Immigrating through the arts

New York City is the central hub of arts in the United States. Home to hundreds of theaters and the ultimate theater center “Broadway”, performing artists from around the world move to this city to hopefully make their mark in the artistic world. For African immigrants, opportunities to perform in mainstream theater, music, and dance companies are limited and far between. There are currently only four shows on Broadway that have opportunities within the cast for starring roles played by black actors (Memphis, Fela, The Lion King and In the Heights). The competition within broadway theater is already extremely high but this added pressure for limited roles, (especially as many of these shows set to close in 2011), means that Black actors must be extremely talented and often well known, to obtain roles.

Many choose to create their own productions and performance companies in order to create opportunities for other African and Black artists. Their hope is to increase the stories and performance opportunities for people of African descent.

We are profiling four African artists that have traveled to New York to share their talent with American audiences. For many this has been a journey full of ups and downs and many have successfully reached goals beyond their dreams.

Sifiso Mavuso is a dancer and choreographer that has performed with Cirque du Soleil in the United States, Canada and throughout the Caribbean. As one of the choreographer’s of The Beatles Love, currently running at the Mirage in Las Vegas, Sifiso has become an international choreographer sharing his talent with a major performing company. He has also used his art to increase the exposure of traditional South African dance in the U.S. He currently is the choreographer and director of an African dance company here in New York called Juxtapose.

Nomsa Mazwai is currently in the U.S. on a Fulbright Scholarship studying for an MA in Economics at Fordham University. She is also a poet and singer and an author of a book about resources in South African education. Sai Sai, Little Girl follows a young girl as she navigates the university system at the University of Fort Hare. Nomsa served as the first female SRC president at the legendary university that once housed Nelson Mandela and other liberation leaders. The book has been reviewed as “A brilliantly painted picture of what has become of the “African Cradle of Intellectualism and Leadership”. The younger sister of Thandiswa Mazwai (formerly of the South African group Bongo Maffin), Nomsa comes from a family of activists and musicians.

Nick Mwaluko is a transgendered playwright from Tanzania whose work raises awareness of LGBT issues within African culture, history and throughout the continent. His work has received numerous awards and his play Waafrika, recently received critical acclaim during its run in South Florida.

Ron Kunene is a part of the Ensemble for Disney’s the Lion King on Broadway and the international dialect coach for all performances of the Lion King around the globe. He is the producer  and performer for Themba (sing for hope) a singing and dance troupe comprised of South Africans living in the USA. The aims and objectives of the group include being cultural ambassadors, educating the world about South Africa, celebrating African heritage and working to bridge the gap between the USA and South Africa. Since the 1980s Themba has been featured in numerous films and recorded songs with a number of well known singers like Miriam Makeba, Q, New Jersey Mass Choir, Paul Simon, JoeZawnol, Little Stevens, David Fogelberg, Hugh Masekela, and many more.

Over the coming weeks, full profiles of these artists will be available on the blog but we have created a small trailer with highlights below.

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