Review | ‘Black Brass’ unpacks cultural baggage in heartfelt performance

Black Brass | State Theatre Centre of WA | til Mar 7 | ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Black Brass is an experience for the senses – on arrival at the theatre, you can smell home made foods from African cultures, there’s offerings of traditional meals, Ethiopian coffee, hair braiding and African artwork.

Written and performed by Mararo Wangai, and joined live on stage by musician Mahamudo Selimane, Black Brass is set in a recording studio on a circular rotating stage. This work unpacks the cultural baggage and heritage that is felt by many who immigrate from Africa to Australia through Wangai’s raw and heartfelt performance. Wangai’s writing is drawn from over twenty hours of interviews that he conducted with individuals from a diverse range of African countries who’ve come to call Australia home.

On one side of the stage we see inside the recording studio where Wangai enters with a vacuum on his back, cleaning the building at the end of the day. We see him talking to his wife on the phone and get insight into his life; working to send money home to his family, preparing for his Australian Visa interview, as well as the way in which he’s treated poorly by his boss. On the other side of the stage we see into the recording booth where Selimane plays his guitars. There is a window through to the other side (as you’d see in a recording studio) which allows the audience to view both sides of the set simultaneously. The entire performance remains in this set, there are no set changes and the whole show spans one evening.

Communicating only through music, Selimanes compositions, sung and played on guitar, combine languages that span the African continent including Shangana, Swahili, Kikuyu, Xhosa and more. Selimanes performance embodies memories of their African lives; one of the pieces draws on the sounds of rich and moving waters from his childhood. While we cannot understand the languages sung, the way the texts are delivered reinforce the universality of music and human emotion. The audience is carried through Wangai’s journey of settling in Australia with Selimanes moving compositions.

There is constant conversation between the music and the spoken performance; sometimes the music is accompanying Wangai’s story, and sometimes it’s communicating Wangai’s feelings better than any words can.

Black Brass invites us into the world of African cultures set against the background of Australian living. The two performers make a tight ensemble – their on stage chemistry is so refined, at times it feels as if they are one; bringing their respective elements of story telling together.

Catch Black Brass at the State Theatre Centre of WA Studio Underground until Sunday 7th March. For more info head to perthfestival.com.au

Claira Prider


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