Aleya Kassam, Laura Ekumbo and Anne Moraa knew they had hit on something deep, devotional and very special when they began working together to write a play that became one of the best productions of 2018.
‘Brazen’ was an all-female showcase of thespians, presented as the Fourth Edition of Too Early For Birds, the brand new (since 2017) theatre company that was making one profoundly political hit after another under the direction of Wanjiku Mwawuganga and started by Abu Sense and Ngartia Bryan. But ‘Brazen’ was also where the LAM Sisterhood began.
“We didn’t get registered as a company until after ‘Brazen’, but now it’s official,” says Aleya. The LAM stands for Laura, Aleya and Moraa Anne. “Now we are not under TEFB, although we are still close. Now we are performing as the LAM Sisterhood,” Aleya adds.
The three women had admitted soon after Brazen was staged in front of full-house crowds at Kenya National Theatre, that writing collectively wasn’t easy. But then neither is writing as a solo creative. But as these three have an undeniable chemistry and infectious energy, it is no surprise that they have continued writing together. What’s more, they have incorporated Wanjiku into their ‘sisterhood’.
All four women were performing together this past weekend with the people’s drummer, Willie Rama, who has been known to work with thespians like Sitawa Namwalie in the past. Their staging ground was Kaloleni Social Hall and their producer was the Book Bunk, the new organization committed to upgrading and revitalizing Kenya’s library services.
“LAM Sisterhood would have performed in the [Kaloleni] Library but we knew it would be too small to hold all the children we anticipated would be coming for ‘KaBrazen’,” said Angela Wacuka, cofounder with Wanjiru Koinange of the Book Bunk. “And since the Social Hall was just next door, we decided to hold their program there,” added Wanjiru.
Both were delighted with the massive turnout of children between 5 and 10 who came to ‘KaBrazen’, the show the Sisterhood conceived especially for children as a spinoff from their original, more adult production, Brazen. So was the quintet of performers who were just as animated and passionate about their production of KaBrazen as they had been with Brazen.
“I think there might have been a few three-year-olds there as well,” commented Wanjiru whose Book Bunk also provided a free lunch for the children after the performance.
What was especially impressive about the KaBrazen show was the way all four female actors interacted with the kids, drawing upon the child-like joy that each one clearly has for storytelling. They started off on their curtain-less stage with a lively sound-check that had each woman adjusting her wireless mic as well as her voice to be loud enough to be easily heard by an ocean of children scheduled to be seated either on pillows or soft grass mats.
But the children were just as excited about the show as the actors. So very few in the crowd staued seated. That’s because the sound technician had also been playing wonderful rhythmic pop music that the kids (most of whom were boys) were vigorously dancing and doing acrobatics to.
When they were finally advised to be seated, the kids were again on their feet; this time it was because Moraa had called them all to join with her to enact the movements of an elephant, snake and lion with the appropriate sounds shouted out at the same time. The children loved it and the rest of the performance was a breeze.
The children were on their toes, attentive to each woman’s dramatic interpretation of either Lwanda Magere, Mekatilili or Selina. The only problem came when Laura’s performance mixed more English than Swahili, unlike either Moraa’s or Wanjiku’s. Her body language was just as animated as theirs. And all three had been directed by Aleya to throw themselves into their performances in ways that kids could easily identify with. Indeed, all three saw the actors breaking down barriers between the artist and the audience. Only that the apparent language barrier was compounded by someone getting the bright idea to begin face painting while the show was still running.
In any case, for two hours straight, more than 200 children were charmed and delighted by the LAM Sisterhood, accompanied by Willie’s percussion and the group’s simultaneous use of indigenous instruments which enhanced the musical effect of the show. Bravo LAM Sisterhood.