Shine at The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (Thursday 16th to Saturday 18th May) is the true life story of solo performer Kema Sikazwe (also known as Kema Kay Dream Chaser –see Kema’s Twitter page for more information) told in words and rap music.
Kema was 3 years old when his family moved from Zambia (once known as Northern Rhodesia) to Newcastle Upon Tyne with his parents and older brother. His father was chasing one of the most precious prizes in his culture, education, and the place to do that was at the university there. How his father came to be in a position to make the 5,007 mile journey from Zambia to Newcastle is a story within itself, and events outside of his parents’ control were soon to change and shift Kema and his family’s positions in life forever. This is a short show at 70 minutes (no interval), so I am not going to tell Kema’s story in this review. Shine is his story, and if you get a chance over the next few days, try and get over to The Traverse Theatre to hear his words.
Kema Sikazwe, like many Zambians, was brought up to believe that the U.K. was a land of riches and opportunities far removed from any of the troubles in his home country, and somewhere where the sharp divides between the wealth and opportunities of rich and poor people did not exist; coming to live in the “West End” of Newcastle however swiftly shattered that dream and brought home the truth that inequalities in wealth and opportunities exist in other places too. School, that “dream palace of an education” at primary and secondary, proved also to be far different from what Kema imagined. Anyone who has survived being at “not too good a school” will recognise so many elements of Kema’s story here, and I certainly do. What I have no experience of though is the relentless (both verbal and physical) daily abuse that Kema faced for not only “not fitting in”, but the colour of his skin. These formative years at school coupled with many problems and tragedies in his home life are what Kema brings to life in this production.
Names are more special than many people think, and they have meaning and power. Kema was told early in life that his name means “one who will shine” and that he had to find a way to discover his “own shine” in life. Sadly, personal events for all too long made it very difficult (if not impossible) for Kema to follow his own “shine”, and this is a story about personal identity as much as anything else. Just where was his “shine”, who was Kema? Was his identity Zambian or “Newcastle Upon Tyne”? Was Kema a good or a bad person, a poet or a fighter, a potential career criminal or a potential beacon of light to others? Was Kema even going to survive the conflicts of his youth? So many questions with no obvious answer.
Eventually though, the earlier light at the end of the tunnel that was his writing and his music shone through again and Kema found not only his “shine” as a rapper, but an emerging career. From this road, other roads of opportunity opened up for Kema, including an unexpected opportunity to become an actor. This production of “Shine” allows both roads of opportunity to be explored.
There are some people out there who might be put off going to this performance because the musical format used to tell this story is “Rap Music”. Sadly, for some, this genre of music conjures up a very racial stereotype and a very specific style of music in both style and content. The truth of course is that, like any type of music, “Rap Music” has many different styles and churches, and Kema has been very careful here to make his words and music accessible to as broad a range of audience as possible. At the end of the day with music and lyrics, it is not the style of what you use to speak that matters, but what you have to say, and here, with “Shine” Kema tells us a story full of heartache, emotion, and losing ones way in life. It is also though a story of overcoming adversity and finally discovering what your own inner “shine” really is, your own route out of the darkness and into the light. Here, Kema hides nothing from his audience and is honest about his life story (good and bad). An honesty about the all too often unspoken issues of psychiatric disorder issues in males is very powerful in his words and music.
If there is a message from Kema it is that somewhere within them, everyone has their own special “shine”, but what that is and the road to inner discovery is different for every person.
A short, but powerful, work of theatre with tight direction from Graeme Thompson, and a powerful performance from Kema Sikazwe.
Review by Tom King