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Time of the Writer: Stories for children featuring Gcina Mhlope, Mabhengu, Nomsa Mdlalose and Mshai Mwangola

Time of the Writer: Stories for children featuring Gcina Mhlope, Mabhengu, Nomsa Mdlalose and Mshai Mwangola - 2.0 out of 5 based on 1 review

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Nomsa Mdlalose, Gcina Mhlope, Mabhengu and Mshai Mwangola regaled stories to children at the Time of the Writer 2014

The Centre for Creative Arts started an inspired new event during this year’s Time of the Writer Festival by introducing a Children’s Storytelling Matinee. Featuring the amazing traditional instrument musician Mabhengu, world-renowned South African storyteller Gcina Mhlope,  fellow South African writer / raconteur Nomsa Mdlalose and Kenyan oraturist  and performer Mshai Mwangola, children and their parents enjoyed two hours of traditional oral culture

Storytelling has changed its nature. Where once it was the preserve of the women, the keepers of the traditional tales who explained the customs, mores and mythologies of the people, an oral tradition, passed unerringly from one generation to the other, it has been absorbed into the contemporary ways of communicating. Books, films, cartoons and comics – they all tell stories and children these days are treated to the wide range of storytelling styles from an early age.

The globalisation of the world means that the stories our children listen to come from all the corners of the earth; those specific to ancient cultures or ethnicities are transcribed, mutated or lost in the infinity of material. Yet there is something utterly spell-binding about sitting at the feet of a keeper of stories, one who can transport us into a world long gone and recreate the magic of listening to the mother tongue tell of how it was.  

Expert on traditional instruments, Mabhengu impressed with her feisty nature and confidence; her supple wrist tapping out the ground rhythm and notes on the long bow while she sang with a voice saturated with history. From eShowe, Mabhengu is a musician and storyteller, adept at the mouth organ, played maskandi style, the mouth bow and the long bow. Her pleated skirt, made of softened cow hide, peeped from under a fabric apron, her elegant ankles showed above the signature tackies. She tapped her feet in time to her songs and the mesmeric trance rhythms filled the auditorium. It was a lovely way to start the session.

Gcina Mhlope was the next storyteller; her style is warm, open hearted. She told her tale with her dark deep voice raised in powerful chant or bubbling with girlish glee. Her body has a natural inclination to extend the story she tells; she hops, creeps, pounces and gesticulates, skilfully tucking her microphone under her arm to give her freedom of movement as well as vocal amplification. Dressed in an off-the-shoulder white raw silk dress, with Xhosa trimmings, her headdress gaily wrapped around her head, she told a long story about a beautiful woman who was blessed by a generous husband and how this woman discovered the art of making crafts and so encouraged her whole village to become craftspeople and traders. A simple linear story, it came alive through the energy and enthusiasm of Gcina Mhlope.

Gentle Nomsa Mdlalose, also from South Africa, held the storyteller’s baton; her tale revolved around a girl so beautiful that her parents could not allow her to be seen during the day. Intertwined in the story were a number of different elements from other stories from the Bantu tradition – the girl slips into the river where she lives until she is given her cow-skin back and is able to return to the village. Later she becomes part of a constellation of stars and Mdlalose reminded the children that if you are determined and true, no-one can stop you from achieving your aim.

The gracious and lively Mshai Mwangola from Kenya chose to tell the story of Fariwa, taken from Ghanaian dramaturge Efua Sutherland, who was a well known collector and performer of traditional stories, giving them a modern twist.  This story took as many threads as a reed mat and wove them all together and Mwangola’s beautiful voice and storytelling style did the complex tale justice. The session was completed with some more music from Mabhengu and Mhlope’s gathering of the under 12’s in the audience to create the python mentioned in Mwangola’s tale.

It is hoped that the CCA and Time of the Writer will make the story telling session a regular feature; it speaks to the need to go back to the purest and most compelling way to impart knowledge and entertainment – the oral tradition.     

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