed, Africa’s obsession with the West is likely not abating soon.

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Inviting us for a more critical stance, 1958 is a very noteworthy album; not only for the opportunity it affords us to hear the music and history of Cameroon but also for instigating us to look back at our own. There are many lessons to be learned here and much more so, let it be remembered that the past is never really past.

First things first, how on earth did we come so close to facing the extinction of so many species? Time can be a cruel thief; yet, through inaction, we let it steal from us time and again. I journeyed to Ol Pejeta Conservancy earlier this morning to witness a procedure that will likely save a species. Hopefully, this artificial reproduction technique will be successful in the near future.

If a picture paints a thousand words, that there are TWO Northern White Rhinos left worldwide should paint our predicament. The two are Najin, born on 11th July 1989 and her daughter Fatu, born on 29th June 2000. [Un]naturally, they are in captivity under the close surveillance of Ol Pejeta. Granted, the species had a range spanning parts of Uganda, Chad, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Kenya etc. Sad, isn’t it?

Lest I get too emotional about our precious wildlife, which I should, I’ll get into the subject of today’s Five on Friday inspired by a declaration of love; a love of life, self, others, nature, animals and greatest of all, this universe we live in.

A greatly evolving singer from Zimbabwe who, like Chiwoniso Maraire, plays the historically male-dominated mbira. Idenga features on her album, The Exorcism Of A Spinster.
Listening to Cameroon artist has been a such a joy this August. Whether there is something off or on about Moken Nunga, he has been such a vibe! Can you feel it too?
Influenced by Ethiopian musical greats such as Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse, Mulatu Astatqe, Dereb gives a tasteful repast of their soulful 60s and 70s music.
I am yet to fully immerse myself into this daughter of Tunisia but the fact that she draws inspiration from Oum Khalthoum is sufficient. A breath of fresh air, innit?
Thanks to my Burkinabae 😉 I was introduced to the music of kamale n’goni player Massa Adama Dembele. If the music appeals to you in any way, buy/listen to his music here.

Last night, I was watching Fanna-Fi-Allah’s Qawwali rendition of Amir Khusro’s poem when a sentiment from the comments section struck me. What I would like to say, in-fact, is that it didn’t come as a shocker; moreso when I learnt that the woman on the tabla was a westerner. In truth, the role of women in music posits a substantial history of prejudice and hence the attitude. But I digress.

Today, I woke up with an extra-ordinary gusto and liveliness! On most occasions, I would proceed to put on a milonga, swing or bebop playlist but today has more promise for drawing me to sufi influences; notably gnaoua and hassanya from Morocco. Needless to say, Eid-al-Adha is upon us and what better way to celebrate it than with some music and chants from the Western and Southern Sahara!

I hope you enjoy today’s #FiveOnFriday and have yourselves a blessed Eid!