Black Brass – a powerful blend of monologue and music currently in development

For many around us, 2020 has been a challenging year so far, as we deal with isolation and separation. But for some, these feelings have shadowed their life as they adapt to a new life in a new country. Inspired by stories of hardship and resilience from migrant communities, Perth-based writer and performer Mararo Wangai is working on his first work-of-scale, Black Brass.

Recently, Mararo was back in the room with Dramaturgs Matt Edgerton and Afeif Ismail to refine his script. He was also joined by guitarist Mommed Mamundo to explore ways to weave the stories together using music and songs.

We sat down around the room with the creative team to find out how the script is coming together and how they worked within the imposed restrictions at the time.

What was the most exciting part of the project for you?

Mararo Wangai
Finding how music sits side by side with the narrative text but also how it fills the world of ‘Black Brass’ creating its atmosphere – especially with Mommed’s exquisite musicianship. It is such a beautiful reminder of how music speaks all of our languages and goes that step further – getting us to listen with our hearts which we so rarely allow ourselves to do.

Mararo Wangai

Matt Edgerton
Sitting in a room watching Mommed and Mararo creating music was such a privilege. There is a musical vocabulary (not to mention a number of shared languages) and common catalogue of references which allow them to create together with such ease. And such effortless musicianship. Beautiful!

Matt Edgerton

Afeif Ismail
The whole creative team worked in harmony, generously they shared their knowledge to support Mararo to achieve the best from this development.

Afeif Ismail

What was challenging?

Mararo
Getting the script to the finishing line through the hurdles that manifested after Covid. While it is very much a writer’s world to be bunkered down in isolation in the best of times, it is balanced by foraying out into the ‘regular’ world for inspiration, consolation and at times respite. It is a very strange time to be creating work and perhaps there is some guilt within me knowing how much worse off others are beyond Australia. It reminds me how this is a privileged position to be in and not one to be taken for granted.

Matt
I don’t feel like there have been any challenges that have felt un-resolvable. The sense of what this work is becoming has been clear from our first creative development. So the work has just been to turn up each day and gradually chisel out the form that we know is there already waiting for us – to focus on character, or music or story or whatever is needed at the time and just refine what is there. And so each day we keep discovering delightful things that make the work richer and deeper and hopefully clearer. It’s been really enjoyable!

Afeif
Missing our face to face sessions; where the collective mind works together as it supposed to be in theatre development.

Mommed
To make songs and try to join them in this kind of project, which I never worked on before.

I firmly believe that it is crucial to create work that allows minority audiences to feel welcome to the theatre, worthy of seeing their stories brought to life and celebrated, and reminded that there is no narrative greater or lesser than another.”

Mararo Wangai

Why do you think it’s important to tell that story?

Mararo
Black Brass is not looking to offer a tourist-like guide to the African migrant experience in Australia, rather it is a piece that tries to stay true to the complexities of each of our journeys here. The 20+ hours of recorded interviews that inspired this work are rich in diversity within diversity and they really are a tiny sliver of a testament to how varied our experiences of migration as Black Africans are.

I feel that it is important that artists from minority groups continue to inspire one another to create work that first and foremost speaks to us and the issues that are pertinent to our particular communities. On top of that, I firmly believe that it is crucial to create work that allows minority audiences to feel welcome to the theatre, worthy of seeing their stories brought to life and celebrated, and reminded that there is no narrative greater or lesser than another. Black Brass is my attempt to grapple with these issues and I believe that there is no surer way of growing as an artist than to have your work presented to an audience and allowing the work to speak for itself.

Matt
I think this is a story about the struggle to make art. The reason so few people pursue this way of life is because it is inherently risky. Mararo’s work asks big questions about why art matters. What drives someone to create? How does an artist balance their own material comfort with artistic risk and the desire to change the world? It’s full of big ideas that are not easy to resolve.

Afeif
This story is different from the mainstream label and expectations for refugees or people of color. It is like someone threw a stone in a quiet lake. It creates multiple circles, and each circle tells a fabulous story.

Mommed
This is one of the various ways to tell something about Africa I guess.

Produced by Performing Lines WA, the work has been supported by the WA Government through the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

In everything we do, we acknowledge that we live on Aboriginal land and constantly learn from the wisdom of our First Peoples.

Where we are and the history that precedes us informs how we work and how we move forward.