You have heard about African Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and several adaptations of great narratives, but an African Christmas play may not be one of them.
Manaseh Chisiza’s African Nativity musical play premiered on Christmas Eve left Mzuzu with one question: If Jesus were born in an African setting, how would Christmas be embraced by Africans?
The play started with the main actor, granny (acted by Grace Singini), thinking aloud on what really constitutes or defines African culture.
Probably as a reply to her musings, a mix of drums, hand clapping, ululations and traditional songs blared in the background.
Then, Christmas carols such as Solemn Night, Noel, Mumtengo, Long Time Ago and Wish You a Merry Christmas—all fused with an African touch, either through manganje or ndolo dance—added life to the play.
The centre of attention was the scene where Nambewe (Mary Banda), Nyamoyo (Carol Banda) and Nangwagwa (Sarah Chunga) gossips about the ‘holier than thou’ attitude in Mary (Rose Cross), who, later, falls pregnant.
“How could she be pregnant while she claims to be a virgin?” implored Nambewe, satirising the claims that she is impregnated by the Holy Spirit.
Mockingly, Nyamoyo chipped in: “These guys claim to be committed to God, but their deeds have proven otherwise.”
Despite such talks, Joseph (Joel Mkandawire) went on to engage Mary, Angel Gabriel (Chikumbutso Sambo) taking the role of the officiating priest.
Songs such as Ndilonjezo la Mulungu, Bendeka and Chidendelinde—with Tiwonge Hango and Sarah Chunga on vocals—helped place the engagement ceremony in a village setting.
Using King Herod in Ngoni ligalia to symbolise the office of the presidency in modern-day Malawi, the play discusses issues of tribalism, regionalism, deteriorating standards of education and escalating living standards in the country.
The play starred several veteran actors, including National Theatre Association of Malawi (Ntam) northern chapter president Sam Sambo and Joel Mkandawire who acted alongside Desmond Elliot in the play Footsteps of the First Lady, and budding actors such as the eight-year-old Natasha and the 11-year-old Grace Mkandawire.
African Nativity is written and directed by Chisiza and contains music choreographed by Tionge Hang, costume and make-up by Winnie Mhango, traditional dances by Ezekiel Phiri and choreography by Joel Mkandawire and Carol Banda.