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In Conversation: Shango Baku

Mustapha Matura’s adaption of Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters, remains one of my most memorable theatre night out. No ordinary feat, he transported me to the Caribbean with his eclectic characters and electrifying dialogue. Chekhov would have approved. What a fine production that was under the direction of Paulette Randal.  Its 2010, and Matura, the award winning Trinidadian playwright is back with Rum and Cola. Written in 1976 and reworked by Matura for a 2010 audience, Rum and Cola is a bittersweet story, which celebrates the art of Calypso and friendship. Shango Baku sees himself in the role of Professor, an ageing ex-Calypso King, who has been reduced to singing on the beach for tourists accompanied by Slim, a young street boy, whom he attempts to turn from a life of crime.   In his own words, Shango Baku and why it is important for theatre to revisit plays like Rum and Cola and of course, the symbolism of Calypso in the play.

ShangoBelinda: What attracted you to the role of professor?

Shango Baku: I had done a couple of readings of the script with Talawa Theatre Company in the past two years. The second was a public reading at the Young Vic which was very well received and enjoyed. I felt that the role of the professor was one that suited my abilities, my age and my experience. I though it was well drawn, humorous and humane – it seemed tailor –made for my specific talents

Belinda: RUM AND COCA COLA celebrates calypso and friendship and at the centre of this is your character, who has a past and is also trying to shape another person’s future. How intrinsic is music to developing this relationship, especially calypso music?

Shango Baku: Calypso music is at the very core of the play. It generates the relationship between master and pupil, and is the sustaining theme in the momentum of their journey.

Belinda: What’s the symbolism of music (Calypso) in the play as a whole?

Shango Baku: Calypso is symbolic of the laid back carefree lifestyle of Caribbean people. It identifies with and easy-going attitude to life in the sunny islands of the Caribbean

Belinda: How important is it for the stage to revisit plays like Run and Cola for the younger generation with Caribbean heritage?

Shango Baku: The play can be seen as a crucial educational drama for young people of Caribbean heritage in Britain; it describes the origins of the art form (calypso) and depicts the colourful lifestyle of those involved in its early development.

Belinda: In addition, the issue of one’s past also plays a centre stage role as professor tries to get over his and help steer someone else on the right track, what’s the relationship between the past, present and future, which Rum and Cola explores?

Shango Baku: Professor’s past is the back-drop against which the young slim develops his future as a calypsonian. The noble tradition, with all its peaks and failures, is passed on to a younger generation who must now take it forward, and stamp it with their own image

Rum and ColaBelinda: Your character is the lead role, how challenging is it to carry a role like this when you don’t have a lot of people on stage with you?

Shango Baku: I think a two hander depends largely on the chemistry between the main characters – if this works well , the burden of stagecraft becomes less challenging more sustainable  and eventually enjoyable despite the lack of supporting players

Belinda: The title is very interesting, Rum and Coca Cola because it conjures up different images and ideas, especially of fun when you first hear it. Is the title of the play symbolic of anything in terms of heritage, location and the genre of music the plays explores?

Shango Baku: On the surface Rum and Coca Cola suggests an atmosphere of gaiety, fun and sunshine on an idyllic tropical isle. But beneath the stereotype the play also explores a dark cocktail of emotions generated by its colonial setting, and the artist’s search for recognition within his indigenous culture

Belinda: What kind of emotions and points of discussion do you want the production and the themes it raises to evoke with the audience/those who see it?

Shango Baku: It is difficult to pre-determine or forecast emotions, discussions and outcomes that this play might generate in its audiences. By performing it with integrity and artistic energy it may give rise to a range of responses and surprising feedback from a broad cross -section of audiences as seen in the Q&A sessions;   many have been transported by its tropical setting into a world far distant from their everyday experience. Some have seen the theme of survival as relevant to the economic downturn in Europe.  Others have looked at tourism as a blight that causes the artist in the developing world to pander to the taste and expectations of former colonisers – thus prostituting their art for small financial returns. One British theatre goer saw the professor’s fall from grace as a reflection on his own personal life! Some found the ending triumphal; others found it sad and disturbing. The play reaches across a broad field of emotions and has the capacity to move inter-generationally, inter-culturally with surprisingly fluid and poignant responses

Belinda: What do you hope people take away from the play?

Shango Baku: Generally a memorable experience that makes them more humane, more thoughtful of themselves and their impact on others, more generous in their acceptance of diverse cultures, genres and ethnicities.

Rum and Cola is directed by Don Warrington

Shango Baku is an actor, writer and director and his  career spans film, television, radio and the stage.

Rum and Cola is currently on a national tour. For more information, please see below.

Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 November 2010

Cheltenham Everyman

Everyman Theatre

Regent Street


Gloucestershire GL50 1HQ

Tickets: 01242 572573

Website: Cheltenham Everyman

Wednesday 10 to Sat 13 November

Exeter Northcott Theatre

Stocker Road



Tickets: 01392 493493

Website: Exeter Northcott Theatre

Post Show Talk on Thursday 11th November.

Images: English Touring Theatre


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