“The critic, skeptic, even cynic in me was soon mesmerized….Searing, unforgettable show…” Tony Mochama, East African Standard
“Unique interactive drama…a revelation..” – Joseph Ngunjiri, Sunday Nation
” If you care about your history and country, you will watch ‘Cut off my tongue’ and bring everyone with you!” Monica arac de Nyeko
CUT OFF MY TONGUE BY SITAWA NAMWALIE
A STORYMOJA PRODUCTION
Cut Off My Tongue rants, sweats, and breaks into song and dance as it explores the truths that shape us as Africans: our beliefs, the way we behave and why. Woven with music and dance, Sitawa’s Namwalie’s dramatised poetry is moving and frighteningly honest. It is politics – and love – that bites as it teases.
“WOW!!!” – Sajina Sangale,after sold out show on 22/04/09
“Truly inspiring!” – Awanthia Krishnan, after sold-out show on 22/04/09
“Amazing talent…” – Hassan Omar Hassan, after sold-out show on 30/04/09
“Glad to have witnessed you on your way to the top!” – Jeremy O’Reilly after sold- out show on 30/04/09
“Thought Provoking” – Geoffrey Kimani, after sold out show on 8/05/09
“Thoroughly enjoyed the insights…” – Mandy Parkin, after sold out show on 8/05/09
UK: Tickets £15. Students & Seniors £10.
7pm. Saturday 23rd May, 2009
Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage
London NW3 3EU
7pm. Thursday 28th May, 2009
Centerprise Trust, Dalston
136 Kingsland High Street,
London E8 2NS.
Telephone: 020 7254 9632
Cast: Sitawa Namwalie, Muthoni Garland, Alice Karunditu, Amimo Olembo, Chichi Seii, Shan Bartley, Ogutu Muraya, Grand Masese, Henry Anyanga.
CUT OFF MY TONGUE’S WILL PERFORM AT THE HAY FESTIVAL ON THE 27TH MAY, 2009. www.hayfestival.com
For more information: http://storymojaafrica.wordpress.com. www.storymojaafrica.co.ke.
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Readwhat those who’ve watched the show think about it in four reviews posted below:
PLEASE, DON’T CUT OFF MY TONGUE
By Tony Mochama
Friends in my writing community insisted that I go watch’ Cut off My Tongue,” a poetry theatre show produced by Storymoja.
As a little godfather of neo-poetry in Nairobi, I sometimes feel flashes of impatience with poetry shows. They tend to rectangulate between the dull, lengthy, amateurish or painfully (and embarrassingly) earnest, and let’s face it, “poetry” is too often a refuge for those who cannot write creative prose. Resisting the temptation, though, to have another beer at the Alliance Francaise’s restaurant garden, I sneaked into the auditorium for Sitawa Namwalie’s “Cut off My tongue,” poetry writings turned stage performances, sitting at the back in case I needed to sneak out, quickly and quietly again, back to beer. But lo and behold!
The critic, skeptic, even cynic in me was soon mesmerized by what I was watching on stage. ‘Cut off My Tongue’ is a smart, well thought-out show, and humorous too, nailing our peculiarities as Kenyans to a T. The audience was certainly appreciating the show, tense at one moment, wildly applauding to show “vile wana-i-feel” the next. Having done a darkly humorous poem “Give War a Chance’ myself, I felt a resonance with Sitawale’s “Would You?” probing poetry piece that provokes – ‘who would you slaughter for your community?’
The large cast in sections smashes away at each other, hurling rhythmical curses at each other in their particular vernacular mother tongues. In “I Come From Everywhere,” Alice Karinditu questions our tribal hatreds, wondering which is the ‘pure tribe.” Her rendition “Carcass of the House” is a stark throw-back to the January of last year. Shan Bartley, the lady from Australia, is the token mzungu put to the yoke for teaching Africans “bad manners about land.” A former comedienne, slain notes with an ironic bite that before colonialism, Africa was a land of “guileless, guiltless natives.”
The three National Broadcasts, casting national leaders defending their outrageous behaviour, is a metaphor for contemporary Kenya. Muthoni Garland declares: “Somebody’s (butt) has to ride in a Benz, I’m up to the task, not everybody is…” and two policemen, reminiscent of the Moi era of Cop dictatorship, swagger on stage to say “normal disservice (under an Ali) has resumed. Mta-do?”
The literary desert of 1979 to 1999, a la Taban, is eloquently and passionately evoked by Sitawa in “Gifted, Almost Fifty” as she speaks of her so young, so angry creativity of poetry. When not on stage, Sitawa Namwalie changes her name to Betty Wamalwa Muragori, and works as an environmental consultant in an NGO.
But now she is on the creative ‘go’ as the Queen of Africa, and in her last poem, she decries our constant distress, ati our only virtue is “Barack Obama’s poor mama.” Hello Ko’gello? Oh, Muthoni is here to take the garland (standing ovation) for this part of the show.
The second half comes in strong with song – mostly about passion, love, lust, desire. Grandmaster Masese and Iso Anyanga accompany the pieces on the Kisii Obokano, and Luo nyatiti. The sinewy movements of the striking Chichi Seii, and the deep baritone of Amimo Olembo, what can I say? But Sitawa still had 2 more surprises in store – a poem called ‘Nameless’ where she poked fun on our ‘unAfrican’ adoption of Anglo names (like, say, Elizabeth) and then her own Nameless moment, where like the musician, she made the happy audience ‘Say My Name’ again and again.
The poetry’s intelligence made the show. The show was searing and unforgettable, I forgot all about my beer and instead said a silent prayer that I’ll be there when ‘Cut off My Tongue’ does a re-run at the Nu-Metro Junction next week from seven p.m. – Wednesday 6th, Thursday 7th and Friday 8th, at the Nu – Metro – Heaven.
Watch it, if you care about your history and country
– a review of ‘Cut off my tongue’ by Sitawa Namwalie
Monica Arac de Nyeko
Let me declare my transgressions in advance. I am a Ugandan working in Kenya and no, I am not getting into the whole Migingo Island circus. It is all about theatre today, Kenyan or East African theatre if you like.
Among all other disciplines, the arts in general seemed to have had more their fair share of strutting the terrifying terrain between acceptability and disrespectability. Several artists have long flirted with poverty and dismal living, owing to the usual milestones ranging from piracy, a lack of reading culture (oh that again) and perhaps a complete lack of government spending and support. There is the issue of quality of course as well. In Ugandan theatrical landscape for instance, although several local productions did manage to attract audiences in the past years, the quality remained largely poor. Directors and actors took their audiences for fools ploughing through implausible scenarios and ridiculous caricatures of life. Punch lines bordered on farce, the themes the usual man meets woman and woman meets man. Sometimes there was a political critic here and a portrait of home life there – things like that. It all was simple, to the point, hardly hard hitting stuff.
At the school level meanwhile, schools flirted with creativity obliging the usual annual music, dance and drama presentations at festivals. As for poetry among all other arts forms, it was next to dead or at best, orphaned. In schools on Parent’s Day, there was the usual recitation of sentimental and dreadful poetry ranging from – AIDS, AIDS AIDS is bad to Oh Africa, Africa, Africa, oh my mother land Africa. Listen to the cry of your children. And there was the all time favourite – war, war war and blood, blood blood or abortion, abortion, abortion.
For some of us who suffered the ‘misfortune’ of studying literature however, poetry seemed to have been forced upon us by teachers you hardly liked. I, for instance developed complete distaste for poetry. It was that difficult form. Poetry was complicated and obscure, hardly understood by the very teachers who taught it. It remained a sore point, irrelevant and distant. It seemed to revolve around Shakespearian type dying roses, horny white men and their love struck mistresses, snow and daffodils – that sort of thing. Sometimes there was the occasional poem like for instance Antonio Jacinto’s Letter from a Contract Worker, that resurrected faith in poetry but those moments were few.
I know better now and I have since mended my respect for poetry enough to fall completely in love with it. I now conveniently blame all my earlier flops and bluffs on the tragedy of the Ugandan education system (I know. I was a school teacher for a bit)! However, more than anything, this dreadful background and hate-affair with poetry in the past was perhaps the reason was why I was delighted with StoryMoja’s fourth poetry production of ‘Cut off my tongue’ by Sitawa Namwalie to a parked house at Alliance Francaise’s hall last week.
The eight person cast of terrifically talented artists and three support musicians got a standing ovation. The production will be part of London’s Hay Festival in the UK in May this year.
‘Cut off my tongue’ is a poetic dramatization of twenty three poems tackling themes that range from the catastrophe of a colonial past, love, desire, race to corruption. ‘Language of Tribe’ the first dramatization challenges our stereotypes about ‘otherness’. It looks at the paradigm of ethnicity, this Kikuyuness or Luoness, what exactly does it mean? On what journeys has it led you, what has it cost you?
In the last poem, Sitawa Namwalie the poet on whose works the whole production is based invites us to join her in reciting her name in ‘Say my name’. I must confess, it seemed a very spooky thing to call someone’s name at such a high pitch and with such zeal but there was something empowering in that invitation, a reclamation of an identity that shifted from the poet to her audience. It was a necessary process, a totally contagious experience.
Without a doubt, Sitawa Namwalie is a gifted poet. I did notice she had very fine legs and shamelessly made a point to ask her about it in the end. The discussion was interesting, taking us into the area of beauty and cultural lenses there of.
However leaving all that fine legs talk behind to look at Sitawa Namwalie in her virtue as a poet, she is original and sharp with an eye for detail. Through the poems, she takes your hand, leads you on a journey of discovery, questions all those things you took for granted like that obsession with land for instance – do you know where you inherited it from? Her poems are sensual, filled you shamelessly with desire and longing, left you wanting for more in Seasons of the City (?) for instance. This is a poem about rain, that rain of lust, love and fulfilment – stunning choreography came with that.
‘Cut off my tongue’ is a marriage of performance and dance plus sparse but sharp traditional (do you know what they are called? Or which tribe they belong to?) musical instrumentals and singing.
Ogutu Muraya the only man in the dramatization segment was good sport. His face was filled with emotion, his dance movement fluid and sharp. When he needed to be angry, the audience felt it. When he loved, we loved with him. We felt his hands when he held to his woman and hated him when he was that bad policeman terrorising the street.
‘Cut off my tongue’ by Storymoja productions was a tremendous success, the only regret being the length (it was a bit too long oh). In the end I was not disappointed but was sad that I had not coerced my girlfriends into coming and had not sold the whole poetry thing to them a more aggressively.
If you care about your history and country, you will watch ‘Cut off my tongue’ and bring everyone with you!
A poetic licence to tell the Kenyan story
By JOSEPH NGUNJIRI Posted Saturday, May 9 2009 at 12:27
If you were to tell the story of Kenya where would you begin? Sitawa Namwalie, a poet, seems to know: ethnicity, identity, land issues, leadership, love…
A production based on her collection of poetry titled Cut off my Tongue has been staged at different venues in Nairobi and the audiences cannot have enough of it.
Cut off my Tongue is unique in that it is an interactive dramatisation of poetry using humour, music and dance. The production addresses issues close to the hearts of Kenyans, ranging from neo-colonialism to romance.
In effect, Cut off my Tongue, a Storymoja production, talks to Kenya, hence its popularity with the audiences. This is in spite of the fact that they have been paying Sh1,000 to watch the shows.
Comedies and farces
Cut off my Tongue has been viewed by many as a much-needed breath of fresh air to theatre in Nairobi, where recycled Western bedroom comedies and farces is the order of the day.
Sitawa’s poetry is a revelation. Hers is not the textbook, often mind-numbing verse that has made many Kenyans give poetry a wide berth, dismissing it as too difficult or abstract to comprehend.
Her lines are simple and straightforward, devoid of hidden meaning. For one, Sitawa’s poetry seeks to soothe and heal the injuries inflicted on the country by the post-election violence that rocked Kenya after the disputed 2007 elections.
Since ethnicity was at the heart of the violence, Sitawa aims to use words to make Kenyans realise that they are one people who should not be fighting because they come from different tribes.
“Like Robinson Crusoe, I want to use words to trip people’s minds,” she said. “I want people to change the way they think and make them open up more.”
Even as the country tries to heal from the wounds that were inflicted in 2008, talk of war is still rife. Politicians are running around, warning of dire consequences in 2012, if certain conditions are not met.
“2012 is innocent,” Sitawa said philosophically. “It is we who will carry our hatred, fears and baggage to that year.” What she is saying is that 2012 can only be peaceful if Kenyans choose to do away with the prejudices that breed hatred and violence.
The cast of Cut off my Tongue is multi-ethnic, which in itself a way of building harmony across communities.
“Each member of the cast says something, in their mother tongue, which leaves members of that community reflecting on how they relate with other communities,” explained Muthoni Garland, the managing director of Storymoja.
On the issue of land, Sitawa’s poetry looks at how possessive Kenyans are with this resource, to the extent of killing one another.
In the verse A Gifted Almost-fifty, Sitawa, tongue-in-cheek, tries to explain how she came to write poetry when she was approaching fifty.
“What do I do, now that I have found a gift at almost-fifty? Writing angry poetry, a flair I should have used up at twenty, at least uncovered back then,” she writes.
The poem blames it on the Moi regime that did not tolerate “vocalisation”, thereby stealing her fuming twenties, rolling over her barely mellow thirties, and “I gave up in my forties.”
Sitawa is better known by the name Betty Wamalwa Muragori. When not writing poetry, she is a consultant on management, women and environmental issues. She has a master’s degree in environmental science from Clarke University in Massachusetts.
But is it the poem It Rained Last Night, performed by Chichi Seii, that left the audience hankering for more.
A “naughty” piece, the poem invokes the imagery of rain to suggest sensual intimacy. At the end of the performance, the audience trooped to the gate where they bought written copies of the poem at Sh100 apiece.
Music is performed by Grandmaster Masese with his eight-stringed Obokano. Henry Anyanga played the drum, kayamba and flute. Other cast members are Ogutu Muraya, Shan Bartley, Alice Wanjiru Karunditu and Lilian Amimo Olembo, who also doubles up as the choreographer.
Storymoja has landed an invitation to perform Cut off my Tongue at the prestigious Hay Literary Festival in the UK on June 27 this year. They will also stage the show at Hamstead Theatre in London on June 23.
The other show will be Centreprise, also in London, on June 28. The London shows are meant for the Kenyans living there. The shows , the latest of which were staged at the Nu-Metro theatres at the Junction on Wednesday and Thursday, are meant to raise funds for their UK trip.
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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!