OUT OF AFRICA, FOR FUN
From a child acting alongside Morgan Freeman to portraying the cultural melange of the diverse continent, it has been a wild ride for Noma
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.