Review of Black Brass
By Mararo Wangai
On Thursday night, I sat amongst friends whose families are from Haiti, Namibia and Zimbabwe while we watched Black Brass, a 70-minute one act play, performed by the Mararo Wangai who plays the cleaner and Mahamudo Selimane, cast as the musician who shares the revolving stage. As an African American settler living on Gadigal land, I am often in conversation with friends about how we came to live on this stolen land.
Black Brass presents the cleaner, it’s lead character, with an ambiguous ‘African’ identity that resonates as a familiar story of an African man living in Australia. In the murkiness, the story of a man treading water as he awaits an immigration appointment that will decide his future, we go backwards in time to discover who the cleaner was before landing on this shore. While the story is familiar, this is the first time Australian audiences witness the story told from the perspective of the African migrant who is unpacking a protected past.
Black Brass offers a timely opportunity for intergenerational dialogue about migrant experiences of people from the African diaspora who find themselves living in Australia escaping the stories of their past. Song uplifts people who leave birth countries shrouded in struggle and offers hope, but it also awakens closed off caverns for emigrants
Set in a music production studio, uncomfortable silence marks the beginning of the story, while the cleaner organises a trail of shit left behind by musicians. A sequence of urgent phone calls disrupts mindless work. He practices for the visa interview using embodied representations for his partner and the immigration agent when he is interrupted by the appearance of a guitar playing musician, who he mistakes for a thief.
Set design catalyses the relationship between the two African men. There is a revolving stage that takes us between the recording booth and the sound engineering desk. We see two sides of the story and the set speeds up with the cleaner’s racing mind and monologues. It slows and comes to a stop in moments of reckoning. The lighting takes us from blues that illuminates brown skin, to red alert and spotlighting white that reflect the lead’s volatile psyche.
Awkwardly silent to start, the set livens with soul awakening arrangements. The audience is carried on the notes and lyrics of home songs that tell stories of different countries in Africa covering histories from all four hemispheres. Melodies and duets offer a window into the journey of the cleaner before he arrived in Australia. It is musical partnership between the characters that delivers the ethos of the story. Audiences understand the feelings behind the lyrics without speaking Lingala, Igbo or Swahili.
There are tickets available to shows that run through Sunday night. Go with a friend. Bring an elder member of your community. Black Brass offers a timely opportunity for intergenerational dialogue about migrant experiences of people from the African diaspora who find themselves living in Australia escaping the stories of their past. Song uplifts people who leave birth countries shrouded in struggle and offers hope, but it also awakens closed off caverns for emigrants.
Tickets are available on Belvoir website until 23 January 2022.