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Mama Afrika: A playground for acrobats

Friday January 08 2021
mama pic
By Diana Elinam

Nobody ever says this, but being at a circus show is like eating a delicious meal but only with your eyes. This was a feeling I vividly felt as my eyes were feasting on the highly entertaining and jaw-dropping Mama Afrika show currently unfolding in Dar es Salaam.

With rave reviews coming from all corners of the city, I knew that this was a circus of a lifetime – the kind that you will be remiss to miss out on.

Papa Afrika also known as Winston Ruddle, the name behind the Mama Afrika show returned to Dar es Salaam after previously staging shows in 2008 and 2012. Papa Afrika says, “We returned to Dar because it’s the home where our Mama Afrika group originates from, so it was only right to pay homage.”

“With lockdowns currently in place in many parts of the world, Mama Afrika is the only live circus show in currently still thriving,” he adds.

If you’re at a circus show, one thing to anticipate is a bowl of energetic performances, the edge-of-the-cliff kind of displays that will have you breathing with bated breath.

When I attended the Mama Afrika show on its last week of display, as part of the crowd the first act I saw was an opening dance followed by a unicycle performance so enthralling that the audience as if on cue all applauded.

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After these two acts more activities such the Zaouli dance from West Africa, the contortion – where one guy folded and bent himself in ways beyond human explanation, all unfolded. These were followed by a guy doing all sorts of dexterities on a ladder guy, he was immediately followed by hand-to-hand acrobatics, where able men carried one another, mostly supporting each other with hands, one went a step further and only relied on his head to do the carrying for him – it was a scene only imaginable in movies.

After a 20-minute break, the show resumed to the display of a bouncing ball lady who dribbled more than six balls at once, it was a performance that required not only focus, but nimbleness to pull it off.

This act was followed by a Zulu traditional dance and then a stilt dance that got the crowd on the edge of their seats. Other different displays such as the Icarian game performed by the Ally brothers, where a 14-year-old Ali broke a record by going over his supposed goal of 25 backflips, before his brother added six more had the audience stunned. These two left the crowd speechless and were immediately followed by the hula-hoop lady who hula-hooped so effortlessly on top of a moving ball.

The closing act of the eventful night saw was a dish spinning gentleman accompanied by dancing ladies. It would be regrettable if I omit to mention the clown that often hopped onto the stage and made everyone happy with laughter, he would call people on stage and instruct them to do silly moves, this was a breather which brought a light atmosphere into the circus tents where were the hearts of the audience were racing from all the adrenaline rushing activities being showcased.

The Beat spoke to the hand-to-hand team comprising of the pioneer student of the Mama Afrika team, Fadhili Ramadhan, and his teammate Ibrahim Job.

As I walked into the circus environs, I saw the duo training and they caught my attention almost immediately. Fadhili was already in the craft by the age of 14. His teammate Job says he learns a lot from Fadhili, and they work well together, watch and understand each other, which avoids any unnecessary accidents during performance. They pointed out that they usually train an hour before the show during show days and when there is no show, they train five days a week and take the weekends off to rejuvenate their bodies.

The Beat also spoke to Zaina Jaffery a.k.a the juggler, who revealed that the secret behind her success, is hardwork. “I work out a lot and that’s why I confidently juggle the mats and the tables without any fear, I am also in love with what I do. I derive immense success and joy in this craft,” she said.

Zaria’s performances have not been without accidents, she’s had a table fall on her before but her persistence is what has made her stick to the craft.

The crowd was not left behind, Marystella Swai who was enjoying the display, says the show was thrilling and worth every penny.

9-year-old Valentin Iggui was among those called on stage by the clown. He shared his thoughts about the show, “I was scared at first but my confidence grew and I followed the clown’s instruction and it turned out to be a lot of fun.” Valentin got big cheers from the crowd because he exuded confidence.

Valentin’s 12-year-old sister Liza Iggui was with him at the show. She said she equally enjoyed the show because it was different from a circus show they saw in France. With this particular show, the performers were all smiling and happy and another added appeal was the lack of animals on stage.

The production manager of the group Mr. Tumaini Mbutu pointed out they had plenty of students and the performing group was filled with mostly upcoming artists given opportunities to showcase their talents.

At the conclusion of the show, everyone danced to several beats including Miriam Makeba a.k.a. Mama Afrika’s ‘Patapata’.

A circus show is where one cannot risk to put their eye off the ball, lest they risk a misstep, equally for the spectators, it’s a riveting scene demanding of full attention.

Mama Afrika show is still ongoing until January 10, 2021 at the Jeshini Grounds in Masaki.