Nkoto Malebye - Growing Branches with juicy fruitage

Mudaland funk music group Kwani Experience front lady Nkoto Malebye extending her branches by grooming a youth drama outfit to take over the world. The children, whose ages range between six and thirteen staged their premiere stage play at Narishe Primary School, a school whose staff component went through her grandmother's hands as a principal in another school.

The musical, which is divided into sub-genres of poetry, public speaking, dance and praise takes the children through self-inspiration that Nkoto says should groom them into responsible and proud African children. There are strong elements of Black Consciousness in the self-motivation that preludes the play. And the children looked very jovial and inspired at the premiere.

Nkoto is a graduate of the prestigious National School of the Arts (NSA) and a sought-after actor at the Market Theatre where she has starred in various plays, most notably Soweto Story alongside Aubrey Pooe. It was directed by veteran Malcolm Purkey who Nkoto says mentored her a lot as he advised her to find an agent who would scout auditions for her instead of her hoping to be unearthed in a disorganised fashion.

“I named this group Bana Ba Bongi (Children of Bongi) after my grandmother and mother who were both teachers and community builders. I feel that it’s my way of continuing that legacy”, she told the tens of first time patrons gathered before the inaugural gig. She has been funding the group from her pocket since it started and hopes to secure a sustainable funding model, even if it means a benefactor businessman or non-governmental funder.

Bana Ba Bongi were outstanding in their execution of the musical given that this is a sub-genre which is more difficult in the performance arts. It's not as straight forward as memorising your lines and rendering them infront of another character but often demands music skills. Assistant trainer Zakhona Mogane of Arts Explosion fame promised the parents attending that they should feel confident about their children not risking going astray.

“We put emphasis on teaching these kids about a religious lifestyle, about pride in themselves and respecting parents and society at large”, she said, adding that it is not only performance but life-skills as well which gets inculcated.

Patrons who attended the premiere included cosmetics entrepreneur Valerie Coglin who said she was impressed by the work that Nkoto and her troupe were doing. She added that there needs to be more emphasis on using the arts to transfer indigenous knowledge to the children as the future was with them.

Nkoto requested organisations and businesspeople committed to the arts to help by chirping in with funds to sustain the activities of the group. “Next month we must take them to Durban to perform and we would appreciate any help we can get”, she said.

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