When the Lumumba Theatre Group performed at Kamani auditorium recently as one of the numerous programmes under the Delhi International Arts Festival, they filled the air with cheer as the five troupe members played several percussion instruments and sang, accompanying the music with swinging and dancing and mimed scenes.
As his fellow performers zipped on and off the stage making quick costume changes, it was Kudra Abdallah who kept the rhythm going, literally, never leaving the stage once his wheelchair was brought in and slipped onto the drummer’s seat. Playing a variety of drums, Kudra moved from instrument to instrument arrayed across the stage with the ease of a pro and the energy of youth — qualities that characterised the whole show.
The young artistes, based in Dar-es-Salam, have been trained in various performing arts since childhood. As Habibu Msami, the group’s leader and a representative of Tanzania’s Ministry of Culture, pointed out, dancing and singing are an integral part of life in Tanzania and other African nations. The members of Lumumba have also been trained by experts from the College of Arts and the University of Dar es Salam, he explained.
Percussion was melody and melody was percussion this invigorating evening. Even the xylophone and the woodwind instrument were used rhythmically, as were the voices, with singers blending pitches in impressive harmonies without dependence on a melodic base. The dance movements, with every part of the body vibrating, were yet completely controlled. We in India, who like to find underlying meanings, might associate this constant movement with the way every part of the cosmos moves in its orbit, never crossing individual boundaries.
Speaking of India, among familiar accoutrements were the anklets of the dancers. Some looking like seed pods worn like ghunguroos, they jingled and rattled with a quiet enthusiasm. Mwasiti Hussain, the lone woman, drew attention with her cheerful stage presence, luminous eyes, sheer stamina and skill. She performed the fire balancing dance with her male counterparts to bring the programme to a rousing finale. Ibrahimu Allu, Dyuto Komba (the director) and Shabani Rashidi were the other members of the team.
Tanzania’s Deputy High Commissioner in India explained later that the song with lighted torches, in which the words “Afrikana” and “Asia” were discernible, was about bonding between the continents. On the significance of the torches, he said, “We have a freedom torch which is run in the country every year by youth.” The torch lit by the Lumumba artistes signified a similar mood of celebration and friendship.
The Kamani audience that day was like the proverbial grain of cumin in a camel’s mouth. While the Indian Council for Cultural Relations reportedly arranged the group’s travel at the last minute, neither it nor the DIAF was able to fill the hall. Informing schools and residential institutions of the city might have yielded results. With youngsters in the audience there would have been more likelihood of the audience joining in at the invitation of the performers. As the Deputy High Commissioner noted, whenever the troupe performs in any African country, the demarcation between stage and audience is not pronounced as in a proscenium, and the atmosphere much more lively.
But, to borrow from another Indian saying, those who saw it — as also those who missed it — were destined to do so.