A Distant Drum: Standing Ovations in New York

From Bloemfontein to Carnegie Hall

This weekend the Ubuntu Music & Arts of South Africa festival, a special event to celebrate 20 years of democracy, received standing ovations at New’s York’s iconic Carnegie Hall. A Distrant Drum, the story of Nat Nakasa was part of the showcase having rccently played Bloemfontein.

Nat Nakasa was brought back to life in Bloemfontein earlier this month. The proverbial and somewhat tragic self-proclaimed ‘native of nowhere’ found a temporary home within the confines of PACOFS (Performing Arts Centre of the Free State).

Dawid Kramer, one of SA's many artists at Carnegie Hall

Dawid Kramer, one of SA’s many artists at Carnegie Hall

‘A DISTANT DRUM – The story of Nat Nakasa’ was staged at the Andre Hugenot Theatre on 13 and 14 October and was performed at the Carnegie Hall in New York on October 28, as part of the UBUNTU: Music and Arts of South Africa festival.

It is testimony to how far South Africa has come that the Old Orange Free State, a bastion of apartheid, played host to such a momentous event. This time, there were no signs of the old apartheid security police that used to be so fond of enquiring about Nakasa’s whereabouts when the intrepid scribe was with the iconic Drum Magazine, poking fun at the absurdities of the Apartheid regime.

The artistic tour de force is directed by the experienced Jerry Mofokeng and features Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Ramabulana as Nakasa and Christiaan Schoombie (as the overeager apartheid Security policeman). The lighting for the drama was brilliantly arranged, courtesy of that legend and co-founder of the Market Theatre, Mannie Manin.

The story was written by Christopher Hope, who is best known as the founder of the Franschhoek Literary Festival. His son Daniel appears in almost ghost-like fashion on occasions, as a saxophonist neither seen by Nakasa or the security cop, but whose presence gently pushes the story forward towards its inevitably tragic end.

With music, words and movements, the audience is taking into real and imaginary spaces, at times confronted by the world that Nakasa inhabited during the 60s where the cruelty and absurdity of apartheid loomed large and Nakasa roamed the streets of Johannesburg in his tweed suit and his pen at hand.

Nat Ramabulana gives a masterful performance as Nakasa while Christiaan Schoombie deserves plaudits for his portrayal of the security policemen, and later, Jack Thompson, Nakasa’s supposed benefactor.

Nakasa left South Africa on an Exit Permit never to return to his homeland and on July 14, 1965, it is said that Nat Nakasa ‘jumped or fell’ from the window of Jack Thompson’s apartment and died instantly. The truth of what transpired that day may never be known but for Nakasa perhaps his death meant that he would no longer be a “native of nowhere… a stateless man [and] a permanent wanderer”.

Nat Nakasa’s remains were finally brought back to the land he was banished and reburied at Durban’s Chesterville’s Heroes Acre.

Written by, Tonderai Chiyindiko who by his own definition is a border-jumper, illegal immigrant and perhaps a ‘native of nowhere’ of sorts.

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