‘I lost a per­son I love be­cause of Iyasa’ . . . Dube on 20 years of joy, sac­ri­fice

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

“ONE thing that I be­lieve that Iyasa has done is to take away a lot of my per­sonal life,” says Nku­l­uleko Dube, the founder and direc­tor of leg­endary arts en­sem­ble, Inku­l­uleko Ya­bat­sha School of Arts (Iyasa).

“I’ve lost peo­ple I love so as to sac­ri­fice for this brand and I’ve lost peo­ple that were im­por­tant to me so as to sac­ri­fice for this brand.”

It is two days af­ter the group cel­e­brated two decades in the arts in­dus­try with yet an­other scin­til­lat­ing show and Dube is go­ing down mem­ory lane, try­ing to re­trace the foot­steps, try­ing to weigh ev­ery drop of blood and sweat that made that cel­e­bra­tion at the Bu­l­awayo The­atre on New Year’s Day pos­si­ble.

On stage Iyasa is flaw­less. The dances are per­fectly se­quenced, the bod­ies of the per­form­ers move with that strange ath­letic grace of those that have spent hours in train­ing, horn­ing their craft. Sim­ply put, when the cur­tain rises and the drums start ring­ing out loud, Iyasa is per­fect. It would be easy to think that the lives of those that move with such skill on stage are as well chore­ographed off it.

Dur­ing a visit to Sun­day Life’s of­fices on an evening in which heavy cloud cover had draped it­self around Bu­l­awayo as if in warn­ing of the storms that the usu­ally harsh month of Jan­uary is sure to bring, Dube wants to make it clear that life does not, off stage, fol­low any neat script.

“I al­ways meet peo­ple who say I want to be like you or I want to travel like you. I talk to a lot of young peo­ple and give lec­tures at univer­sity and col­leges and all of them think that be­cause we travel a lot and we are away from home then this is life. Yet it is life but it’s not the ul­ti­mate way of life. You lose a part of your­self,” he says.

For Dube, sac­ri­fice for Iyasa has taken a great per­sonal toll and al­though he does not delve deep into the sub­ject, he ad­mits that he has lost some­one dear to his heart be­cause his ded­i­ca­tion to the group that sparked a dance revo­lu­tion in the City of Kings.

“Like I said I lost a per­son I loved be­cause of Iyasa and it was in­evitable. But I also found my­self af­ter that. Pub­lic life is not easy and it will break you. There were mo­ments when I was bro­ken. I al­ways tell peo­ple that want to come into pub­lic life that there’s a price for it. I have two sons now and per­haps in­stead I could have had seven. But be­cause of the ca­reer that I chose you’ve got to be a fa­ther to those young peo­ple that look up to you,” he says.

Af­ter two decades Dube re­mem­bers how this in­cred­i­ble jour­ney, a jour­ney that has brought a lot of joy and a fair bit of hard­ship in his per­sonal life, be­gan.

“What hap­pened was that when I grad­u­ated as a teacher, I was de­ployed to Mpopoma High School. What I did there was to work with an ex­ist­ing group, which was the Mpopoma Drama Club.

“Be­cause of my en­thu­si­asm and be­cause I al­ready had a his­tory in the­atre from Umzingwane High School and be­cause I had al­ways been in­spired by peo­ple like Mbon­geni Ngema and Amakhosi and I had ac­tu­ally worked with them on dif­fer­ent plat­forms like Umkhosi Wa­bat­sha, it was some­thing that was al­ready in my blood,” Dube says.

Like a lot of great things, the mak­ing of Nku­l­uleko Dube the arts ad­min­is­tra­tor hap­pened by ac­ci­dent, as what be­gan as a hobby for him and his first il­lus­tri­ous re­cruits turned into a full time job.

“Hon­estly I never thought I would ever find my­self in a po­si­tion where I would be thrown into the po­si­tion of be­ing an arts direc­tor or ad­min­is­tra­tor. At Mpopoma I met the likes of San­dra Nde­bele, Romeo Sibanda and Fu­ture Sibanda. These were ba­si­cally the first guys. When I got there peo­ple were do­ing what I would call nor­mal the­atre which was ba­si­cally drama. I had al­ways been in­spired by the art of Ngema where he ba­si­cally used mu­sic, like Sara­fina, to por­tray his art.

“So I had al­ways thought that in Zim­babwe we needed to ap­peal to peo­ple us­ing mu­sic and dance. So we fo­cused on what I call mu­si­cal the­atre and our first pro­duc­tion as a drama club was called Just Be­cause I’m a Girl, which was a play that told the story of what we were try­ing to do. It was a very pop­u­lar play and we brought in par­ents to see it and sud­denly they started to sym­phathise,” he says.

Dube speaks fondly about those days at Mpopoma where both teacher and stu­dents were find­ing and fum­bling their way through the arts. The ques­tion many would ask is how a group of un­known stu­dents made their way out of the class­rooms of Mpopoma into some of the most il­lus­tri­ous stages in the coun­try and the world.

“We then got an idea of do­ing a song Woza Mafohloza by Mbon­geni Ngema. That song was one of the first times that the pub­lic saw us. It was fol­lowed by Bum Jive which was our own record­ing and be­came quite pop­u­lar. What it meant was that these young peo­ple, while they were still at school, be­came a pub­lic phe­nom­e­non. We had peo­ple com­ing to the school to ask these school kids to per­form at their func­tions and wed­dings.

“So af­ter we did a play on the Unity Ac­cord that was signed in 1987, the whole coun­try be­gan to take no­tice. We were tak­ing the play around the coun­try, around board­ing schools and at some point we didn’t know what to do with our­selves. Even the school au­thor­i­ties were wor­ried that the drama club was just too busy for young peo­ple that were at school,” Dube says.

One op­por­tu­nity gave birth to an­other and af­ter an in­vi­ta­tion to the United States of Amer­ica, the group found it­self on stage in the cap­i­tal prior to that trip. It was af­ter a per­for­mance of the colour­ful Wel­come to Africa, a dance piece show­cas­ing var­i­ous dances from around the coun­try, that the group met Stephan Rub­ble, a man that was to be their ticket over­seas.

The back­stage en­counter be­tween Dube and Rub­ble led to an in­vi­ta­tion to the Shake­speare Fes­ti­val in Aus­tria. But there was a catch: the fes­ti­val was in 2002 but most of the group mem­bers were about to fin­ish their stud­ies at Mpopoma at the end of 2001. That prob­lem would lead to the ac­ci­den­tal birth of Iyasa.

“The com­pli­ca­tion was that most of the artistes were go­ing to be leav­ing Mpopoma that year. It was also the year I had to leave Mpopoma for North­lea. So it was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult for me to be work­ing with stu­dents from Mpopoma while I was at North­lea. Hon­estly the drive to form Iyasa came from the stu­dents that were there. They were the ones that came to me and said we can’t let this end here,” Dube says.

The pangs that came with the birth of Iyasa de­manded the first bit of sac­ri­fice from Dube.

“So I had a choice to make. Ac­tu­ally most of the things that hap­pened in my life hap­pened be­cause I was left with no choice be­cause at the end of the day, for ex­am­ple at one time we had to go to Aus­tria and go­ing there meant that I would be away from work for a month.

“So I had to make a de­ci­sion to quit my job and take this chal­lenge. I dis­cussed with my fam­ily, friends and fam­ily and my par­ents and they had a con­cern. They were won­der­ing if I could sur­vive do­ing this. I left my job as a teacher and I took on a tour which lasted three weeks and I didn’t know what was to come af­ter that.”

That trip to Aus­tria opened up more for Iyasa and two decades later they are still one of the most sought af­ter and cel­e­brated groups from Zim­babwe. That suc­cess has not for­got­ten the strug­gles of those early days. Even the nam­ing of the group gave a nod to those early trou­bled days.

“The name had a dou­ble mean­ing. They were young and when we looked around there were no groups that had peo­ple of that age. So this was about cre­at­ing some­thing new and some­thing that was of their mak­ing. So we called it Free­dom (Inku­l­uleko) for Young Peo­ple School of Arts. It was more or less like an in­for­mal school of arts.

“Iyasa was also about the rise of the sun. The dark­est hour is be­fore dawn and be­cause of in­ci­dents that hap­pened be­fore the birth of Iyasa I felt that way,” says Dube.

IYASA at the turn of the mil­len­nium

Nku­l­uleko Dube

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