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The revival of theatre and film industry in 2021

 Bangarang film.

Last year was a mixed bag of fortunes as well as one of the darkest for local creatives.

Covid-19 restrictions brought to a halt planned public performances and left entertainers twiddling their thumbs. Some found solace online, but nothing could replicate live performances.

Most affected were the live theatre performances, music concerts, exhibitions as well as film screenings at the theatres.

When the President announced the lifting of restrictions, there was sigh of relief. 

Upon the lifting of the bans, people thronged the theatres with such films as Medicine Man by Betty Kathungu Furet and the Kisumu shot Bangarang debuting with red carpet premieres in Embu, Kisumu and Nairobi.

Bangarang is a story based on the life and death of Baby Pendo who was a victim of police brutality during the last General Election. Both pictures were sponsored by the Kenya Film Commission.

Alliance Française, with the pandemic had become an online only streaming event centre suddenly sprung back to life bringing memories of the old good days.

Taarab Vibes, Jiji Ni Ya Who?, Gragar Kasbah and Kenyan Classic Hip Hop were some of the acts at the centre that also saw the seventh edition of the Mobile Film Competition winners announced.

Sammy Mwangi, Heartstrings Entertainment director emerged from the dark restrictions not only having overcome a Covid-19 infection, but as strong as ever, staging a hilarious play, Don’t Knock and later, Three is a Crowd.

In October, Nyanga the Runway Grandmother produced by Baraka Opera Trust was staged. This was a unique presentation of a Luo story interwoven with Norwegian idiomatic expressions in opera at the Kenya National Theatre.

Dubbed, the Kenyan Opera, the story fell short of history, facts and philosophy of the African people with a Eurocentric approach to the plot.

For instance, the story suggested the Luo people never believed in the afterlife. A big misrepresentation if you look at child naming practises, Manyasi or cleansing, remembering the dead in dreams, and so on.

There was limited use of authentic Luo or Kenyan cultural instrumentation and musical expression, bastardising the title, a Kenyan opera.

Then came this three hander Trilateral at the KNT’s Ukumbi Mdogo by Nyakagwa Muhaga, Sound of Music by Richard Rodgers and performed by Concord Theatricals adding to the list of musicals that made it to the stage in 2021.

Ngoma na Sarakasi, an open air performance under the Mugumo Tree has also joined the poetic and spoken word programme PAL as part of the menu to expect at the Kenya Cultural Centre on a regular basis.

Not to be left behind was the Liquid Arts Entertainment that staged Barua in October to a great reception.

In Mombasa, the Little Theatre Club and Mama Ngina Drive were a melting pot of Kenyan culture with the annual Kenya Cultural Festival, a welcome sight after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

There were moments to behold as plays, cultural dances, film, music, poetry, storytelling and visual arts took centrestage at the coastal city for nearly two weeks.

In Kisumu, the Mama Grace Onyango Cultural Centre was a beehive of activity with performances.

Gloomy days

But while the tail end of the year breathed life back into the creative industry, it came with its share of bad news as the industry suffered grievous loses.

Celebrated actor, Jacob Otieno was found dead in his house in Kawangware. The late Otieno was knighted by the French Government and was instrumental in shaping the theatre scene in Kenya.

Another icon, Alan Donovan, passed on this December at his home in Mlolongo at the African Heritage House. Donovan is credited with the growth of the fashion industry in Kenya as well as the development of local music into Europe and the US.

Jabali Afrika for instance would not have garnered the international fame they enjoy today without the intervention of Donovan earlier in their music career.

“He was our father and mentor, I don’t know what we would be without him,” said brothers Justin and Joseck Asikoye, who this week travel back to the US for the Emmy’s.

Another prolific loss at the theatre was Don Odhiambo, who died from injuries he sustained in a road accident. He was on his way home from rehearsals for a production with Millaz Productions under the directorship of Xavier Nato.

Don is remembered for his sterling performance in Tone Theatre Production’s musical Obama, Dreams From A Father, where he played the role of Barack Obama Snr.

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