Cut Off My Tongue
A review by Nureen Velji
Cut Off My Tongue
Dramatized poetry by Sitawa Namwalie
Alliance Francaise, Nairobi, Kenya
22nd April 2009, 7:00pm
Cut Off My Tongue is as catchy as its name, but almost impossible to describe unless you have been there, seen it. It’s like the pyramids in Egypt: we all know how gigantic they are, how incredible it must be for those who have been there and seen them, how beautiful they look in pictures; but only after seeing them in person, can you actually feel the experience and live with it. This dramatized poetry by the Kenyan poet Sitawa Namwalie is like that. You hear talk from those who have seen it, you see the excitement of those who have experienced it, but no amount of googling can bring the experience home. That’s why I decided I had to see what all the fuss was about.
At the start, the full auditorium was graced with the soft sounds of African musical instruments played by Ogutu Muraya and Grand Masese dressed in traditional Kenyan attire. They were very entertaining indeed as they engaged the crowd in singing a few lines of the chorus. A start to an entertaining evening, perhaps? Perhaps! It certainly was unifying to see the crowd, a blend of black, white, brown and yellow, all coming together chanting words in a language not all them understood: “usi chekeshe” we all chanted in unison.
Shortly after, the lights dimmed and on came Sitawa Namwalie (the poet and director), with a soft whisper going “Otherwise…” and the show began.
I don’t know if you have ever seen dramatized poetry, I hadn’t before last week. If you think poetry is all about romanticism and sonnets in a rhyming fashion, or something you can easily label as onomatopoeia, come prepared for something extraordinary; so close to home in spirit, yet universally understandable. No, not in rhyme as Shakespeare intended, but words in their simplest form, yet with meaning of the deepest kind. It is a performance so powerful it will give you chills down your spine.
With a hint of the satire, humorous in its approach, its unifying theme is one of a Kenyan melting pot. It addresses issues of the post-election violence and its effect, and yet it touches you as a human being regardless of your background.
The set was simple, with the front of the stage lined with nine stools for the performers, and a couple of stools at the side for the musicians playing African instruments, all in such harmony, with sounds so soothing to the ear, I was truly left in awe. It truly was a celebration of performance not props!
The show’s actors, nine in total, were Betty Wamalwa Muragori, Muthoni Garland, Alice Karunditu, Ogutu Muraya, Grand Masese, Henry Anyanga, Shan Bartley, Chichi Seii and Amimo Olembo. All were exceptional performers, all with their individual styles. Betty Wamalwa Muragori (aka Sitawa Namwalie), held the audience captive with her powerful words and firm performance as a Voice of Kenya news presenter from the 80’s, while Muthoni Garland, with her flamboyant headgear, depicted the kind of politician we all know yet cannot put our fingers on. Hers was a comically charged performance as she mimicked the politicians as we see them best on global television. Power in a small package is the best way to describe Alice Karunditu. Who could believe that such a tiny person could give such a huge performance? She made such well-balanced switches to suit her every role. Shan Bartley, the Kenyan police officer with Swahili lingo up to par, certainly made it clear that she was not your mother! Amimo Olembo with her deep and powerful voice accompanied by Chi Chi Seii’s graceful yet hip-shaking performance created an energy in the auditorium that made you want to get up and hip-shake while belting out a note or two! It was an exceptional performance, one not to be missed. I could go see it again!