Kenyan children's musical roars in to U.S. for off-Broadway premiere

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Feathery costumes, multi-colored makeup and East African instruments are packed into boxes, ready for shipping as Kenya’s National Theatre prepares to take its popular children’s show “Tinga Tinga Tales” to New York.

Cast members of the popular children's show Tinga Tinga Tales perform at Kenya's National Theatre in Nairobi, Kenya, September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The cartoon by multiple BAFTA award-winner Claudia Lloyd and Kenyan singer-songwriter Eric Wainaina features Kenyan children’s fables to explain questions from the animal kingdom, such as why the giraffe’s neck is long and how the chameleon got its colors.

The 2016 musical adaption, brought to life by a breakdancing Rastafari tortoise, a soul singing hippopotamus and a jazz savvy elephant, takes musical inspiration from gospel, funk and hiphop -- genres rooted in the United States.

“I’m thrilled to be able to give back to an audience that I’ve borrowed so much from,” said Wainaina, who is the show’s composer, music director and also plays the lead character Monkey.

“We all borrow from each other and I’m really happy to go and show this African manifestation of all this music that I’ve been listening to.”

The cartoon, named after a colorful Tanzanian art-style, was first commissioned by Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC.

Lloyd said she was excited to bring East African children’s tales, visual arts and music tradition to the United States, where the team will perform for two weeks in October at New Victory Theatre, an off-Broadway theater for children.

She said she believed the show had the potential to reach a much broader audience than the one it has so far entertained with full theaters in the Kenyan capital.

“When they all get up and scream and shout, that’s why we are doing this,” said Lloyd, adding she still tears up with joy when she sees families or school classes engage in the tale and move to the beats.

“There’s no reason why this couldn’t tour around the world. I would love it to go to pan-African capital cities and spread the Tinga-love a bit.”

Reporting by Cecilie Kallestrup; Editing by George Obulutsa and Patrick Johnston