In Uganda, the exhibition of fashion is mostly boxed; a runway clothes and models.
The presentation, even when it is appropriate and makes clothes more appreciable, gives away nothing about the designers’ mind; it only sells the audience a beautiful model whose attires are neither explained nor explored.
It was what made the touring Chombotrope: Jitta Collective’s fashion concert different; staged at OneTen on Studios at Seven at the industrial area’s seventh street last Wednesday, the experimental yet assertive show took to one of the world’s biggest topics of cultural appropriation using different art mediums.
At the opening of the 60 minute showpiece, it all looks like the multinational cast was creating a parody of fashion shows as they are known to an ordinary audience, showcasing outfits mostly made out of car tyres and backcloth, it quickly became a dance routine carefully powered by Germany drummer and composer Dodo Nkishi.
Later they transform the show into a spoken word/poetry, rap, dance and vogue concert representing art that appeals to an African in the present times while talking about appropriation from all sides especially with the way the continent has contributed to the exploitation of her own culture.
With Ugandan painter, fashion designer, poet Xenson Ssenkaaba, Belgian composer Nicolas Baudoux alias Dj Elephant Power, Germany choreographer Marie Zoe, French choreographer and dancer Alexandra Naudet and N’deye Seck, a percussionist from Senegal, the collective redefines cultural appropriation into an art.
For instance, while African symbols and patterns have been used by the western fashion, the collective uses the perspective to come up with different perspectives and encounters; it was the kind that would get an audience to reflect and question much of the things they’ve been told about appropriation – whether it is bad or if in our Africaness we’ve appropriated some other people’s cultures unknowingly.
A concept by choreographers Kefa Oiro and Stephanie Thiersch, Jitta Collectives had the Ugandan audience eating out of their palms thanks to a show that didn’t only boost of high production values but it’s relevancy – for instance, for many present, it was the first time they were seeing Xenson perform in a long time and coincidentally, it was all happening just next to Afriart Gallery where his Gunflower series art exhibition have been going on for two months now.
At one point Xenson was in the dark with light glows behind him taking on braggadocio moves while reciting poetry praising Africa and calling for the spirit of Ubuntu and oneness, at one point these recitals were between him and Oiro or simple chants of songs that have defined the African music scene for years like Zangalewa.
But that wasn’t all the show was offering, it was one that gave the audience more than what they bargained for, synchronized and well-crafted battle duels, which represented mixed martial arts but bold enough to throw Masai movement patterns in the mix.
The show produced by Ras B Ssali worked well especially with both the sound and lighting considering the fact that the venue is not a professional space meant to host theatricals, and better for the audience, the script of the entire production has a brilliant chemistry with the lights.
One of the most memorable performances and one of the closing was by Zoe when she took to the stage to deliver a familiar yet always ignored topic about black girls and their hair. Titled Do Not Touch My Hair, she talks about hair as one thing the western world has used to police black women; for instance, while talking to dance instructor and writer Pamela Acaye, Zoe admits that while growing up, she was faced with many people trying to touch her hair and feel for realness.
A choreographer and vogue major, Zoe , charisma coupled with the team’s high level of collaboration kept the audience engaged, entertained and above all, surprised, especially when they were thrown into those minimalistic nudity scenes that they never saw coming.
The collective show closed in Kampala on Wednesday before proceeding to Nairobi.