Kenyan Encounters – from the Mau Mau to Obama

Denmark-based art collective Monsuna are not unfamiliar with embarking on cross-cultural journeys. A few years ago they travelled around the Baltic Sea with the Everybody dies for a reason performance. This year they embarked on an even further artistic expedition taking Kuldip Sondhi’s classic drama Encounter and bringing it into a contemporary context via none other than Karen Blixen and Barack Obama. This might sound awful ambitious. And it is. As Bjarne B Stendahl, the play’s director and dramaturg, explains: ‘’We focus on the understanding and negotiation of history and what it means in the meeting between our cultures. Through the performance of Encounter we wish to question the hegemonic history of African history.’’

Through a montage performance of cultural meetings, Encounter takes the audience deep into Kenyan jungle where the Mau Mau are fighting British colonial power. And the Encounter performance itself constitutes a cultural get-together in several ways. The Monsuna performers themselves originate from 7 different countries, incl. Kenya, and the music that accompanies the drama is mix of modern Kenyan and African stars like K-Shaka and Fally Ipupa and ‘’classics’’ from other genres such as like Benny Goodman and Schubert.

A selection of Encounter performers

The idea for the performance came after watching  Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman at the National Theatre in London: ‘’I then started to dig into African acts and found Kuldip Sondhi’s drama. When I read further about the Mau Mau movement and the independence war, the play just got more exciting,’’ Bjarne tells us. The current debate and court case in the UK about paying compensation to the Mau Mau torture victims – that included Obama’s grandfather – just brought additional spice to the drama and a way of ensuring its relevance for a 2012 audience.

Encounter will open at the Vildskud Festival for Independent Theater in Copenhagen on August 16. Monsuna is currently working on subsequently to tour with the performance, incl. bringing the drama ‘’home’’ to Kenya. We sure do hope to encounter them at the Horn of Africa.

Some of the Kenyans who are taking the British government to court over alleged torture during the Mau Mau rebellion.

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