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Dr Mbongeni Ngema's film ASINAMALI, premiered as the closing film for 2017 at the 38th Durban International Film Festival. The film is the re-imagining of the seminal prison musical inspired by events surrounding the 1983 rent boycott in Lamontville Township, Durban. It was led by activist Msizi Dube.
One of South Africa’s greatest classic theatre productions, Asinamali has been immortalised in film.
The story follows Comrade Washington (Mbongeni Ngema) who returns to South Africa in 1986 to create a prison theatre project. Washington believes in the power of music and theatre to transform the lives of people: the political activists, the criminals and even the hardened racists of the apartheid regime. He guides the inmates, silenced by the brutal prison authorities, as well as their sadistic, ruthless warden Sergeant Mgwaqaza (Boitumelo Chuck Shisana) to act and sing out the stories of their lives.
The tale has its roots in the height of the rent boycotts of the 1980s. In Durban’s oldest township of Lamontville, a community leader called Msizi Dube rose up and launched a campaign under the slogan ‘Asinamali’ (we have no money). Dube was shot by unknown assassins in 1983. The story shows how the prisoners portrayed were all connected to Dube in some way, including Bheki (Luzuko Nqeto), who is in for attempting to murder Dube’s assassin.
Under Washington’s leadership, the prisoners recount through word, song and dance the events which have brought them there. The prison authorities are threatened by their play and they bring the project to an end, punishing the cast. The group continue to sing until the entire prison joins them in a chorus of protest. The authorities relent and let them perform the play, but without Soweto (Danica de la Rey), the love of Washington’s life. Having found her languishing in the prison he loses her again as she is transferred to death row at Pretoria Central for violent political crimes.
The ensemble cast also includes Congo Hadebe, Moses Mahlangu, Gerhard Rudolph, Luzuko Nqeto, Sbu Ngema, Kere Nyawo, and Sibusiso Kotelo.
- About the Film -
Produced by Dr Mbongeni Ngema,
Oscar nominated director Darrell James Roodt
and the prolific Christianne Bennetto,
The film version of this seminal musical is in the hands of a hand-picked South African crew and cast. Roodt directed the smash hit film version of Sarafina! Ngema himself is the most seasoned theatrical, writer, director, choreographer and composer to come out of South Africa.
In this latest collaboration, Roodt has taken on the role of technical director, sharing his directing knowledge and skill, and working alongside Ngema who is at the helm of a production to which he has dedicated many years of his life. The 1985 theatre production by famous playwright, choreographer, composer, director and producer Mbongeni Ngema was his first major stage musical, followed by Sarafina! which was released as a film in 1992.
A local and international success, Asinamali is a show of immense vitality, sadness and humour, combining exhilarating dance and acting with awe-inspiring choral music. The play had a sold-out run at The Market Theatre before appearing on Broadway in New York, and throughout the world, winning numerous awards along the way. Ngema is seeking to preserve the classic play by turning it into a film that will be available for generations to come. The film version of this seminal musical is in the hands of a crew headed up by Roodt and Bennetto supporting an all-star cast. Ngema himself is the most seasoned theatrical, writer, director, choreographer and composer to come out of South Africa. In this latest collaboration, Roodt has taken on the role of technical director, sharing his directing knowledge and skill, and working alongside Ngema who is at the helm of a production to which he has dedicated many years of his life.
Ngema recorded the film's sound track at Downtown Studios. It comprises 12 hit songs from the show, with notable contributors including the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, together with singers and dancers from Committed Artists, Mbongeni’s theatrical company based in Durban.
ABOUT MBONGENI NGEMA -
– Comrade Washington, writer, producer director Mbongeni Ngema is a renowned playwright, screenwriter and librettist. He is best known as the writer of the internationally acclaimed and award-winning musical Sarafina!, which was nominated for five Tony Awards, and later for the prestigious Grammy Awards. The musical won 11 NAACP Image Awards enjoyed a two-year run on Broadway, toured the USA, Europe, Australia and Japan, and was later adapted into a feature film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Leleti Khumalo and Miriam Makeba.
Ngema has had a string of blockbusters behind his name, including the award-winning and internationally revered Woza Albert, Township Fever (1990), which travelled from the Market Theatre to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Majestic Theatre in the US, Mama (1995), Asinamali (1996), Maria Maria (1997), The Zulu – The Musical (1999), 1906 Bhambada The Freedom Fighter, The House of Shaka (2005) and The Lion of the East (2006).
In 1998, Ngema was inducted in the New York Walk of Fame in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Manhattan, as one of the revered writers of the 21st century. In 2001, during the African Renaissance festival, his name was engraved on the entrance of the City Hall in Durban alongside those of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Miriam Makeba and other heroes of the liberation struggle.
As a librettist, Ngema has written the musical soundtrack for Sarafina - The Movie and produced the movie's soundtrack alongside Quincy Jones. He has composed several music albums, including the famous and locally loved album Stimela SaseZola. Ngema has written and arranged numerous songs as well as arranged music for artists such as Michael Bolton.
He was also one of the vocal arrangers for The Lion King, Disney’s animated film. For this, he received a multi-platinum award for sales of more than six million copies. He subsequently won a Grammy Award for the movie adaptation. "Woza My Fohloza", the new millennium song, and several albums of his musicals are on Ngema’s librettist list. Ngema was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Good Shepherd College of Religion, Divine Agriculture and Skills Training in KwaZulu-Natal. This was in recognition of his service
to South African music and his ongoing impact in the arts sector. Ngema is also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to him at the Naledi Awards ceremony held in Johannesburg in 2014.