Mandela’s story a musical triumph

Mandela’s story a musical triumph

With 2018 marking the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, there may be no finer way to honour South Africa's anti-apartheid revolutionary - and a defining symbol of reconciliation - than through an inspiring, soul-stirring production. Sophie Deutsch speaks to Jewish author and composer Jean-Pierre Hadida about Madiba the Musical, which opened in Sydney last Thursday.

The cast of Madiba the Musical.
The cast of Madiba the Musical.

“I FEEL like I saw my grandfather on stage,” an awestruck Ndaba Mandela is reported to have said after he first saw Madiba the Musical – a heart-touching tribute to the remarkable life and enduring legacy of South Africa’s freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela.

Ndaba’s powerful remark speaks volumes about how French writer and composer of Madiba, Jean-Pierre Hadida, and actor Perci Moeketsi, starring as Nelson Mandela, capture not only the historical trajectory of Mandela’s pursuit for peace, but the admirable traits that enabled the humble and noble man to abolish apartheid rule.

Perci Moeketsi, who plays Nelson Mandela, with author and composer of Madiba, the Musical, Jean-Pierre Hadida.

Originally written in French, this is the first English-language production, which resonates with exuberant performances, music and lyrics, in a show whose title reflects Mandela’s clan name, used as a sign of respect and affection.

Speaking to The AJN after opening night in Melbourne early last month, Hadida commented, “Mandela had this view that you can sit and talk with the enemy and plan for a better future. That is something really rare and inspiring in politics and in modern times.”

The show begins with the birth of the fight against apartheid, and the arrest of Mandela, then a young lawyer.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote, “It was a Jewish firm, and in my experience I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice.”

Hadida noted, “There was a strong relationship between Mandela and the Jewish people … He said that Israel needs to have a strong frontier and security, and he was totally partisan for a two-state.”

Along with Moeketsi, Tim Omaji (known by his stage name Timomatic) stars as Sam Onatou – a young black activist who meets Mandela in prison, and the role of Onatou’s fiancee, Sandy, is taken on by Tarisai Vushe.

Ruva Ngwenya is cast as Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Mandela; and the white policeman, Peter van Lenden is played by Blake Erickson.

Madiba tells of Mandela’s growing stature as a role model, with the finale rejoicing in Mandela’s liberation and his election as president of the new South African Republic.

Nelson Mandela.

The country has journeyed a long way from the racial segregation that plagued its painful past, but festering tensions and conflict remain rife in parts, prompting Hadida to explore ideas around reconciliation in today’s political milieu.

“It’s still a fragile situation in South Africa,” warned Hadida. “Things are better but they do take time … We need to have this message of friendship out there between humans.”

Madiba is remembered and honoured as one of the 20th century’s most influential statesmen, yet he exuded extraordinary humility, and front and centre on the international stage may not be where Mandela would naturally chose to position himself.

“Mandela didn’t like to have his giant portrait anywhere … Everyone was important in his eyes and he didn’t like people focusing on his life,” said Hadida. “But I think he would be happy that we [have created] music on the stage and [that we] help to make Madiba’s message bigger and more relevant to younger generations and to people from all countries.”

Music and dance is often described as the lifeblood of South Africa.

“South Africans sing and dance when they are both happy and sad,” said Hadida. “We played this musical in Africa in the original French and that always received a big reception because Africans are so proud of Madiba,” explained Hadida. “He was somebody that could talk to everybody, he had a vision for the future.”

Indeed, it was Mandela who once famously proclaimed during a concert of South African rocker, Johnny Clegg, “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world.”

Madiba, the Musical will be at the State Theatre until November 18 before continuing its national Australia/New Zealand tour. Tickets from $79. Group bookings available

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