The rooftop floors of Holiday Inn were coated with sand as the Dar es Salaam dew-drops draped the city in the twilight hours. The ethereal lighting glistened on the skin of the warrior-like performers as they greeted the audiences at the door decked in fashion designer Jocktan Makeke’s Mwiko regalia.
The sandy floor made way to a stage that upheld the sturdy skeleton of a local hut one would find in the village. We made a home in our seats for the next few hours as the drums began to beat and let the rhythm of Mwiko enchant us.
At the beginning we heard the voice of the narrator who walked us through the dual meaning of Mwiko, which is both taboo and a round heap cooking spoon. We scooped in his words and wet our appetite, as our palettes were embracing the relish. We then were introduced to the dynamic voice of Misonji Nkwabi who transported us into the main course of the performance, accentuating and fleshing out the poetry of Mwiko.
Devouring the notes with our senses, the pot was stirred and the audience, which included Deputy Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports Juliana Shonza, swallowed her song followed by the visuals of the cast dressed in earthy materials such as animal skin, disregarded fabrics, wood, palm tree leaves that we would typically find on a mkeka or ungo at home. They were adorned mwikos on their heads and necks, and specs of gold paint that added to the regality of their movement carrying both the taste of triumph and taboo notions.
The apparel that is Makeke’s Mwiko “album” (as he likes to refer to his designs since they are paired with a theme and performance) is an undeniable portal into his imagination and ingenuity. He chooses to focus on the form rather than functionality, despite the direction that previous coaches have tried to influence him in. His resilience has paved the way for him in the past to travel globally.
The production touched on voting in politics, where the audience witnessed a chorus holding up mwikos in the air and paraded the stage in Makeke’s pieces claiming that it is taboo to deprive people of their rights, chanting “NI MWIKO” showcasing the strength in numbers and community. Domestic violence also reared its head into the exhibition where the narrator urged the audience to let go of this taboo emphasizing that Tanzania is in a new era that no longer tolerates old taboos and injustices. The theme of community, trial, inner war and struggle was explored as the performers staged a succinctly powerful movement portion both in dance and stage combat where the enemies of Mwiko were met with defeat.
Makeke, who was recently appointed Tanzania’s Cultural Ambassador himself appeared in the piece towards the end as a character representing reform initially on the side of maintaining Mwiko mentalities only to be overpowered and reborn. The event had the crowd absorbed in a world of war and civility. Each step speaking to our senses. Playgoers were transported from a Dar es Salaam of downpour into a world of Jocktan Makeke’s own creation showering into our spirits and minds.
At the very end of the show both audience and performers alike came together and danced to the jazzy beat of the drums echoing ancient rhythms on that sandy roof. It was a not to miss event that would have had even the greatest skeptic of art and culture entranced.