Once upon a virtual stage

Thami Baba, Sivujile Dunjwa, Sindiwe Magona, Sisonke Godlo and Bongani Sotshononda are presenting Kwathi ke Kaloku/ Once Upon a Time, which has English subtitles.

Veteran storyteller Sindiwe Magona’s Xhosa children’s production Kwathi ke Kaloku/ Once Upon a Time is being featured at the virtual National Arts Festival Fringe programme.

Co-produced by Luvuyo Kakaza and Vicky Davis for the Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA), the 45-minute show includes a traditional score composed by Bongani Sotshononda and his United Nations of Africa band.

In Kwathi ke Kaloku/ Once Upon a Time, Magona, Sivuyile Dunjwa and Thami Baba perform a combination of two of her well-known children’s tales, The Best Meal Ever! and Stronger than Lion to Sotshononda’s live soundtrack, which includes instruments such as the marimba, kora and kudu horns.

Based on a true experience, the story follows a family in Gugulethu. Big sister Siziwe must take care of all her siblings, with dwindling food supply, after their mother goes to visit a sick family member in the Eastern Cape. When she realises that the food stock has run out, she must derive a plan to help her young siblings and to stave off extreme hunger.

“Our story is one of hope and courage, teaching children to never give up and that brains are much stronger than brawn,” says Magona.

“The production entertains and educates children through the power of the imagination and in turn preserves and documents the rich Xhosa tradition of storytelling as well as the wealth of indigenous Xhosa songs. It will encourage creativity and nurture an interest in the children’s own culture and the arts.”

The production is now on film and has been kept in its raw stage format, with minimum props used and improvisation by the actors.

“While we have kept the production to its original format on film, we ask parents to encourage reading at home.

“Books and music are one of the most powerful art forms that create imaginations,” says Magona.

“The child who reads or hears stories especially in the mother tongue is much more likely to meet herself in books; see, hear and learn from characters who remind her of herself, people like her, situations and problems familiar to hers.”

Magona was born in 1943 in the village of Gungululu in the rural Eastern Cape.

She earned her secondary and undergraduate education by way of correspondence while working as a domestic worker and raising two children as a single mother.

She won a scholarship to study for her Master’s Degree in Social Work at Columbia University in the United States of America.

Until her retirement in 2003, she contributed in various capacities to the work of the United Nations (UN), an organisation she served for 20 years.

Even in retirement, she continues to pen literary works, to initiate writers’ conferences, lead women’s rights advocacy groups and write children’s educational books.

Her plays include I Promised Myself a Fabulous Middle-Age and Vukani.

Magona is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Molteno Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement for her role in promoting Xhosa, the Permio Grinzane Terre D’Otrantro, and the Department of Arts and Culture Literary Lifetime Achievement Award, all three received in 2007.

Tickets for Kwathi ke Kaloku/ Once Upon a Time cost R25 here.

There is a R2 transaction fee.

You will be able to access the show until midnight on Friday July 31.