The born-free generation is tapping into the story of Chris Hani using the language, style and culture of contemporary hip-hop and rap.
Twelve creatives from around South Africa, who were studying for a two-year Market Theatre laboratory course, delved into Hani’s life story and decided to tell it their way.
Director Linda Tshabalala said the show, now playing to big houses at the National Arts Festival, was inspired by West End hit Hamilton, which is told through contemporary style.
The cast of Hani: The Legacy are aged 22 to 28, half of them men, and all are musicians, dancers and actors from community theatre groups such as Sibikwa Arts Centre in Benoni. Two of the crew have degrees.
Tshabalala, choreographer Teresa Phuti Mojela, actor Matthews Rantsoma and teacher Leile Henriques said they used the internet and Hani’s contemporaries to research Hani’s life.
Every cast member was involved in the process and they discovered new material, for example that Hani studied at Fort Hare but his graduation ceremony was held at Rhodes, which did not allow his parents Gilbert and Mary Hani to attend.
The result is a musical theatre collage which traces Hani’s life in phases, from growing up in Sabelele near Cofimvaba to his assassination on April 10 1993 in Boksburg.
“We discovered that he was a great man whose story could be played using different styles and with big dance sections. His story was sad. People expected him to be president one day but we don’t want people to cry forever.
“Chris Hani had a great sense of humour so we, as a young theatre group, decided to look at his story through our eyes.”
“We had no script. It was all workshopped. We have serious skills. We are not formally trained, but we all sing, we all dance, we all act.”
One style which was not changed was that of African choral song which, in the piece, heralds the birth of Hani in the rural Eastern Cape.
The crew said that through the creative process of telling Hani’s story, they had honed and harnessed “a different energy, a new-generation style which comes from #FeesMustFall, from a clever, critical, yet open-minded youth”.
Rantsoma said: “It was a nice process getting to know the man, and we were ready to tell the story. We are the youth with things to say about Chris Hani.”
Rantsoma bursts into rap from the show: “Chris Hani was a soldier and a peaceful man/ He stood for what he believed and he did what he can/ He wanted to be a priest but his dad wasn’t a fan/ Reminded him of the wars fought by his clan/ In ‘67 he joined the ANCYL/ In 68 he matriculated at Lovedale/ In 67 the creation of Umkonto weSizwe/ From a young age he fought for lo lizwo.”
Choreographer Mojela said it was fascinating to marry the story line with music and dance.
She and others drew inspiration from J Cole, Ambitious, Stinky Fingers and DJ Proverb.
Her dance teachers were Gregory Maqoma, who heads up the dance portfolio on the festival artistic committee, and choreographer and dance star Dada Masilo.
“We wanted people to hear the rap so we slowed the tempo. There is lots of dab, popping, some contemporary dance, and African contemporary.”
The crew said: “Chris Hani started a struggle. He had a dream of creating a free democratic SA, where everything was equal, no superiors no inferiors, everything is equal regardless of skin colour or where you come from.
“As youth we draw a lot of energy from what he was fighting for, we must carry it on.”
Rantsoma said: “What we see today is exactly what Chris was trying to avoid. He was not apologetic, he put it straight, he imagined this country with no corruption, no corrupt leaders and no crime. But today we have a lot of that.”
Tshabalala and Henriques said: “But we also must not stay bitter for too long. We need to move forward – not forgetting, but still moving on.”
Rantsoma again slips into rap: “We talk about our issues, they don’t care/ When they talk about the past, we weren’t there.”
The cast said youth often felt trapped by the struggle generation of their parents, who told their children what to become in life.
“We are portrayed as feel-good millennials unable to focus on anything. Our answer is we can. The youth of today have thoughts about how things should be run. Hani may be part of an old story but we can find a way of taking it forward.”
While the crew want to take the show around the world, they first want to put it on in Sabelele, Hani’s home village. — email@example.com