After four long years and a sold-out Broadway season, the critically acclaimed Cirque Mother Africa is finally returning to Australia. Combining both classic and new acts, it’s a celebration of African cultures featuring everything from singing and dancing to acrobatics and contortion. Perhaps what’s most important is the way Cirque Mother Africa showcases the continent in a way that’s never been done before. Female lead singer Normah Mkwanazi, who has been a part of the show since its conception, is passionate about this positive portrayal of her homeland and the way that it informs audiences through sheer fun.
“It’s a journey to Africa that’s full of energy, love and joy… and everyone is smiling. It’s a place where the impossible is very possible. It’s like we are showing off our cultures to each other and saying, ‘My culture is the best!’ By the end of the show it just becomes a pot of lots and lots of joy. We really have so much fun and that’s why I think it’s easy for the audience to connect with us and enjoy it. We also involve the audience as well – we don’t perform for them, we perform with them.”
Generally speaking, the majority of the world is unaware of just how many different cultures there are in Africa. Furthermore, many outsiders have a very narrow, negative and misinformed perspective on what occurs there. Mkwanazi hopes that the show helps to combat this perception for its audiences.
“I hope that they will learn a bit more about Africa – the colourful costumes, the songs, the cultures and the languages. Also, that Africa is not all about poverty, people suffering and fighting. On the television all I see are skinny children, which is happening, but why can’t we see African people doing traditional dance – happy and smiling? We don’t just have people who are hungry and killing each other. With the show, we get to show people that there is also a joyful side of Africa. We have some of the most joyous moments that the world can imagine.”
Cirque Mother Africa is so awe-inspiring that Mkwanazi still finds herself spellbound by the performances, even after being involved in the production for so long.
“I find myself watching the show from backstage, even if it’s something that I’ve seen for the past nine years. The acts are so amazing and so unbelievable. Some look impossible but are very possible, like our contortionist from Kenya, who we call The Snake Man. I find myself watching him during rehearsal, and at the same time, during soundcheck or when I’m warming up in the dressing room, the guys stand there every time. We are a bunch of talented artists and we appreciate each other and never get tired of watching each other.”
Considering the popularity of the production, audiences clearly can’t get enough of these performers. Mkwanazi recalls one particular season in Hollywood that has continued to resonate with her.
“We would have three shows in one day and there was almost always a full house. In one day we would have 3,000 people watching us and we’d always have a standing ovation.”
Mkwanazi mentions that she may soon be leaving the show to pursue a solo career, but she’s cherished the time she’s had with Cirque Mother Africa until now.
“With seven countries, all with different cultures, languages, food and dress, it’s been a wonderful journey and I’ve learned a lot. It’s going to be really hard to leave.”
Cirque Mother Africa at the State Theatre on Saturday July 26, and also playing at Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith on Friday August 1; Newcastle Civic Theatre on Saturday August 2; Revesby Workers Club on Sunday August 3; Cessnock Performing Arts Centre on Monday August 4; Dee Why RSL on Tuesday August 12; Blacktown Workers Club on Sunday August 17 and Laycock Street Theatre, Gosford on Monday August 18. Full venue details and tickets available online.