“Freedom is coming tomorrow!” exclaims the students of Howard University’s Department of Theatre Arts in Sarafina! a musical written by Mbongeni Ngema and directed by Eric Ruffin that explores the South African Soweto Uprising in 1976. A politically moving, historical reference to a time of Apartheid in South Africa, the Howard University students journey through a realistic view of our world’s past.
June 16, 1976, the youth of Soweto marched in solidarity for their disapproval of learning the Afrikaans language (a dutch language imposed on students during the Apartheid movement). Forty years later, the students of Howard University paid homage to this event through the artistry of fine art as a means of showcasing the stark reality of this uprising.
Through symbolism, imagery and visuals of remembrance, Sarafina! calls for a self-exploration of how the youth of South Africa clamored for their rights. In a day and age of police brutality, and the loss of our bodies, the musical’s journey reveals the true power of unity and is a constant reminder of how, we as citizens, can change our society for the better.
A means of resistance through intellectual, artistic work is embodied throughout the cast of Sarafina! Kamau Mitchell, who plays Silence, defines a moment as he preps for a monologue and brings forth an authenticity of a true, emerging artist. His tall stature lit with a backlight dramatically emphasizes unsettling words. The cast reconnects, in an assembly with vocals claiming, “This is Africa!” The cast has a sure way of allowing individuals their spotlights in the midst of ensemble choreography created by Jakari Sherman.
Taylor Burrell, a junior acting major, who plays Magundane, has an extremely beautiful voice, that demands your attention. Most notably, through her charisma and facial expressions.
Through clarity of diction, strong vocal chords, and dancing that directly portray the message of each scene: the cast continues with constant energy. Their ability to dig deep within themselves is impressive and provides assurance in their characters.
The cast depicts the students of South Africa, its culture, language and even important figures. Nelson Mandela discussed in the midst of governmental issues was also interwoven within the beauty of the South African culture. Most memorable, the gumboot dance portrayed by the male members in the cast, truly captured the rhythm and importance of the dance. This particular dance tributes to the miners in South Africa, who generated this dance due to the prohibition of drumming.
Sarafina! is a must-see production with visuals that last a lifetime, along with constant reminders of the struggles South Africans endured. The importance of world history and understanding cultures is clearly exhibited amongst the Howard University Department of Theatre Arts. It is a pleasure to witness youth engage in a demanding artform, all the while learning and enjoying the depth of it.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
Sarafina! plays through March 12, 2016 at Howard University’s Department of Theatre Arts performing at the Ira Aldridge Theater – 2455 6th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.
Johh Stoltenberg reviews ‘Sarafina!’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.