De Gabay takes over Butetown

March 3, 2013 2 Comments »

Butetown and Cardiff Bay were turned into a festival of Somalian poetry, drama, dance and song today, as National Theatre Wales’ spectacular production De Gabay took over the city.

Hundreds of people attended performances during the day-long event, which was designed to explore the themes of identity and belonging in Cardiff’s Somali community. The city has the largest population of Somali people outside of Somalia.

The day began with around 500 ticket holders being issued with “passports”, which gave each of them the identity of a real Butetown resident from the past or present.

They were then sent to small, intimate performances of poetry and drama in one of 50 “secret locations” across Butetown, Grangetown and Riverside, before joining one of two parade routes.

The first, which set off from Loudoun Square, remembered the Somali community’s past. Performers acting as characters from the early 19th century acted out the journey early immigrants would have made from Somalia to Cardiff’s docks, with spectators asked to pass through a number of checkpoints to have their passports inspected.

A giant puppet of a camel delighted the crowds, who also had the chance to try traditional Somali food and listen to Somali music.

The second parade, representing the Somali community’s present, featured a series of street dance performances, musical performances, and the audience being asked to think about what they would say to their past-selves, given the chance.

The two parades were linked together by the story of Peter, from the past, who was trying to reach his lover Caroline in the future, and the two were reunited in a huge rally at the Coal Exchange.

Singers, dancers, musicians and MCs performed for the crowd of more than 500 people, and an open air debate between the past and the present asked questions about disenfranchised youth, and reconciliation between different generations.

The show finished with a “parliament of poetry” outside the Senedd, where actors and Butetown residents debated the changes to their area and community, before a grand finale saw a giant, glowing puppet painted with the words “my name is De Gabay” – meaning “the poem” walk among the crowds on the waterfront.

De Gabay was based on the work of five Somali-Welsh poets – Daud Farah, Ali Goolyad, Ahmed Ibrahim, Hassan Panero and Ahmed Yusuf – who have been working on the show with National Theatre Wales for the last two years.

Speaking this afternoon, Ali Goolyad said: “I’ve found it really entertaining. It’s been a great experience, a great journey, and brought a lot of people together to share their experiences, and there’s nothing more special than that.”

Chairman of National Theatre Wales Phil George said the idea behind De Gabay was to make a production that involved the whole community.

He said: “It is about being part of the community, not being trapped to the traditional theatre – a transformation of what theatre-making is.”

The show’s director, Jonathan Holmes, said the day had more than fulfilled his vision for the production, and had in fact gone even more smoothly than expected.

He said: “It’s been great – a lot of fun. The best parts of today have been the little things. The little moments of interaction between audience members, community members and actors, those little vignettes – some of those have been magical.”

Look back over our live coverage of the day here, and watch more videos of the production from our reporters Dominic Gilbert Sophie Yeo, and Elena Cresci. You can also listen to Elena Cresci’s interviews with director Jonathan and writer Ali below.

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  1. Liz March 4, 2013 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    As a piece of theatre this was great! Interactive, dynamic and real. Well done to the actors and crew for all the hard work that was obviously put in. However, the tone of the play and script were depressing and alienating. As a non-Butetown resident hoping to get a window into the history and current lives of the Somali community I came away disappointed and saddened.

    Yes the Somali community experiences economic and social deprivation but go a few miles to the edges of Cardiff and into the valleys and you'll see it there too. However, the feeling I was left with was that the Somali community believe that because their great grandfathers were seamen and navy men, that Britain owes them. There was a lot of anger in the play but rather than it being a positive force for change it seemed to feed the idea that the world outside Butetown hates you and life is tough. In fact, one of the few mentions of fellow Cardiffians is as 'outsiders'.

    'De Gabay' stands for philosophy and is used to resolve conflict but all I saw was anger and hate towards the British system. A system that's been welcoming, housing and educating Somalis for generations. The government fails all its citizens! But instead of relying on it to lift you out of poverty, negative self-belief and alienation you have to take some responsibility and empower your community and yourself. This message was sadly missing. And greatly needed.

  2. Jen March 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    Here Here I was there and felt the same.

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