Bloke and His American Bantu

Siphiwo Mahala
Assembly George Square Studios

Josias Dos Moleele, as Langston Hughes and Anele Nene as Bloke Modisane Credit: Randy Phasha
Anele Nene as Bloke Modisane Credit: Randy Phasha
Josias Dos Moleele, as Langston Hughes and Anele Nene as Bloke Modisane Credit: Randy Phasha

Bloke and his American Bantu is a fascinating glimpse of the friendship between the American poet Langston Hughes and the South African writer-performer Bloke Modisane or, as they often call each other in this play, “my American Bantu” and “my favourite Bantu.”

The performance is derived from letters they sent each other and talks that Bloke gave at American universities. It is structured around telephone conversations between Langston in New York and Bloke in London.

Occasionally, we see them together chatting about culture, politics and shared enthusiasms such as their liking of the South African jazz opera King Kong.

Bloke, given an impressively sensitive and moving performance by Anele Nene, phones Langston from a London he finds cold and difficult. At one point, he is evicted and has to sleep on a friend's floor. He misses his wife and child but, having gotten out of South Africa, he doesn’t think he will be allowed back in.

Although the production is always interesting, the telephone-dominated first half can feel dramatically flat. However, it is the second-half extracts from Bloke’s American talks which really grab our attention as Bloke encourages the audience to join in with a South African song. The show soars when he speaks of the world with such political sharpness and lyrical energy, it had me determined to read his book Blame Me On History.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna