Interview: Dikelo Mamiala talks about starring in NEXT!!! the cabaret, art imitating life, produced by Wêla Kapela Productions
The charismatic and fabulous, Dikelo Mamiala captivated audiences, when she played Asaka: Mother of the Earth in the Tony award-winning musical, Once On This Island, which was recently on at the Baxter in Cape Town, staged by Wêla Kapela Productions [July 2022]. The prolific theatre company from East London, headed up by veteran theatre maker, Amanda Bothma is staging CaberetFest at the Baxter – three cabarets September –October 2022. https://thecaperobyn.co.za/preview-exciting-caberetfest-2022-by-wela-kapela-productionsthe-baxter-cape-town/ The great news is that Dikelo Mamiala is taking the stage in one of the cabarets – NEXT!!! – Auditions are not for the faint hearted. This production received a Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award, on the Fringe at the vNAF 2020- the online 2020 National Arts Festival. This was shortly after Covid brought live performance to a halt. Wêla Kapela Productions, pivoted quickly, using the screen as stage. Wêla Kapela Productions tours throughout the country. Keep your eye out for when NEXT!!! is on a stage near you. Read what Dikelo Mamiala says about how NEXT!!! mirrors her own story, as a musical theatre performer:
Roadblocks for making it as Black performers in mainstream musicals
Amanda, NEXT!!!, examines ‘questions of identity, belonging and opportunity in an industry dominated by white performers.’ How did NEXT!!! come about?
Amanda Bothma: “This is not just a battle for Black females. Black male performers face the same challenges. It started with a conversation I had with one of the many young performers that grew up on the Guild stage [East London] and the pursued a career in musical theatre. After working as a performer on both national and international stages he decided to quit performing and I wanted to know why? He said: ‘I think I have done what I could.’ Of course, I kept on pushing for him to go make it big. Then he just looked at me and said: “How many Black performers do you see as the lead in mainstream musicals” well that shut me up and I started paying attention to just that, and I realised not often and this is why I wrote this piece.”
Origin story of Dikelo Mamiala
Dikelo, what is your story and how did you connect with Amanda and Wêla Kapela?
Dikelo Mamiala: “I am a passionate creative, versatile singer, songwriter, and actress with over 10 years of experience. I was born in Pretoria to an academic family. My dad is a professor of Science and my mom has a PhD in Maths. I moved around a lot growing up, due to my parents studying further. I have lived in Pretoria Port Elisabeth, Perth, Australia and then back to Port Elizabeth, East London and now Johannesburg. I have always had a passion for the creatives, but ended up studying software development. I have been in the IT industry since 2009. When I started my first Job as a software developer in East London, my craving for the creative started calling, I did my first ever cabaret with Amanda, Postcards from Paris. It was then that I knew that this was my calling. I did a few more productions in East London with Arts Theatre, Guild Theatre and Alexander Playhouse. Evita and Hairspray being some of my highlights. One of my great achievements to date has been coming runner up in the Castle Milk Stout Songwriters Competition in 2014, where I performed alongside SA sensations, Micasa. I co-produced and starred at the National Arts Festival 2015, 2016 and 2017- the runs of the sexy comedy-Six Inches. In 2019, I returned home after an 8-month contract as a singer on-board a luxury German cruise liner, Mein Schiff 6. I have since gone into film and Television production for Ndiani Studios, as an associate producer and as lead actress in our debut series Working Wives, which aired on Showmax.”
Art mirroring life
Dikelo, Amanda says that NEXT!!! is about ‘a young Black girl from Mount Frere (a small rural town towards the north of the Eastern Cape close to the borders of KZN and Lesotho) who dreams of stardom and a musical theatre career and will do anything to avoid further rejections and that It examines ‘questions of identity, belonging and opportunity in an industry dominated by white performers.’ Is NEXT!! your story?
Dikelo Mamiala: “NEXT!!! is DEFINITELY my story. I am now 36 years old, and have been intensely doing this since I was 23. I don’t have a formal qualification as a performer, but I have 13 years of experience as a performer, ranging from, acting, directing, producing, coaching other actors etc. Being in East London, was a great treat because the acting community was small enough to know that when I auditioned for the next show, chances were high that I would get a part. Coming to Joburg, it took me four years before I could get an agent because a lot of the agencies considered me ‘unprofessional’, simply because I didn’t have the certificate. They wouldn’t meet with me, or audition me. It was just email after email of ‘NO!”. Then one agent that did meet with me, he was horrid- dismissive. He looked down on me and outright rude. Eventually, I decided I wasn’t going to wait for someone to hand me my dream, I was going to make it a reality. I quit my comfortable corporate job, went into a sabbatical. I did the courses. I went to the workshops. I went to all the open auditions. I eventually met a now good friend who had co-written a fantastic show, Six Inches and we collaborated with another friend. We successfully co-produced and co-started in it. It ran for three and half years. The thing with my experience- the ‘No’ that you get, doesn’t sound as harsh as a ‘NEXT!’. It’s a subtle- thank you, well done, that was amazing. But you never get the call back. It’s a subtle disinterest in you when the director is sitting in the audition room with the casting director, but they don’t even look up at you to acknowledge you. It’s arriving to the audition, nailing it, and being asked if you would be willing to cut your dreadlocks. I was willing for a guaranteed role- but not if it was just a call-back. It’s going to these countless auditions and wondering if you are enough, wondering if it’s all worth it. I remember booking an advert, and arriving to set on the day of the shoot and having the client (white lady), telling me that she’s not sure if my hair made me look ‘mom enough’ for the role. I had dreadlocks- apparently black females with dreadlocks don’t look like moms.”
Identity, belonging and- opportunity
Dikleo, can you talk about ‘questions of identity, belonging and opportunity in an industry dominated by white performers’, raised in NEXT!!!?
Dikelo Mamiala: “The show definitely poses the question that every performer starts out with – “Am I a real performer if all I’ve just done is audition but not booked a gig?”. I faced that reality for many years when I moved to Joburg. When I got back to Johannesburg, I gave up on musical theatre, because my qualification was my downfall. It was basically implied that I don’t even deserve to see a stage because I didn’t study musical theatre, regardless of my ability and years of experience. So, I settled for whatever I could find and came my way. I eventually moved into the TV & Film spaces because Musical Theatre was plagued with these gatekeepers. I would see friends announce on social media that they got into certain musicals, and I’m thinking to myself: When did the brief actually go out! Eventually I got the opportunity to collaborate with some friends and create my own opportunity, and stop waiting for these gatekeepers to affirm me or tell me where I need to be.”
Playlist in NEXT!!!
Dikelo, NEXT!!! includes Broadway standards and Miriam Makeba songs. Were you involved in putting the play list together? Which Miriam Makeba songs are you singing?
Dikelo Mamiala: “The song choices were a collaborative exercise. The songs we landed on compliment the storyline so well. In rehearsing for the show, it reignited my love for musical theatre, and the power a song holds as much as the dialogue. My favourite song in the show is, They just keep moving the Line from SMASH. I think every performer will identify with the lyrics. I am singing Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata- one of my favourites. It is such a vibe. I worked on a German cruise liner in 2018 – 2019 and got to sing this song regularly for a German crowd. They loved it – the click songs. I would often get comments that ‘Xhosa is not a real language’, because they could not comprehend the shape your mouth and tongue have to make to pronounce those words, hahaha.”
Naviagting through the pandemic
We had over two years of the pandemic and big musicals being halted. Dikelo, how did you manage during lockdown as a musical theatre performer?
Dikelo Mamiala: “Lockdown was a hard one for me. The year before lockdown, I had just come back into the country from performing on a German cruise liner. And my plan was to travel and perform some more. So, I found myself homebound- no job,- both in IT and the creative sector. I was in deep regret in the beginning. My plans had not materialised. With theatre not being possible, I collaborated with a friend to produce a series called Working Wives, which aired on Showmax. And then as life picked up and things went ‘back to normal’, I was lucky to reconnect with Amanda and Wêla Kapela to take on the role of Asaka, Mother of Earth in ‘Once on this Island’. AGAIN – My love for musical theatre just flooded back. I am grateful to Amanda and Wêla Kapela for the opportunity to take on the role of Relebogilethata in this exciting, fun, real cabaret.”
Amanda, why is the protagonist’s name, Relebogilethata?
Amanda Bothma: “Relebogilethata means ‘received with gratefulness’, a name that loses its meaning when it is mangled or mispronounced. When her headmistress calls her Rigoletto. Relebogilethata muses: ‘But that is not my name. My name is not Rigoletto it is Relebogilethata. It is the name my grandmother gave me. It means received with gratefulness, and I am proud of my name.’”
Coping with serious matters through humour
Amanda, conceptually, NEXT!!! is very different to Wêla Kapela cabarets such as Judy Garland and Julie Andrews – both legendary singers. Vincent is not a singer but a famous person. NEXT is also pitched as a cabaret but it is not about a famous person?
Amanda Bothma: “Yes, it is very different to Vincent and Julie Andrews but very much in the same vein as Damsel in Distress [another to Wêla Kapela cabaret], that speaks of domestic violence and its impact on one young girl. NEXT!! tells the story of Relebogilethata a young girl who has just finished her studies and is now working as a waitress to sustain herself until she makes her big break. It is really funny and demands really good comic timing from the actress but that is Dikelo forte. You see, humour is the way I cope with serious matters.”
For more on Wêla Kapela‘s CabaretFest at the Baxter, September-October 2022, see https://thecaperobyn.co.za/preview-exciting-caberetfest-2022-by-wela-kapela-productionsthe-baxter-cape-town/
✳ Image of Dikelo Mamiala- supplied.