Review: ‘Never Thought I was Black Till I Came to America’ (DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival)

The joyful spirit of Kenyan actress and storyteller, Anna Mwalagho filled the black box theater at Anacostia Arts Center as she performed her one-woman Black woman’s rites of passage message play, Never Thought I was Black Till I Came to America.

Anna Mwalagho. Photo courtesy of Anna Mwalagho.

DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival Board Chair Nana Malaya strongly recommended that I check out this short run engagement, and she was right on the money. Anna carries a suitcase on stage and declares, “I came to America to find my identity, only to learn that Africans were consigned to the bottom of the totem pole!”

In her native country Kenya, she is recognized as the Queen of spoken Afro beat and also “Mama Africa.” She has captivated many with her blend of spoken word, African dance, music, comedy, acting, and storytelling in an electrifying one-woman show.

Anna uses humor, dance, and at least three African dialects to weave a magical tale of transformation from a naive immigrant girl searching for the streets paved with gold in America and tracking down her relatives from New York to New Mexico.

She learned to use food as medicine to overcome her PTFD – Post Traumatic Food Disorder – by treating herself to Popeye’s Fried Chicken every weekend and reveling in devouring the skin, only to find that she had gained a few inches on her well-endowed hips. 

“I never knew I was sitting on a gold mine,” Anna declared as she also discovered that Big Butts were the ‘IN’ thing! She used that magnetic personality and hour glass figure to land an African American husband, who now manages her Mwalagho Productions company.

Anna Mwalagho in ‘Never Thought I was Black Till I Came to America.’ Photo courtesy of DC Black Theater & Arts Festival.

Before she completes her journey, she reverses roles and returns to Africa as an American Black woman determined to throw off the shackles of African stereotypes, as she travels the continent and learns of her true heritage of Kings and Queens such as Mansa Musa, Shaka Zulu, and Queen Ana Nzinga.

After her Mid-Passage teaching moment, Anna returned to what she does best – interpreting the woman’s role as cultural nurturer, as she demonstrates how true African queens use the lost art of foreplay and the use of dance, movement, food, sensuality, and community to bind relationships.

She ended her performance by extending the hand of fellowship and drawing four unsuspecting audience members under her spell as she taught them an African movement lesson in Kiswahili before dancing off the stage with her suitcase on her head. 

Never Thought I was Black Till I Came to America, directed by Mkawasi Mcharo Hall is an example of the DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival’s powerful one-night performances that are the strength of the festival’s fabric. For more offerings before the festival ends on July 7th, visit the DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival online.