From a child act­ing along­side Mor­gan Free­man to por­tray­ing the cul­tural melange of the di­verse con­ti­nent, it has been a wild ride for Noma

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY SHOWS - PHIL BROWN

Noma Mk­wananzi likes to party, so any show she is in has to be fun. Mother Africa, which ar­rives in Bris­bane on Tues­day, is the per­fect ve­hi­cle for the Zim­bab­wean per­former’s sense of joie de vivre.

“It’s like a big party on stage,” she says. “Once I’m on stage I just en­joy my­self from the be­gin­ning to the end. The se­cret of the show is that we are all hav­ing a ball.”

Mk­wananzi has been with Mother Africa (which bears the sub­ti­tle “cir­cus of the senses”) for seven years and has played all over the world.

She’s the lead vo­cal­ist in a pro­duc­tion that fea­tures singing, tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary dance, drum­ming and some mind-bog­gling ac­ro­bat­ics.

This en­ter­tain­ment ex­trav­a­ganza com­bines talent from nine African coun­tries in­clud­ing Ethiopia, Kenya, Tan­za­nia, Ivory Coast, Benin, Zim­babwe and Guinea. This makes it a cul­tural melange, which is a sur­prise to some.

“Some people don’t un­der­stand that Africa is re­ally di­verse,” Mk­wananzi says.

“A woman in Sin­ga­pore I spoke to af­ter a show thought that Africa was just one coun­try. Of course, there are many coun­tries, but in this show we are all just one fam­ily.”

Mk­wananzi, 31, got her show busi­ness break when she was just a girl with a role in the movie The Power of One, which was shot in her home city of Bu­l­awayo in the early 1990s.

“They wanted a lit­tle girl for a role and it was great be­cause I got to eat ice cream and lots of other nice food,” Mk­wananzi re­calls. “I re­mem­ber meet­ing this re­ally nice man on the set and it was only later that I re­alised it was Mor­gan Free­man.”

Af­ter that early brush with fame, she fell in love with per­form­ing and later went on to be­come a mem­ber of one of Zim­babwe’s top dance troupes. Then, when the cre­ator of Mother Africa, Win­ston Rud­dle, was look­ing for more talent, Noma Mk­wananzi fronted up.

“He wanted some­one who could sing and dance,” she re­calls. “For me it was just the thing, but I didn’t know it would be­come such a suc­cess­ful show.”

Rud­dle says it’s the talent of the per­form­ers and the cul­tural di­ver­sity of Mother Africa that keeps it go­ing as it tours the world year af­ter year. “That di­ver­sity is one of the most im­por­tant sell­ing points,” Rud­dle says. “We are shar­ing our African cul­ture and people love that. And we are show­ing a dif­fer­ent side of Africa, the happy side. The me­dia tends to show neg­a­tive im­ages and sto­ries about Africa, but we tell a dif­fer­ent story.”

Mother Africa has been seen by more than two mil­lion people world­wide and while it show­cases tra­di­tional African cul­ture it is also a con­tem­po­rary show.

The show will be pared down slightly for this Aus­tralian tour. The cast is nor­mally 34 but only 26 will be tour­ing Aus­tralia this time around, yet the en­ergy will be just the same, Rud­dle says. Mother Africa, QPAC Play­house, Tues­day un­til May 17.

Mother Africa

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