IMG_4678Driving into the sunset on the way to Craiova

The joy of Theatre and it’s making is in the communication with the audience. When the audience gets it, and gives a resounding standing ovation, Theatre is made complete!

The applause was very loud, after the total silence in the audience except the occasional chuckle or cough, there had been moments of light laughter especially when the narrator said Gagarin had to assure the first people who saw him land from the sky in a parachute – a farmer and a child, – that he was not a ‘dangerous’ American and that he had indeed come from the sky! The five of us returned on stage to take another bow, the applause increased! Then through the blinding stage lights I realized we were being given the loudest standing ovation I have ever experienced in my many years of stage performance. Here it was, happening in Craiova Romania, on Sunday the 24th of April 2016. It was just on the last note of the xylophone tune I have named ‘Bells’ which I play to end the show as the lights dim and go off for us to get ready to take the bow. To think that just before the show someone was asking me, “How many people do you think they are expecting?” I said, “I have no idea” I had no way of knowing, then before our eyes, as the two of us, Tyler and I, played the introductory improvised music, (which we play to welcome the audience) we saw the theatre fill to capacity! And all those people on their feet, and calling us back again and again with their appreciation.

Last Dream production has been an emotional journey for me as well it has seen my return to professional Theatre after so many years of departure into film and music – especially into music. Music has always been the thing to beat of all my artistic passions. It is for this reason that it has shaped how I practice other art forms. When I think about making films, the thinking is influenced by music. When I practice storytelling the method incorporates music to the maximum. Thus my return to Theatre in Scotland has been through the practice and performance of African music in Scotland. In many ways it was unplanned. Much of my life as an artist is so unplanned and full of pleasant surprises. It is also full of uncertainty and difficulty but it is a full life – a life of exploration and a life of relative contentment, laughter contemplation, discovery and rediscovery. So, the journey started in the 2013 GRAMNet Party at The Glad Cafe, when I was introduced to Kai Fischer the creator and director of Last Dream (On Earth). He had been told by my friend and colleague Alison Phipps who is now my PhD supervisor and mentor, to come and see me perform at the Glad cafe with my Glasgow Highlife Band.

After overcoming my initial difficulty of understanding Kai’s German-Scottish accent I became very exited about what Kai was planning to embark on. I did not realize though at the time, that it was going to be an emotional journey for me, one that would see me become so passionate about my own migrant identity and the importance of creating alternative passionate narratives about the important role migration plays across the world; how life and it’s continuity is reliant on the opportunity to migrate; how people who migrate for whatever reason and by whatever means should not be criminalized and perceived as illegal members of any community. It took my mind back to think about the importance of the 1980s’ and 90s’ influx of other west Africans into Ghana and how they quickly became part of the population because as a nation the notion of illegality for someone fleeing from war and seeking refuge was not a part of the thinking of the ordinary Ghanaian, it was not a big issue. I remember working with five highly talented singers from Liberia and launching them into Television through the youth TV magazine programme I produced at the time at TV3 Network Ghana in the late 1990s. I remember how much joy they gave to anyone who listened to them sing and how they enriched their new home with their singing.

IMG_4738In an allay way in Craiova

Today, many of those people have retuned to their home countries of Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, while others who chose to stay and made Ghana their homes are actively involved in civic participation as citizens of their adopted country. It made me reflect, and reflecting gave me the space to increase my understanding of some of the important human issues that arise when large groups of people become displaced. The pain of the pressure to move or die; how suddenly people find themselves living at the very edge of existence and needing just to survive! It made me think about the instinct to move, and how important it is for every individual to have the freedom to use that instinct to move away from danger, most of all, how it befalls us all to bear the responsibility making it easy – every individual to pursue the safety and comfort of any person at risk of losing their very existence as a result of no fault theirs; a result of war, drought, persecution poverty and loss – for people to move to safety.

So, as the applause resounded in my head, these thoughts became poignant. But also in my thoughts, as my heart missed several beats because we had to return to take another bow as the applause continued in intensity, was the realisation that we are actually passionately doing something about it. And in that auditorium far from home we had touched hundreds of hearts! An elderly member of the audience summed all this up for me in a single word, …


… hands raised to the brow in a salute. I quickly stepped back to him and shook hands with him, feeling humbled and with a multiplicity of ‘respect’ to him back. In the audience that night were many European theatre makers. In that audience were people who went on the journey with us through their headphones across the Sahara desert, and with us when we drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. But also with us at mission control on the occasion of the Soviet Union’s first manned flight into space, a journey of exploration, which led the way into more manned flights into space. But the significance, I hoped, of that space flight and its glory, the risks and the triumphs do not diminish the significance of the lives lost at sea on a rubber dingy in an attempt to reach what seems to be a better life in the eyes of a young girl named Sam whose first encounter with the sea opens the show, alongside the frighteningly realistic sound effects of sea, mixed with the ‘shhhhh-shhhhh’ of my rain drum, and wind effects. Her journey started with a lot of trepidation; a journey she took to the end of her young life in the company of a young man named Zouma, and another girl who called herself Pele, and the little boy they called Yahya! Only Pele and Yahya survived this arduous journey of bravery and fear.

How we tell the stories of the importance of life, and the importance of one journey in relation to the other, the importance of the responsibility humanity has towards itself, the fears we have accumulated about each other and how we have erected various forms of barriers against each other in order to respond to those fears; how we tell the stories is what will constitute how we as practitioners of creative arts would bring new and creative thinking and hopefully, real understanding to the narratives on migration and migrants. But how we react to the stories, what we do about the stories, what actions others take about these stories we tell when we tell them, is what will shape the world today and tomorrow.

We were told later that part of the discussions in the European Theatre Price on the day conference was “How Theatre affects and transforms lives”. I can talk with total confidence, about my own life as it has been transformed by ‘Last Dream (On Earth)’ Theatre production – the innovation, the friendships developed the relationship built, maintained and transformed, the experimentation and learning, learning through devising, mutual respect, support and compassion, meeting people in the Scottish theatre industry, receiving positive critical feedback and recognition: for example, becoming a Critics Award for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) nominee, and actually jointly winning and sharing the award for music and sound with such talented individuals like Matt and Tyler has been transformational to say the least, and life changing. However, deepest and life gripping is the transformation that continues to evolve as a result of all these and more. The potentials and new opportunities, the hearts touched in our audiences their continued interest in the production as the tension builds around migration in Europe, that is Theatre as it impacts on people – performer and audience alike.

IMG_4719 National Theatre and Directions to the University of Craiova

Kai Fischer’s Last Dream (On Earth) has been recognized and acclaimed as a work of genius in Criova Romania, and I am proud to be part of this journey proud to have been called upon to dig into and use my skills to contribute to the telling, proud to be called upon to dig into my experience to translate what seems verbally difficult to translate into new sounds that invite the audience to embark on their own journeys into the world of a vibrant sonic narrative woven with strands of minimalist visual narrative. There were Theatre critics from all over Europe, some of who went out to the pub with us along with National Theatre of Scotland staff. They will be writing their critiques, but what has been etched into their memories and the memories of those Theatre enthusiasts who witnessed the single night show in Craiova this Spring of 2016 can hardly be analyzed and critiqued in a conventional manner. What was etched in our memories as performers is only within our own reach to draw upon again to enrich how we ‘interthink’ create, recreate and share. It exists in a different space of grasping and understanding. It is a lived experience! It is the beginning of a big dream! Last Dream (On Earth) and it has just began.

When I got the first email from Kai to inform me about the potential (or was it a strong possibility) of Last Dream going to European Theatre Price 2016, there was a heavy embargo on the news! In the same email was another (embargoed) news that there could be support to take the production to the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe. At the time I was still working on my PhD research documentary film ‘Music Across Borders’. I was still doing final touches to the editing and preparing the programme for the premier screenings and jazz concerts in Glasgow and Copenhagen. This means that when the time came the final day’s screening overlapped with my first day of Last Dream rehearsal in preparation for Craiova. We had had a full house the previous day at the Glad Cafe and I was exited about the audience comments. I was feeling particularly happy for a number of reasons. Firstly, that what was just an idea exactly a year before had turned out to become a real documentary film. Secondly, Danish composer and saxophone player Katrine Suwalski and her Another World Band who feature in the documentary were in Glasgow for the screening and to perform after the screening. Thirdly, my friend and colleague filmmaker Ian Masters who I had not seen for 10 years had decided to come and meet me in Glasgow to discuss a new film project based on a long standing screen project he had involved me in from 2000.

IMG_4741 (1)

Many things which were just dreams before, seem to be coming together at the same time, and I found myself in the middle of it all, feeling very privileged. The documentary premier was a success even though I would have been happier if more people had turned up to see it on the first and third days, and enjoyed the high quality jazz music of Katrine Suwalski and her Another World Band in collaboration with Glasgow Highlife Band and Paragon’s Kaleodophone. So this means I returned to rehearse with my colleagues in Last Dream production (which had two new young actors a new stage manger and a new sound engineer!) with a lot of enthusiasm. We had barely two weeks to be ready. I struggled during the first two days as I was still suffering from sleep deprivation – a result of weeks of final editing work on Music Across Borders documentary film and the busy schedule of hosting and performing with Katrine and Another World Band. But I was back and that was invigorating. Yet, nothing tops how invigorating it feels to be endorsed by an audience like the European Price New Theatrical Realities audience! It was super invigorating! So I flew back to Glasgow in high spirits, looking forward to attend my son’s school talent show where he was going to play the kora in front of other children their teachers and parents. He had come to me    a few days earlier to ask if he could audition for the show with the Kora, he had started persuading his own dream as a performer and I knew it was great for his confidence.

Vessels 2015

Vessels 2015 brought happened in August 2015 at the Beacon Theatre in Greenock Scotland. This was a triangular Exchange between Ghana Jamaica and Scotland.

As a follow up on Vessels 2014 when Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games, I was asked by the Vessels team to facilitate a link with a Ghanaian group as part of this cultural and creative triangle. I contacted my friend and former Artistic Director of the National Dance Company of Ghana, Professor Nii Yartey about Noyam Dance Company and he agreed to to present three young people from Noyam as participants! Randy McLaren of Articulet in Jamaica was also presenting three young performers to join the group of young people in Greenock. it was all exciting to know that what started as an idea just a year ago was becoming a rare oportunity for young people miles apart across continents!

The groups were all gathered on the 7th of August at the Beacon for a day’s sharing of what they had prepared as from the various countries. The Jamaican and Ghanaian presentations were extremely captivating and held everybody spellbound! Jamaica presented a fusion of movement, rhythm song and spoken word, treating the theme of vessels with a vivid imaginative presentation that left us all feeling so enriched. Ghana presented a very challenging rendition of vessels in a contemporary African dance piece that caught my heart, held it in an empathic roller coaster of conflict, strife, pain, reconciliation, anger and joy, confusion and clarity of purpose, then left it in a playful mood of youthful carefree exuberance! I cried! I was very pleased! and I said,

“We don’t need anymore work, lets wait till Saturday and present this and that will be it, we can have fun the whole week!”

Somehow that’s what we did. We had fun for ten days creating, laughing, planning, thinking,  tweaking, getting ready for Saturday! we made new friends and strengthened old bonds and put up a great show.

Then I flew to Ghana on the same flight as the Noyam group, with three other people from the University of Glasgow – The four of us now self-named the Calabash people. We had an amazing time visiting the Noyam African Dance Institute and I made a little video as a reflection on this visit. The title is The Calabash People!



Last Dream (On Earth)

When Crossing that Sea – “Ensi wo yie!”

Change happens and affects us!
Whether it happens for the better or for the worse depends on how we effect change:
Change affects us but we effect change

Last night, I dozed off in the sofa in our living room after a long day. The T.V. was on the BBC News channel, I woke up suddenly and I could feel my pulse – it was really high! On the T.V. was an update on the rescue efforts: the news stated that the captain of the boat carrying the migrants steered into the rescue ship and capsized. Later, reading the New York Times online, I find this:

What happened when the King Jacob, nearly 500 feet long, approached the multitiered migrant vessel early on Sunday morning is not precisely clear. But an account provided Tuesday by prosecutors in Sicily, based on interviews with survivors, said the captain of the migrant ship, seeing the approaching King Jacob, made “wrong maneuvers” and collided with it. The migrants then crowded to one side of their boat after the collision, causing it to capsize.

Both the TV news and the article in the New York Times have the names of the captain of the migrant’s boat, but not the names of a single migrant. Why do we have no names when the sinking of a tourist cruise liner in the same sea meant those affected were known by name, through the naming of victims? Why does a person become effaced and just become a part of statistics for the authorities?

In my head are the lines of the play I’ve been performing in for the last three weeks. Last Dream (On Earth) created by Kai Fischer. I’ve been playing the role of a drowning migrant and here it is, happening, happening again, as if to my role, the role – of Zouma – to which I lent my body and soul; for which I made music.

I still shake all over whenever I remember making the sound of ‘Zouma’ drowning, as I choke on a mouthful of bottled water to play the role. I am overwhelmed by emotions I never knew lived in me, at the memories of my own recorded voice over the phone to the girl called Sam, (played touchingly by Mercy Ojelade) whose father encourages her on after she had arrived at the beach and seen the sea for the first time in her life and yearned for home, cried and begged to speak to her mother and sister and could not.

Adura Onashile: Photo by Deanne JonesMercy Ojelade: Photo by Deanne Jones

Not even for the last time before she lost her precious life. The sound of high emotion in the voice of the young woman who they called ‘Pele’ because on the journey you ‘take on the name of someone you think can make it in life’ (played by the highly talented Adura Onashile). After she had made it to Spain, with the nine-year old boy they called Yaya, the young woman called her mother to let her know she had made it, but also to say the others did not make it.

I need to get some clothes” ,

she says to her mother before hanging up!
Mercy Ojelade: Photo by Deanne Jones Adura Onashile: Photo by Deanne Jones

I have come out of this with a sharper sense and awareness around the issues raised by the Last Dream (On Earth) production. Many times I told Kai, “…this production has a long life ahead of it beyond the initial Scotland tour” he had always replied to me in that deep voice and endearing German accent:

…Oh I don’t know about that, we shall see”. And here, on the news, the long and large death. The Mediterranean – not a sea but a grave. We shall see, indeed.

People who have seen the show have been affected by it. The reviews, published in the Guardian, Herald and Scotsman, have been powerful

The audience were given a rare opportunity to go on two separate but connected exploratory journeys simultaneously. My heart still pumps when I remember all the images that appear to me through the headphones conjured by Matt Padden’s sound art, and the ‘voice of Gagarin’, (played by the young, funny and brilliant Ryan Gerald) and all the anxiety of getting ready to be jettisoned into space as the first human to embark on such a pioneering, uncertain and dangerous adventure. It is akin to today’s talk of sending the first humans to Mars. I have come out of this touched and transformed.

IMG_4031Ryan Gerald: Photo by Deanne Jones

Creating Last Dream (On Earth)

I was performing with the Glasgow Highlife Band at the Glad Cafe in December 2013. Unknown to me Kai Fischer the creator, director and the lighting designer of Last Dream (On Earth) was ‘fishing’ for musicians for his ‘dream’ production and had been told by my friend and colleague Alison Phipps to see me perform and meet me. After the show Kai approached me and said he would like to meet up with me and discuss a project he was working on. Little did I know at the time that so many important parts of my life would converge and relate to this project Kai was dreaming about, and bring affective change in my life in the space of two years!

Kai Fischer: Photo by Gameli Tordzro Kai Fischer: Photo by Gameli Tordzro

When we met later and Kai told me about his production I was touched. At the time, I was silently agonising about the plight of many Africans in the prime of their youth, risking their lives across the Sahara and the Mediterranean in an effort to reach Europe, with the hope for a better life for themselves and their families. People who are running away from war and poverty mainly, and ready to risk whatever was left of their lives and in some cases the wealth of their families to make this journey. The sad part of this is that although some people succeed and make it through, many pay with the ultimate price of losing their lives in the desert or at sea, in makeshift vessels. There was regular news about women, men and children, perishing near Spain and Italy. Lampedusa found a place in the news. I have wondered all my life about political and state borders. I have often thought that not too long ago in history humanity was free to move and settle wherever supported life. Birds still do that every year. Other animals do it, they migrate to live: are hard wired to migrate. Are we not hard wired to move too, until we are comfortable and settle?

Kai wanted to tell this story alongside the story of the first manned space flight of the USSR space programme. And he wanted to ‘tell it to be heard’ so he asked me to join a group of really talented people to develop this idea, and asked me to bring along any African musical instrument I thought could help bring the dream alive, by creating a soundscape within which the audience can embark on their own risky journey to explore the ‘dangerous unknown’ imaginative world in there. So this is how I became involved in the development of ‘Last Dream (On Earth)’ which has now become one of the most evocative and innovative productions I have ever had the honour of being a part of. I grew to know Kai, Adura, MJ, Matt and later Tyler, Mercy, Ryan also, Amir, Deanne and Lisa! All very great theatre professionals who have now became dear friends and inspirers to me. Let me tell you what I mean by ‘dear friends’. On the opening night, the World Premier of Last Dream (On Earth) I found a card from Matt on my changing room table. It was in Akan and read: “Ensi wo yie!”, meaning,”May it end well with you”.

I knew Matt did not speak Akan, which is one of the many Ghanaian languages I speak, but those three words, and the manner in which they are brought together are loaded with poetic value, and the gesture to speak to me in a language I spoke that he did not speak himself, It is a gesture only a friend can make. I was so touched and remain ever so touched.

In the mist of all this, I went back to Ghana in May 2014 to my dear mother Ellen Vera Tamakloe’s funeral and met my long lost cousin and dear friend, who has been on the journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean on two different occasions. The links between all of this meant that I became more and more immersed, concerned and affected, by ‘Last Dream (On Earth)’ as it evolved through development into rehearsals in 2015. “Two years!” (I joked in rehearsals the last time, to the cast of Last Dream) “it has taken Kai to write this masterpiece.”

Gameli Tordzro: Photo by Deanne JonesGameli Tordzro: Photo by Deanne Jones

My involvement in the production has been through my music. This meant I have had to consciously have a serious chat with ‘Gameli’ the theatre director, and warned him to shut up, observe and learn from ‘Gameli’ the musician and everybody else and not be in the way for whatever reason. It worked. But my involvement has also been as someone deeply affected by the stories being told: the Yuri Gagarin story, and what it reveals about the insatiable human need to explore the unknown and the migrant story and the dangers people face, and how these stories would never be as glamorous as a single Russian young man risking his life going into space in the Cold War era. Pertinent and continuously alarming to me is how thousands of people – those who succeed in crossing and those who perish in the attempt, women, children, men, fathers, brothers sisters cousins, people who were loved and loved back, people who are suffering endlessly – continue to be reduced to mere statistics.

'Gameli's drums and xylophone bell and shaker': Photo by Gameli Tordzro‘Gameli’s drums and xylophone bell and shaker’: Photo by Gameli Tordzro

When Kai told me that the funding application he had put in for producing Last Dream (On Earth) had been approved by Creative Scotland, and supported by The National Theatre of Scotland and The Tron Theatre, I was thrilled for many reasons. After rehearsing and performing Last Dream (On Earth) only one thing remains with me. ‘I am not the same and would never be the same again’ My contribution to the piece was music created and performed in collaboration with Tyler Collins in a manner to communicate what words are unable to carry: to capture out of the world of imagination what gets lost in translation from one language to the another, and attempt to rephrase that in the language of music in a manner that reaches a part of our shared understanding beyond the reach of words.

‘Last Dream (On Earth)’, which opened at the Tron Theatre on the 2nd of April to the 4th of April, and toured to St. Andrews, Paisley, the Shetland and Inverness and the Shetlands has turned out to be a great musical journey.

Tyler Collins: Photo by Deanne JonesTyler Collins: Photo by Deanne Jones

Dreams and Journeys

My own ‘journey’ to Scotland, was relatively safe and ‘legal’ but it was still a wild adventure and was first to visit my older brother Kofi and his wife Margery in 1983. I remember I did not have time to even inform my mother and she did not know I was away for 4 weeks. It was only the gifts I brought from Kofi and Margery and from our big sister Unity and her family in Belfast that proved to her that I had been away, visiting our itinerant, entrepreneurial family. My second and third visits were in 1991 and 2000 then finally, 2003 to settle here, living away from my family for three years until they joined me in 2006 – a massive leap into the unknown for us. But thinking about it, we are always making those leaps into the unknown. The question is how much one is prepared to risk for a leap into the unknown world, even the one that exists within you to explore.

People are responsible for creating difficulties for others. Difficulties that are serious enough to send the weak to risk everything and move in search of a better life. Shame on all of us who make it difficult for innocent people fleeing from war and poverty to find protection. Shame, on us for the little value we place on human life and the high value we place of spurious security. Shame! for policies that replace the names of the weak with statistics just to reduce our own guilt. Shame! for belittling the bravery of the poor. Those who embark on a mission to rescue ‘the drowning’, let them move further to effect change enough to take away the need to risk one’s own life. Change affects us but we effect change.

“Ensi mo yie!”

“May it end well with you all of you”.