THE LIFE and times of the man popularly known as the Father of Township Theatre, Gibson Mthuthuzeli Kente, will be celebrated through song and dance in a tribute show at the Soweto Theatre.
The show, which is on from today December 7, is part of the efforts of the Joburg City Theatres memory project, which began with productions celebrating The Manhattan Brothers and the life of Regina Brooks, a white woman who under apartheid South Africa applied to be classified as black.
Bringing this story to life is a stellar cast consisting of Gugu Mbongwa, Billy Langa, Xoli Bongwana, Paballo Sithe, Sboniso Ishmael Mbhele, Mxolisi Madondo and Thembisile Khumalo. The musical direction is by Johan Mthethwa and it is choreographed by Douglas Sekete.
According to Claire Pacariz, the executive producer for Joburg City Theatres, they cast young people in order to attract young theatre-goers.
With a career spanning almost four decades in apartheid South Africa, Kente discovered people who are today part of the cream of the acting crop in South Africa.
Some of the those Kente mentored are Darlington Michaels, Mbongeni Ngema and Mary Twala. Kente’s productions formed an important part of the arts scene, particularly in townships.
His work inculcated a culture of theatre in black communities. While he was often accused of not being political enough, some of Kente’s works, like How Long, were a big part of protest theatre.
It is believed that in total, Kente produced 32 pieces of work that explored the struggles and beauty of black life. Speaking about the tribute show, director Makhaola Ndebele said it would be a combination of all of Kente’s music, used to tell the story of his life. Ndebele added that they sought to celebrate his life through the tribute.
“What we wanted to do is that we are honouring him through his music. “In the links between the music, what you’ll hear is more about him, his life and his journey in making his work. “There will be a little bit of dramatics here and there, but essentially it’s a tribute concert,” he said. In producing this show, one of the challenges they faced was attempting to track down all his work – especially because it has not been adequately recorded and documented. “Because so little of his work still exists, it’s hard to come by. “
Even with the music we had to find old people who own the LPs, because you can’t buy it anywhere anymore. Then we had to transfer it digitally so we could share it among the team.
“Another thing was that we had to rely a lot on word of mouth. “We were careful to say that we are paying tribute to him, rather than trying to emulate him. “Obviously we know the specifics of what kind of work he did in terms of presentational work – his work was rooted in emotion, so there are certain traits we won’t miss. Those that make him who he is. But essentially, we are paying tribute to him,” Ndebele said.
He added that they hoped the show had a meaningful impact on the people who watched it.
“We want the show to ignite the memories of older people who knew his work, but younger audiences must also feel that definite connection. “We want to strike a balance, so that people who know him don’t have to ask while watching the work: ‘Who is this?’” he said.
The Gibson Kente Tribute Show will be on at the Soweto Theatre from December 7 until the 17th.