I performed at the SIGANA INTERNATIONAL STORYTELLING FESTIVAL in Nairobi (8 – 14 June 2016) alongside tellers from Tanzania (Christa D Komba), Uganda (Andrew Lwanga Ssebaggala) and Kim Seung-ah from South Korea. Zerihun Birehanu, a lecturer at Adis Adaba University School of Arts, was an active observer who led an excellent story-related theatre workshop; what he saw at the Festival inspired him, and we all hope his dream of a Story Festival in Adis Adaba will materialise in 2017!

The Kenyan tellers were led by festival director Alumbe Hellen (whom I met at the 2013 Kanoon Festival in Iran) and included John Titi (Video) , Wangari Grace and the effervescent Onyango Owino (whose energy and humour levels reminded me of Bobby Norfolk!)  as well as theatre studies students from the Nairobi University who made a most encouraging debut.  

The African telling I saw made exciting use of percussive accompaniment – our shows in schools had two drummers, those at the Cultural Centre four. Tellers frequently broke into song to punctuate their performance.  As the songs usually featured a catchy refrain (which the tellers delighted in teaching us!) or a call-and-response element, audience participation was guaranteed, generating a joyous, and often uplifting, feeling to the performance.

John Titi’s version of the Two Goats on the Bridge (link to follow) makes wonderful use of the singing as he gently walks us through the story and I love the back-to-back dancing with which it joyfully concludes.  I saw him tell it three times – at the Centre, in a kindergarten and a Library, and he played it beautifully every time. At the kindergarten I suggested we do a tandem (Aesop’s fable of the Sun and Wind) and we had a lot of fun, after minimal rehearsal (in an adjoining room while Seung Ah told her second story of the session!) improvising in bi-lingually (John in Swahili).  Sadly, as kids grow up, it seems they come to view Swahili as the language of guards and gatekeepers and prefer to converse in English.  Apart from the impact on their awareness of their own culture, Swahili is the lingua franca of East Africa, so we felt good presenting an African and a European side-by-side as friends, with both languages on par.  Certainly the youngest members of the Centre appreciated having the Swahili to help them enjoy the story!

Please note that the festival has faced considerable financial difficulties from 2016 onwards and several tellers I respect have shared graphic stories relating to very poor accommodation, food and telling conditions, as well as issues regarding non-payment.  If you are invited, I urge to get written confirmation regarding all aspects of your visit.  - Roger 01/20

A 3-day excursion
on safari

at the
Masai Mara was of course fantastic!