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Bloke and His American Bantu comes to State Theatre

The South African State Theatre (SAST) in association with the Sello Maake kaNcube Foundation will be showcasing Bloke and His American Bantu.
Image supplied: Bloke and His American Bantu will be presented at the South African State Theatre
Image supplied: Bloke and His American Bantu will be presented at the South African State Theatre

The play is written by Siphiwo Mahala and directed by television and theatre actor and director Sello Maake kaNcube. Starring award-winning actors Josias Dos Moleele and Anele Nene, the two-hander deftly explores a simple friendship that led to international solidarity and cultural exchange between South Africa and Black America.

The show relives the camaraderie that developed between Bloke Modisane and Langston Hughes, writers and activists from Sophiatown, South Africa, and Harlem in New York, respectively. The story is set in the 1960s when Modisane was exiled in London, and Hughes through his contacts in the US organised a lecture series for him in various states across the US. This play traces the intellectual discourse that transpired between the two scribes from 1960 to 1967, a period during which they exchanged well over 50 letters.

William "Bloke" Modisane grew up in Sophiatown, a multiracial suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa. He joined Drum magazine as a journalist and became one of "the Drum Boys" during Drum's halcyon days in the 1950s, along with Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Es'kia Mphahlele and Lewis Nkosi. Modisane was also the jazz critic at Drum's sister publication, the weekly tabloid Golden City Post.

Modisane wrote a number of short stories that were published in Drum. He later found an outlet in acting. Becoming frustrated by the political situation and oppression under the apartheid regime, Modisane moved in 1959 to England, where in 1963 his autobiography, Blame Me On History, was published.

Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He is particularly known for his insightful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the ‘60s. He is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing. His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Hughes told the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including their love of music, laughter, and language itself alongside their suffering.

The character of Bloke Modisane is channelled through exquisite acting by the little-known but abundantly talented Nene, who hails from Durban. The 25-year-old Nene studied Performing Arts and Production and won the Ovation Award at the 2020 National Arts Festival for his one-man show The Hymns of a Sparrow.

Nene stars alongside multi-award-winning theatre and television writer, actor and director, Josias Dos Moleele, who plays the role of Hughes. Moleele appeared in two international movies – Invictus and a BBC television series Strike Back.

The chemistry between the two actors is palpable as they bring to life a slice of history that is little known about the bonds that connected the South African liberation struggle with black America. It shines the spotlight on the role of artists and intellectuals in forging international solidarity during one of the darkest hours in the history of South Africa.

Bloke and His American Bantu will run from 7 to 24 July 2022 with performances from Tuesdays to Sundays weekly. Tickets are available at R130 online, at the SAST or at Pick n Pay.


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