Arts & Entertainment

Kenyan musical play gives voice to oppressed during colonialism

By Lucia Blanco Gracia

Nairobi, June 9 (EFE).- A new musical written by Kenyan storyteller Wangari Grace explores colonialism from an African perspective by turning centuries-old journeys around and giving a voice to those oppressed.

Grace and percussionist Sven Kacirek were inspired by the African oral storytelling method and combined it with music for ‘Colonialism: A Musical Oral History Performance for Children’.

“We are telling the African perspective of colonialism, there are so many perspectives but very few of them are African,” Grace tells Efe.

The project, supported by the Goethe Institute, has been performed in schools and theaters in Nairobi and some German cities.


The stage setting is far from conventional and reminiscent of a thrift store bursting with interesting objects: a globe, record player, various portraits, instruments and empty skulls.

Each artifact illustrates part of the story.

On a table, five small African flags flutter: Namibia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.

“We tried to capture different regions and also tried to look at different colonial powers,” says Grace.

The play opens at the Berlin Conference (1884-1885), the event that saw European states chop up the African continent to divide resources and land.

“As a storyteller, the challenge was how do you make this look like storytelling and engaging with people and not feeling like we are doing a lecture,” Grace says.

“We didn’t want to create a piece that will traumatize everyone,” Kacirek adds.

Drawing from objects to illustrate key historical events, Antwerp’s famed chocolate hands invoke the atrocities committed in the Congo Free State between (1885-1908), when it was under the absolute rule of Belgian King Leopold II.

The scene triggered a young German viewer who asked: If the Belgians did that, did we do something similar?

“It seemed like she was thinking: this is horrible, are we also horrible?” the percussionist adds.

Germany’s colonial empire in Africa also rears its head in the show, with a trip to the coastal Namib desert.

Through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, Grace and Kacirek discuss the genocide (1904-1908) that exterminated some 65,000 Herero (out of a total of 80,000) and some 10,000 Nama (out of some 20,000), after the ethnic groups dared to challenge their colonizers.

In southern Africa, the anti-apartheid struggle is brought to life trough Miriam Makeba’s voice, a singer songwriter who was stripped of her nationality due to her activism.

“When you speak about colonialism in African countries it is mostly about political figures, like Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta… and we wanted to look at the piece through different people,” says Grace.

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