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East Africa Performing Arts Theatre

NBO Musical Theatre Initiative in Kenya dives into the world of radio plays with Erik Altorfer

NBO Musical Theatre Initiative

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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nairobi Musical Theatre Initiative (NBO MTI) was compelled to review their planned live programming and look at ways to diversify and amplify their output as a theatre initiative. They seized the opportunity to gain new skills and capacities, and envision the theatricality of  projects from alternative angles – and jump into the world of radio play production.

During June and July of 2021, Swiss theatre and radio play writer/director Erik Altorfer will lead daily workshops via Zoom with the 35 NBO MTI composer and musician participants in Nairobi to produce 14 radio play pilots, each 1-5 minutes in length. This tapestry of works-in-progress will be titled Voices of Nairobi, which NBO MTI will either distribute individually or collected together into a 60–75-minute package.

Based in Zurich, Erik Altorfer has a wealth of experience writing, producing, directing and mentoring on radio plays. He teaches at the Zurich Academy of the Arts, and has held writing workshops in Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia and Egypt. Erik has directed, commissioned and adapted numerous radio plays for German and Swiss radio stations, and in 2019 and 2021 he curated the audio drama/blog production Sounds like a Whisper at Theatre is a Must in Alexandria with a dozen Egyptian and Syrian artists. Erik met Roberta Levitow, NBO MTI’s US-based Consulting Producing Director, during theatre festivals they both attended in Bahrain and Egypt. Based on her observations of Erik’s workshops, Roberta recommended Erik as an ideal person to work with the 14 creative teams.

The 14 radio pilots will be recorded and produced at Rainmaker Studios in Nairobi, which maintains a state-of-the-art recording studio, with on-staff engineers and producers and considerable recording expertise. Rainmaker Studios is linked to the project through NBO MTI Artistic Director Eric Wainaina. 

Voices of Nairobi – radio play synopses 

PANI PURI

Aleya Kassam- Book and Lyrics /Eric Wainaina and Rushab Nandha – Music and Lyrics

In a wedding gone wrong, a brown-black love story illuminates the trials and tribulations of staying together across cultures, with music that invites us into Asian-Kenyan and African-Kenyan sounds. 

DON’T TURN OFF THE LIGHTS

Mwendie Mbugua & Tina Nduba- Banja- Book and Lyrics/Kanji Mbugua – Music and Lyrics

Brother and sister, Jabali and Subira, find their shared bedroom a dark, scary place when they hear all sorts of strange noises and see things moving in the night. Terrified, they’re not sure what to do next.

MOONLIGHT/STARLIGHT

Wacuka Mungai – Book and Lyrics/Eric Wainaina – Music and Lyrics

Sabina is the nightclub singer at the famous and infamous Moonlight Club in a newly independent Kenya. Through the music and the relationships forged and broken at the Moonlight, Kenya’s history and Kenyans’ ongoing search for identity come to vivid life.

WEAVER BIRD 

Laura Ekumbo, Anne Moraa and Aleya Kassam – Book and Lyrics /Wanja Wohoro – Music and Lyrics

Three memory keepers and a truth-teller ululate to one another. They need to tell the story of Field Marshal Mūthoni wa Kīrīma; a freedom fighter, the highest-ranking and last surviving Field Marshal from the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. Field Marshal Mūthoni swore she would not cut her hair until Kenya found true freedom. Her hair is still not cut. How will they keep her memory alive?

 NAIROBAE

Aroji Otieno- Book and Lyrics/Barbara ‘Sage’ Ng’eno – Music and Lyrics  

Nkoba, a young woman frustrated by her daily routine, leaves her village for Nairobi with a dream for a better life. On a whim, she leaves behind her mother and child. In Nairobi, she encounters constant challenges on her journey to success until she stumbles upon social media and becomes an overnight sensation. Life at the top is not what she imagined, and her past mistakes soon come to haunt her.

 BANDASSERY

The Too Early For Birds Collective: Hellen Masido, Bryan Ngartia, Gathoni, Wanjiku Mwawuganga – Book and Lyrics/ Mbogua Mbugua Mbugua and Eugene Kanyugo- Music and Lyrics

An armed bank robbery goes so wrong that the gang ends up in another time period. A wild, witty, street-slang rap and romantic journey through Kenyan crime stories and Kenya’s musical history.

ZAPHAN

Elsaphan Njora – Book and Lyrics/ Timothy Arinaitwe- Music and Lyrics

A bitter-sweet and tender gallery of moments in a life exploring manhood and fatherhood.

THREE-TEN (THE GOSPEL OF APOSTLE DENNIS)

Mugambi Nthiga – Book and Lyrics/ Eric Wainaina and Chris Adwar – Music and Lyrics

Set in a church service, Three-Ten recounts The Gospel of Apostle Dennis, an earnest pastor who promises prosperity to his desperate followers in exchange for their simple offering of 310 shillings. As his flock grows, so does his ambition for wealth and power, until the lines between right and wrong – and good and evil – become irrevocably blurred.

RAMBO BAMBO BOOM

Tina Nduba-Banja & Mayonde Masya – Book and Lyrics/Mayonde Masya & Eugene Kanyugo – Music and Lyrics

Malaika, an immortal being, insists on traveling to earth, against the will of her Queen Mother, to spread love, peace and harmony. She lands, by mistake, in Nairobi, and discovers chaos, love and life.

KABASEKE

Benjamin Kabaseke, Paul Kades – Book and Lyrics/ Vinny Ngugi & Tetu Shani – Music and Lyrics

A musician, saved by his music, tells the story of his startling journey from the Congo to Kenya.

THE ESCAPE (INTERVIEW WITH AN ACROBAT)

Sitawa Namwalie – Book and Lyrics/L-Ness (Lydia Owano Akwabi) – Music and Lyrics with Pius Shaki Aloyo, Mike Munene, Manases Waweru, Grand Masese, Odada Okutoto, Willy, Edward

After a prison escape, an acrobat, who became a gangster, hides for 3 days and 2 nights inside the Warden’s house, entrancing the Warden’s wife with her 10-month old son. They all eventually escape from their situations, in a mesmerizing tale told by a musical chorus that combines contemporary Kenyan techno-rap interwoven with traditional instruments into a purely Kenyan mix.

SABA SABA

Eric Wainaina – Book & Lyrics and Music & Lyrics 

Saba Saba is an ensemble piece that tells multiple stories revolving around a bunch of football fans who are frustrated about the performance of their team, a drunk first lady who cannot deal with her husband’s corrupt office, and a vigilante gang who understand that money is power. And then there’s Mohamed whose boda boda gets confiscated by a traffic cop. His plea to get his boda back becomes a national cry and sets the nation on the path of revolution. Inspired by the events that led up to the Arab Spring Saba Saba is the story of how a singular event in a corrupt state galvanizes the anger of a nation and sets them on a path for a people-led uprising. 

2063

Kaari Njeru & Jacob Sibi-Okumu – Book ; Jason & Jacob Sibi-Okumu – Music and Lyrics ; John Sibi Okumu – Dramaturgy & Additional Contributions

The year is 2063 and, one hundred years after independence, a shrunken Kenya is preparing for elections to replace a visionary ruler, making for bitter rivalries and questionable allegiances. This allegorical musical reveals an imagined future for the country.

 A STRING OF LIGHTS

Eric Wainaina – Book & Lyrics and Music & Lyrics 

A community struggles to understand what a new road running through their estate will mean for their homes. A line is drawn in the sand between ageing homeowners who dream of selling their homes and retiring to the country and their tenants who are caught in a housing crisis with nowhere to go.

Participants

Abubakar Majid is an actor, filmmaker, spoken word artist, script writer and musician from Nairobi, Kenya. He co-created Too Early for Birds; a successful theatrical and multimedia show detailing excerpts from Kenyan history through a youthful take, and can now be found in various studios and film sets across the country.

Aleya Kassam is a Kenyan feminist, storyteller, writer and performer, whose work explores narratives from the margins. She is widely experimental with form, from page to stage, screen to speaker, micro fiction to memory poems, docu-theatre to participatory filmmaking, blogs to twitter threads – she loves to play with the ways people experience story.

Anne Moraa is Kenyan feminist writer, editor, and performer. She is the ‘M’ in the LAM Sisterhood, an award-winning story company that fills the world with stories for African women to feel seen, heard, and beloved. Her writing can be found in Catapult, The Meridians Journal, The Elephant, The Wide Margin and so on, while her performances have taken her from Kenya through to South Korea and Scotland. A lead editor at Jalada Africa, she is at work on her debut novel all while eating copious amount of chilli-lemon crisps.

Aroji Otieno is the founder and Artistic Director of Bold Theatre KE, a cultural and artistic institution that uses art as a tool to promote social justice, focussing on patronage, training, production, and community service. He has participated in various theatre workshops, including the LaMama Umbria director’s workshop, Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, Nairobi Music Theatre Writing Lab, Kampala International Theatre Festival, Crossing Boundaries Theatre Festival in Ethiopia and Kerala Annual Theatre Festival. He has written several plays, articles, and short stories.

Benjamin Kabaseke is a seasoned East African multi-instrumentalist, session musician, singer and songwriter. He has worked with major artists such as Eric Wainaina, Sauti Sol and Jose Chameleon to name a few. He has also toured extensively internationally, with his most recent work being a reading of the musical “Kabaseke” at the Kampala International Theatre Festival, which is a story of his journey as a musician.

Bryan Ngartia is a Kenyan writer, poet and thespian who has been active in the Kenyan performance scene since 2011. One of the most prolific writer-performers of his generation, he has juggled fiction, poetry, non-fiction and drama. As part of his work as a director of Story Zetu, a Kenyan content production company, he is one of the co-founders of Too Early For Birds, a series of storytelling productions based on Kenyan history. He has performed around Kenya and East Africa.

Barbara Chemutai Ng’eno aka Chemutai Sage/Sage, is a Kenyan soul singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist. She is a classically trained pianist and self-taught guitarist. She recorded and released her debut album ‘Expose Yourself’ in 2015. Chemutai Sage is currently recording her sophomore album and has gone into classical composition sparked by her love of classical orchestra music. She is a songwriter for the musical ‘Nairobae’, which she began working on in June 2018 at the Nairobi Musical Theatre Initiative Workshop.

Chris Adwar is a Kenyan singer, songwriter, and music producer who plays Keyboards and Trombone. He has been active in the music scene since 1998 and has played the role of Musical Director and Music Producer for some of Kenya’s finest musicians. He has co-written and produced songs for award-winning Hollywood films and TV.

Elsaphan Njora Kanyoro is a multi-talented Kenyan artist who is mostly known for his acting and spoken word. In addition to being a regular performer on the Nairobi theatre scene, Njora has performed on Broadway in the hit musical TINGA TINGA and has distinguished himself as a screen actor in numerous projects.

Eric Wainaina has released five studio albums and has a long-standing career in musical theatre. In 2004, he wrote and co-starred in “Mo Faya,” a 21-piece musical theatre showcase inspired by the legend of Lwanda Magere, a mythical warrior in Luo folklore, which was selected for performance at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2009. In 2016, he established The Nairobi Musical Theatre Initiative with Sundance dramaturg Roberta Levitow to offer African artists new and alternative models for creating musicals. The initiative has catalysed the creation of 11 Kenyan musicals.

Eugene Kanyugo is a law student, pianist and bass guitarist. He is currently involved in the project Band-assery (with musical arrangements on Rambo Bambo Boom).

Grandmaster Masese is an artist from Nairobi, Kenya. He is a contemporary traditional musician who plays the Obokano, a Kisii traditional eight stringed harp. He is a cultural activist using folklore and traditional instruments to advocate for change.

Hellen Masido is a writer, photographer and filmmaker with a BA in Theatre Arts and Film from Kenyatta University. She is also a fabric artist and designs film sets and theatre props. She co-founded Story Zetu, the company that now produces the hugely successful theatrical Too Early For Birds. She has been a stage manager for the show; and is currently working on adapting the staged stories into short films especially for children and young adults.

Jacob Sibi-Okumu is a Kenyan musician based in Los Angeles, California. A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 2017 with a degree in Contemporary Writing & Production, Jacob diversifies his music career as a professional guitarist, educator, composer, producer and arranger across a wide variety of genres and styles that range from pop, to musicals and much more in between.

Jason Sibi-Okumu is a Kenyan soulful singer-songwriter, whose timeless melodies and expressive lyrics captivate his audience.

John Sibi-Okumu has appeared in over 40 stage roles. He directed Eric Wainaina’s Mo Faya! for the New York Festival of Musical Theatre in 2009; Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing in 2017 and Nick Payne’s Constellations in 2018. He has been credited in local and international films, including The Constant Gardener, Shake Hands with the Devil, The First Grader and The Rugged Priest. He has recently narrated Peter and the Wolf for the Nairobi Orchestra and the audio books of Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani and Blossoms of the Savannah by Henry ole Kulet. He has written six original plays, and has peripheral profiles as a teacher of French, a print and broadcast journalist and as a writer of prose fiction and poetry.

Kaari Njeru has found her way into musical theatre productions, and collaborates with her director husband (Johan Sibi-Okumu) and their musical sons (Jason and Jacob) in an NBO Musical Theatre Initiative all-family affair.

Kanjii Mbugua is a seasoned musician and producer who has toured throughout the world.

Laura Ekumbo is a Kenyan born, Nairobi based performing artist and writer. She has performed poetry, acted, sang, danced, spoken, and hosted events on over 30 stages in 4 countries around the world. She is a co-founder of The LAM Sisterhood, and independently, has hosted TEDx Youth, The Vagina Monologues, performed and spoken at festivals including Storymoja Festival, JALADA Mobile Literary and Arts Festival, Ubumutu Arts Festival, and Kampala International Theatre Festival. As an actor, she has played leading roles in critically acclaimed and award winning productions.

Lydia LNess Akwabi is a poet, performing and recording emcee, composer, African hip-hop cultural specialist and researcher. She has performed and facilitated creative writing workshops in the region at numerous festivals She has lectured in Daystar University on the roles of women in African Hip hop and she translates poems and scripts into Sheng’ and Kiswahili.

Mayonde Nduba-Masya is a singer and songwriter from Nairobi Kenya, who makes soulful music. She has performed on various world stages, having toured Europe in the musical theatre show, Out of Africa -The Magic of Kenya. She was also headlined at the Kigali Jazz Junction, a popular monthly event in Rwanda. Her critically acclaimed debut album, Magic In The Air, was released in December 2015 and got the top spot for Best Kenyan Album on Bottomline Kenya. She worked on the musical score for the award-winning Kenyan film Kati Kati with the Junge Orkest and performed live with the orchestra at the film’s European premiere in Germany.

Mbogua Mbugua Mbugua also known as M³ is a musician, record producer and an instrumentalist. Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya he began his musical journey at the age of 6 playing piano and later on he picked up drums and trumpet. Having produced and worked with various artists in Kenya, M³ has created many styles of music. He first interacted with the Too Early For Birds Crew in June 2018 and they began developing the Bandassery Musical with Eugene Kanyugo.

Mercy M. Mutisya is an award-winning filmmaker, recording and performing artist, writer and researcher with several commendable projects under her belt. She was part of the research and writing team in the Tom Mboya Show, courtesy of the Too Early For Birds team.

Mugambi Nthiga  is a Kenyan actor, writer and director who began his career in the Nairobi theatre scene in the early 2000’s. He co-wrote the feature film ‘Kati Kati’ (2016), which premiered at TIFF and won the FIPRESCI Prize in the Discovery section, and was the head writer on ‘Supa Modo’ (2018), which premiered at Berlinale, and went on to win over 50 prizes worldwide, including the ECFA Award for Best European Film For Children. His directorial debut ‘Lusala’ premiered in Nairobi in June 2019, and internationally at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2020. Mugambi is also part of Kenya’s premiere improv comedy collective, ‘Because You Said So’, which hosts sold-out shows every two months.

Mwendie Mbugua is a Marketing and Communication practitioner and producer. She produced East Africa’s first award winning TV musical series – Groove Theory that aired across several African countries. In 2016 her dream of being an author was realised, and she launched her first children’s book Don’t turn off the lights!

Paul Kades is currently a radio presenter with Radio Jambo and Radio Maisha and has extensive experience creating youth programmes. He is working with NBO MTI as a trainee in writing, direction and producing Musicals.

Rushab Nandha is a graduate of the SAE Institute, Cape Town, and began his professional career in 2017 co-producing, recording and mixing Eric Wainaina’s “Don’t Bury Me.” He has written music and lyrics for numerous productions both within NBM MTI and beyond, and co-produced a monthly concert showcasing some of Kenya’s best live musicians.

Sitawa Namwalie is an award winning Kenyan poet, playwright and performer known for her unique dramatized poetry performances which combine poetry and traditional Kenyan music.

Timothy Arinaitwe is a guitarist, singer, songwriter and composer. He brings a fresh mix of Afrocentric and classical music sounds and has been part of the musical scene in Nairobi for the past 7 years. He is a vastly flexible artist and his skills have seen him performing in spaces ranging from theatre to concerts. He has also made appearances at KTN’s The Trend and the BBC. He, along side Vincent Ngugi, forms a dynamic duo called TeleVision and is currently working under the acclaimed Eric Wainaina as a song writer and session guitarist.

Tina Nduba Banja is a Kenyan/Rwandese playwright based in Nairobi, Kenya. She has written and co-written several local musicals including, the Unforgettable Dance, Gangster’s Paradise, Bethel & Hem and Family Reunion. She has also written for television shows including One in a Million and  Groove Theory. Tina is currently collaborating, as a book writer, on two musical projects, Don’t Turn Off the Lights, a delightful and powerful children’s story about overcoming fear and Rambo Bambo Boom, a whimsical Kenyan sci-fi about aliens landing in Nairobi.

Vinny Ngugi is a singer/songwriter based in Nairobi, Kenya. He most recently travelled with his musical, Kabaseke to the Kampala International Theatre Festival. He has performed extensively in Nairobi, most notably at Eric Wainaina’s Live At The Elephant (LATE). He is part of a duo-singing group, TeleVision, with composer-songwriter, Timothy Arinaitwe.

Wacuka Mungai is communications consultant, writer, editor, and performer. She started performing in school musical productions, and moved to the national stage with the Phoenix Players, starring in principle roles in numerous musical theatre productions. In New York she worked as a journalist, writer and communications specialist with nongovernmental organisations in the fields of women’s rights and press freedom. Upon her return to Kenya, she continued her involvement with the creative arts, performing in the principal role in the Switzerland tour of Eric Wainaina’s musical “Mo Faya” in 2011. She has also written for local and African television dramas and soap operas.

Wanja Wohoro  is an Afro-Indie-Soul singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist from Nairobi, Kenya and Sydney, Australia. In 2018, Wanja released her debut album ‘Matriarch’: a creative endeavour telling the story of contemporary womanhood through a personal lens. Wanja was one of twelve international musicians selected to participate in the collaborative music incubation in Hudson NY. Wanja has also featured at various festivals and performances in Australia, Kenya, the US and South Africa, and continues to perform regularly, spreading her messages of female empowerment and authentic storytelling throughout Africa and to the world.

Voices of Nairobi is supported by The Schooner Foundation, USA for Africa, Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, and Rainmaker Ltd.