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Suffolk News reviews Mama Afrika starring Anna Mudeka at the New Wolsey theatre, Ipswich





Suffolk News was invited to a sold out performance of Mama Afrika - this is what we thought.

There was a definite hum of anticipation in the New Wolsey Theatre, in Ipswich, as everyone waited to watch Anna Mudeka take to the stage.

The show tells the inspirational story of iconic South African singer and campaigner Dr Miriam Makeba, known across the world as Mama Afrika.

Mama Afrika was written by Tomas Lutuli Brickhill - the show will be heading to Diss in June. Picture: Gideon Graylyons
Mama Afrika was written by Tomas Lutuli Brickhill - the show will be heading to Diss in June. Picture: Gideon Graylyons

Seated with the producer Daisy Lees from Arts La'Olam, and director Tonia Daley-Campbell , I had a sudden realisation that if I didn't enjoy it, things might get a bit awkward.

I needn’t have worried.

Cards on the table, I was coming to the show with no real clue about Miriam Makeba, and a shameful amount of knowledge about the apartheid in South Africa.

Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song with Anna Mudeka is coming to Ipswich and Diss
Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song with Anna Mudeka is coming to Ipswich and Diss

It was about to be educated, in the most heartwarming and heart-wrenching way.

Miriam Makeba, left South Africa to seek fame overseas, unaware she was about to live for decades exiled from her home country.

Though successful in her career, in 1960 she was shaken by the Sharpeville Massacre, where she lost relatives. This was then followed by the death of her mother.

Her devastation turned to indignation as she was blocked from returning to South Africa for her funeral.

Mama Afrika features some stunning costumes - designed by Edith KaNgwenya. Picture: Gideon Graylyons
Mama Afrika features some stunning costumes - designed by Edith KaNgwenya. Picture: Gideon Graylyons

This was the moment things got political for Makeba, she became an outspoken critic of apartheid - no longer scared to answer questions from journalists.

There were moments of true darkness in this show, and one of the key memories I will take away was the ringing of the phone signalling bad news.

We’ve all been there in one way or another.

Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song with Anna Mudeka. Picture: Gideon Graylyons
Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song with Anna Mudeka. Picture: Gideon Graylyons

Mudeka acted in her grief scenes with rawness and realism, which had audience members in tears.

But there was light in equal measure, the cheekiness of Makeba being wooed by various suitors and falling for some a little too quickly - we’ve been there too.

Those watching loved the way Mudeka interacted with them, warming to her more and more as the show went on.

Mama Afrika - Anna Mudeka as Miriam Makeba. Picture: Gideon Graylyons
Mama Afrika - Anna Mudeka as Miriam Makeba. Picture: Gideon Graylyons

And I’m not sure how I got this far without mentioning the incredible music, dancing, singing and costumes.

Songs like Mbube, Soweto Blues, and her biggest hit Pata Pata all got a great reaction.

Mudeka had a massive round of applause at the interval - things only got better from there.

The show sparked conversations amongst the audience with many sharing their memories of living in Africa.

Anna Mudeka gave a hugely emotional performance as Miriam Makeba. Picture: Gideon Graylyons
Anna Mudeka gave a hugely emotional performance as Miriam Makeba. Picture: Gideon Graylyons

What may have at first glance looked like a reserved Suffolk audience, were coming out of their shells and making connections.

Me? Well I couldn’t stop quizzing the unstoppable Tonia, who shared her dreams of taking the show to all the countries Makeba visited.

Without giving too much away, the ending of the show was chilling and poignant.

The standing ovation Mudeka received was obviously a hugely emotional moment.

Old and young waited to have selfies with the actress and singer after the show and it truly felt as though it was the start of something big for her.

Zimbabwean born Mudeka, who lives in Norfolk, has already taken the national tour to Halesworth and will be heading to Diss Corn Hill on June 1.

My advice? Get a ticket while you can.

Suffolk News reviewed Mama Afrika on Thursday, April 18.