By chance, my companion to the show last night was friend and Indigenous educator, Natalie. Larrakia woman, Saltwater woman. Which was handy because myself, 6 generations here, and the British woman and the Nigerian woman in front of us needed some help during the pop quiz! Yep, there’s a few audience tests in MY NAME IS JIMI! House lights up and a chance to enjoy the reactions of the people near me. It’s just part of a gift from the Bani Family to me and I accept with open heart and joy in the receiving. After experiencing this brilliant theatrical event how could I not?
The show is celebration, an offering, a coming together to learn from a master storyteller with culture sharing on his mind. The Bani Family, 7 of whom are onstage, are Torres Strait Islanders and the show begins with a dance, a headdress and a welcome mat. Familiar, part of our cultural absorption, there is obviously more to say. Jimi is our guide, beginning with a genealogy which puts my linear 6 gens to shame. Just a hint for the quiz … Mum is the word for Mother … don’t tell him I told you.
Not that Jimi would mind. Open and welcoming, responsive to the audience he is a big-hearted man in a dashing suit who speaks embracingly to all as he helms the show. With him is his eldest son, Dmitri, whose interest in phones and YouTube and received US culture has the potential to disrupt. Primogeniture gives a special urgency to his father’s sharing. But Jimi’s brothers, grandmother and “Mum” are there to help, to provide music and conversation interspersed with multiple layers of storytelling.
Technically superb, the production uses live feed camera work, moveable staging and diorama/ animation to tell stories. (Direction by Jason Klarwein who is also co-writer with Jimi Bani.) The music is live and evoking. But the dancing is the heart of the matter. Those men can dance! Natalie tells me there is a blackfella joke in there somewhere! They disco and breakdance and dab but most powerful of all is the exuberance and vibrancy of the cultural dances. Especially towards the finale as Jimi metaphorically loosens the tie of his elegant modern attire.
The metaphors appear and echo throughout this show. Like the individual flames make that make a fire roar, symbols appear and disappear, strike at the heart and senses and then fade leaving a passionate burning to preserve language and culture and cultural practices. “The past must exist to the present to ensure the future.”
MY NAME IS JIMI is a tender gift. Natalie and I flew home, winging westward with the sharing of the excellence and grandeur of this theatrical experience. Thank you, Jimi.
Take people. Gift it forward to kids, grandparents, “Mums”, anyone and everyone of your acquaintance. MY NAME IS JIMI is playing at Belvoir St Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival