Black History Month 2013 pays homage to past through culture in Manchester

By Tom Dyson

Powerful and bold theatre, biting comedy and an aural feast of the best black music are just some of the cultural delights that Black History Month 2013 still has to offer.

Already well on its way in Manchester, there is still time to see an array of theatrical, cultural and comedy events for the remaining days of this month.

Taking place every October and currently in its 26th year, Black History Month takes an in-depth look at the stories of black icons and leaders and how we can learn and appreciate more about their lasting impact on our culture.

Many features of this event encapsulate the politics of race and takes a trip back in time to the black statesmen and activists who we still revere today.

The highly successful Zhe [Noun] Undefined comes to Manchester this Friday at Oxford Road’s Contact Theatre.

Tonderai Munyevu, a 30-year-old African-born performer, will be one of the main actors appearing in this gripping and telling tale of two British Africans at difficult times of their lives when still trying to find themselves and discover their own identities.

It is a story of agony and ecstasy told through music and dance, and Mr Munyevu gives us his own interpretation of what this stage production means.

“It is really about two people’s lives and the events which have occurred in those lives,” he said.

“It also details the challenges people face in adulthood and how they come to terms with them.

“The great thing about this performance is that it combines migration, theatre and storytelling. It’s almost like a chorus piece. The important thing is that this is a true story.”

Mr Munyevu, who grew up in London, has been successful in devising Shakespearean plays such as Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Madness of Hamlet, both of which have received critical acclaim. He has even devised an adaptation of Shakespearean work from a Zimbabwean context.

The multi-talented singer and dancer has an uplifting charisma which shines through his work as he is able to play as many characters as he likes, giving this ubiquitous quality a shaper edge. He is adept at the rapid transformation into other characters.

What message does Mr Munyevu hope people will take from Zhe [Noun] Undefined?

He said: “No matter who you are or where you come from, you are no different from anybody else. I come from an African background and I know there are obstacles to overcome but at the end of the day we should be no different.”

As well as touring in Manchester, this production will be visiting Birmingham and London.

This show will be at the Contact Theatre at 7:30pm on Friday October 25 and Saturday October 26 – £9 full, £5 concession.

Known as the godfather of hip-hop, Jonzi D has brought British rapping to new levels. He developed the Hip Hop theatre and then the Lyrikal Fearta in 1995 and has toured regularly around the UK.

He has set up many projects since graduating from the London Contemporary Dance School and when performing his shows he combines poetry, performance, drama and music and is not to be missed.

Jonzi D’s Lryikal Fearta presents an eclectic mix of music, poetry and politics with the occasional comedy thrown in for good measure. Featuring his solo, The Letter, a piece of work which explores new and old hip hop, he brings together a colourful range of animation, accompanied by the Speakers Corner Quartet.

Jonzi D: Lyrikal Fearta is at the Contact Theatre at 8pm on Wednesday October 23 and Thursday October 24 – £11 full, £6 concession.

Gina Yashere adds her exciting collection of satirical stories in an action packed stand up show.

The 39-year-old has been entertaining people with her sharp observational wit since 1996 and has proved popular with the public, appearing on television programmes such as The Lenny Henry Show and Live at the Apollo.

She rounds up a year’s worth of stories and experiences and candidly gives the audience some anecdotal tales from her own culture which break boundaries. Her well-crafted jokes about ethnicity bring a different dimension to comedy and should be well worth a watch.

Gina Yashere will be at the Contact Theatre at 8pm on Friday October 25 – £15 full, £10 concession.

Black Sound Series forms the closing ceremony of what has been extraordinary month in black history. It is an aural feast of entertainment to end proceedings and features some of the best black rhythms and sounds.

There will be a range of theatre performers and hip-hop artists who will provide an upbeat ending as they put on an animated show with an underlying story about black origins.

Black Sound Series will be at the Contact Theatre at 8pm on Saturday October 26 – £11 full, £6 concession.

Over the last month we have seen landmark performances from creative groups and individuals, some who have provided us with light hearted joy, others who have tried to get that important message across through the use of music and dance.

However uplifting or poignant the performances have been, we have learnt something about the history and origins of Black culture, all told in extremely different ways.

20 Stories High: Melody loses her Mojo kicked off the event on the first day of the month with a compelling and challenging story which brought together theatre, dance and puppetry.

Marika Sherwood, a leading historian and author, gave a talk about the struggles in Manchester before and after the Pan-African congress and turned out to be one of the early standout events.

Having written many books and articles on the subject of race and colonisation, Ms Sherwood discussed the struggle against racism and the quest for freedom and independence.

Her book, Manchester & the 1945 Pan-African Congress, stemmed from a long history of her own experiences, as she revealed:

“I was a very innocent 20-year-old and I wanted to leave Australia which is where I originally emigrated to. I didn’t even know what racism was but whilst I was in New Guinea, it was made clear that I had to protect myself against black men. I was so shocked, I wasn’t expecting to hear that.”

She met a lot of people and learned a lot about the black activists and stressed that there wasn’t enough research going on in Manchester where many Africans were living since the late 18th century.

The remaining past events include Young Enigma: Polari Palace, Young Identity: Mirrors and The 7th Black & Asian Writer’s Conference and Festival.

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