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A tribute to the father of township theatre

2017-12-10 15:00
Gibson Kente
Gibson Kente (Photo: City Press)

Johannesburg - This year, the Soweto Theatre is paying homage to legend Gibson Kente with a show celebrating his musicals.

Friday marked the start of a musical tribute at the Soweto Theatre in honour of Gibson Kente, the father of township theatre. Running for 10 days, the new production showcases some of the playwright and composer’s most memorable musicals.

Makhaola Ndebele, director of The Gibson Kente Tribute Show, said the Soweto Theatre had instituted an annual end-of-year programme to honour the country’s arts legends who made their mark in the industry.

“The programme began in 2016 with a tribute to the iconic Manhattan Brothers. For 2017, it is befitting to pay tribute to Kente, a man who made an indelible mark in South African music, theatre and education,” he said.

Kente, who hailed from Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape, came to Johannesburg in 1963 where he produced his first play, Manana – The Jazz Prophet, which featured celebrated musicians Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu.

The play was about Manana, a gospel preacher and prophet, whose main concern was to spread the Christian faith.

Kente’s works, now legendary, draw on township culture, slang, fashion and topical issues of the day.

Ntokozo Vilakazi, who plays the role of the schoolgirl narrating Kente’s story, said: “I’m a Soweto girl, born and raised, from the Kenza City – otherwise known as White City. This is the first big production that I am in, and I’m looking forward to debuting on an international stage in the place where I was born – Soweto!”

Nomsa Mazwai, general manager of the Soweto Theatre, said the playhouse was built because of a long-established theatre culture in the township.

“The culture of theatre was formed and maintained for some time by Kente,” she said, adding that the show was about paying homage to a man who had made a tremendous contribution to South African theatre and performance art.

Mazwai said Kente discovered and mentored people who rose to become some of the country’s most famous artists and entertainers. He did so from his garage in Dube, Soweto.

Some of his star pupils include Brenda Fassie, Nomsa Nene and Mbongeni Ngema. He also wrote music for artists such as Mbulu and Miriam Makeba.

Kente passed away in 2004.

“He may be gone, but his legacy is eternal,” Mazwai said.

The Gibson Kente Tribute Show is currently playing at the Soweto Theatre until December 17.

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