My friend Joel Jaratina jumped into the office, handed me his iphone and told me to click play. From the look on his face he knew l would love whatever it is he had. It was an interview on the local news. Joel was kind enough to record it for and in the process was late for work. One of Zimbabwe’s greatest exports was in town at the Zimbabwe German Society and l was not about to miss that for anything.
Danai Jekesai Gurira is a Zimbabwean actress and award winning playwright . She was back in Zimbabwe for a reading of her absorbing play “The Convert”. A 3-hour drama set in 1895 colonial Zimbabwe, the play follows a protagonist named Jekesai – who is thrust into strange new circumstances that pit ancient african tradition against western culture and her new found christian faith. When conflict erupts across the land who will she become?
Danai said “The play was born out of my desire to explore my history, to depict the cultural clash that l feel still resonated amongst us today. I wished to go back to the inciting incident and explore the becoming of Zimbabwe from this one girl’s perspective”.
The play is a historical fiction based on inspiring and deeply researched accounts but wholly developed in character and plot through Gurira’s imagination.
I found the use of language quite captivating and wondered how on earth American audiences could have been understood the Shona dialogue. But l am told they were quite captivated. The New York Times called it an ambitious play, we call it a masterpiece. There aren’t a lot of female playwrights who come out of Africa so when you see one shining like the midday sun – you stand look, take notes and simply applaude.
I think Chipawo can stand proud to have produced a rising star like Danai, who is now more famously know for her role as the zombie killing, blade weilding, tough chick Michonne in th USA television series The Walking Dead.
Every year Danai comes back home to contribute the arts industry in Zimbabwe. Through her organisation Almasi Collaborative Arts she and Patience Tawengwa are helping the next generation of playwrights to produce world class productions.