Kabelo “Bonafide Billi” Togoe is the musical director and star of the acclaimed new musical, “Freedom”, which depicts the “Fees must fall”campaign.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Photos by: Sanmari Marais
It’s been over a week since I saw Freedom at State Theatre and I still catch myself breaking out in song or emulating some of the dance moves from the production. Not since Sarafina, has a musical moved me so much that I wanted to jump in to dance and sing with the cast. Witnessing it in a room full of students from the National School of Arts, it seemed like the Sarafina era had been recreated for them with Freedom.
Directed by the incomparable Aubrey Sekhabi (Also director of Marikana – The Musical), choreographed by Mdu Nhlapo and performed by a cast of 47, the large production immaculately captures the stories of poverty, rape, xenophobia, racism, corruption, gender dynamics and university fees.
Bonafide Billie is the musical director and one of the main actors in the story. Apart from creating haunting music for the production, he also gives a sterling performance that bewitches many. The singer, songwriter, rapper and producer has worked with rappers like Priddy Ugly and features on Chad Da Don’s single Korobela, which is one of the favourite numbers on Freedom.
Blacklight: How did it feel to play in front of young students, who might be faced with the same predicament?
Bonafide: I try very hard to stay focused in such moments and not lose myself because if you get overwhelmed with emotion, you lose yourself. It’s important for me to always concentrate on what I am trying to convey while on stage. I can only internalise the emotions after the curtain call and that’s how I am able to go through this show.
What would you say is your main responsibility when you step on that stage, every night?
B: My responsibility is to minister – shed light. Our generation has the responsibility to tell the uncensored truth because we are not afraid. I step on that stage to do exactly that, to tell the truth, our truth.
What inspired you to pen the songs for this story?
B: We were doing a show in celebration of 40 years of June 16 and I wrote the theme song Phambili. From that Aubrey Sekhabi got the idea to expand that to a musical and from there he gave me three briefs. The first brief was a photo of students who didn’t have a roof above their heads and he instructed me to go write on that, the second brief was to capture an argument between the opposing sides of the “Fees Must Fall” campaign and the final brief was to go and watch the news. From there we spent hours and many sleepless nights curating the script and the music for the production.
What are the moments that move you in the production?
B: The big part in this production is the story of Phindile (played by Simphiwe Ndlovu) and how she carries such a big responsibility but at the same time she is still human, vulnerable and has feelings. Her challenges rise and you would think she will fall but she rises too. For me that is profound. That depicts the struggle of our mothers, sisters and aunts and how they manage to rise on a daily basis.
I am Bonafide in and out of the story and I have discovered that I can be conscious. I have learnt that I have a responsibility to conscientise and I am the light.
How do you see yourself in this story?
B: I am Bonafide. I am glad that essence is with me all the time and I have truly learnt a new side of Bonafide. I am Bonafide in and out of the story and I have discovered that I can be conscious. I have learnt that I have a responsibility to conscientise and I am the light. It is then my responsibility to let it shine for others who are looking at me or to me.
As a storyteller, when do you know that you have created something worth sharing with the world?
B: That’s very difficult to answer because I can be quite a perfectionist. Sometimes I feel like I will never reach that place. What’s beautiful is when the music ministers back to me, when it does that instead of me uttering out, that’s a moment. I write and people receive but I seldomly receive, but when I get those precious moments when it touches me then I know I created something. I have also learned that you can’t over perfect something and so the simple answer is when it “minsters back to me”.
Why is this story worth someone giving up their three hours to watch?
B: It’s raw, it’s new age, its cutting edge. We are baring our lives on stage and the emotions and the experiences are real, there is no cut. On television it’s usually too worked out and here we have just one moment to tell the story.
Where would you like to see this story go?
B: Primarily, it is to fill up theatres. We could dream about abroad, which for me is more likely to happen because when you affirm something into being, it will be, but I dream about our own people coming to fill up the seats. It’s our people that need take us where they want to see us instead of ourselves. It begins here with 1300 people.
As a creator, how do you make sure you are present enough to be able to hear what the world is telling you?
B: Firstly, you need to be interested because that’s where the presence of mind comes from. People who are absent in mind are not interested in being connected. For me it takes interest, focus and tuning in because when you tune into something it can speak to you. If you listen to the music of this production, it’s conversational, it begins with a conversation between me and my music then it becomes the music and the people and then the people and society, it’s just this big tree. I believe it’s all about opening yourself up to hearing what the world has to say because you will find that everything is connected.