Friday, 6 October 2017

'Lukumi A Dub Opera' Opens in Toronto with Much to Say About the World

By Neil Armstrong
A Review

From left: Eugene Williams, L'Antoinette Stines and d'bi.young anitafrika at the opening of 'Lukumi A Dub Opera' at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.

d'bi.young anitafrika speaking at the opening of 'Lukumi A Dub Opera' at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.

"Lukumi A Dub Opera," the final instalment of playwright d’bi.young anitafrika’s  Orisha Trilogy had its world premiere at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto on September 26 and runs until October 14.

She said the genesis of this musical came when she had a discussion with the production’s musical director and co-composer, Waleed Abdulhamid, about mining in the Congo and from that came the poem, “Digging.”

What anitafrika has done is to incorporate dub poetry, Jamaican culture and reggae into this large-scale musical which has a cast and crew of 20 Canadian and international black and diverse artists.

She notes that the musical is an exploration of “dub poetry as it meets Jamaican theatre aesthetics including Pantomime, performance poetry, myth and large scale political spectacle theatre.”

Anitafrika held the first workshop of it as “Bleeders” in August last year at the 2016 Summerworks Festival in Toronto.

Now she has brought onboard L'Antoinette Stines as choreographer/dramaturge and Eugene Williams as the director/dramaturge -- both are veterans of the Jamaican stage and dance theatre who flew in to make this production a reality. 

Their direction and choreography are flawless in the transitions, movements, and natural flow of dialogue in the production. 

The playwright said Williams’ “Anancy Method has been instrumental in further devising Lukumi” and Stines’ “L’Antech Method grounds the movement of the piece.”

Williams trusts that this “offering of d’bi’s characteristic distillation of Nation Language through ‘rhythmisized’ voice, body, movement and mythic admixture helps to energize the discourse on environmental and political issues and personal responsibility…” 

"Lukumi"draws our attention to major environmental, social and political issues like deforestation, climate change, war, famine, mining, and the role that we play in contributing to these adverse changes. It calls on our humanity/humaneness to become agents – custodians of the health of the earth -- to tackle these changes that are affecting our lives and those of many globally.

"Lukumi, formerly entitled Bleeders, is an Afro­futurist Dub Opera set in post­-apocalypse Turtle Island in 2167, 150 years after WWIII and 100 years after the Period of Explosions (PoE). The PoE saw the widespread meltdown of nuclear power plants – due to global environmental degradation – making the surface of the earth virtually uninhabitable. A group of freedom fighters called the Ahosi Mino live underground in intricate cave systems where they are viciously hunted by The One World Army. Having access to ancient knowledge, the Ahosi Mino must send a Lukumi on a vision quest, descending through nine layers of earth, to find humanity's redemption or to die trying," reads a description of the production.

"Lukumi is an experimentation & practical continuation of the work of my mother, Anita Stewart (one of the pioneers of Dub Poetry & graduate of Jamaica School of Drama). Her thesis, 'Dubbin Theatre: Moving Dub Poetry into A Theatrical Form' was written in 1985. In it, she theorizes that the principles of dub poetry she identifies in her paper can be transferred to theatre," says d'bi.young in the playwright's notes.

Williams notes that: "The protagonist (Lukumi - playwright surrogate) travels through a ritualized rite of passage wrestling issues of identity and 'a call to purpose’ in the midst of horrendous environmental destruction and growing infertility. The journey is framed within the world of Yoruba mythology where Lukumi's 'call' as an agent of renewal, invokes the myth of retrieval of the fundamental energy of the deity Oshun as a necessity for balance and order in the face of cosmic chaos." 

The production features the return of original cast members: Aisha Bentham, Najla Nubyanluv, Sashoya Shoya Oya, and d’bi.young anitafrika in the title role of Lukumi. It also includes Sedina Fiati, Uche Ama, Savannah Clarke, Daniel Ellis as Esu/Anancy/Alegba, and from Jamaica, the firebrand performer Julene Robinson. 

Abdulhamid, a 2017 Dora Award winner, is also the project’s co-composer and bassist. He is joined by the dynamic dub orchestra, The 333, featuring Patrick O’Reilly on guitar, Kanna Ody Anigbogu on vocals and master drummer Amara Kante on percussions. 

Rachel Forbes is the set and costume designer and Michelle Ramsay is the lighting designer. Juno-nominated Suba Sankaran of Autorickshaw completes the team as music notator.

It is a powerful musical that really beckons us to take action to protect the environment for seven generations to come. A must-see for anyone who advocates for a green economy.

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