Oliva Tweest The New Afrobeats Musical Makes Its Way To The East End

OlivaTwesst_0Oliva Tweest was written by a young hackney native Nana Duncan; it was created and directed by Yinka Ayinde. Yinka Ayinde produced the musical alongside the Marimba project and others.

Making history in April 2013, as the first ever Afrobeats musical to hit London’s west end. The most anticipated Afrobeats musical ‘Oliva Tweest’ inspired by D’banj’s hit single ‘Oliver Twist’ and YouTube comedy series ‘Azonto in real life’ is back this year, at the Hackney Empire for two days.

Yinka, Nana and the Marimba project (executive producers) have come together again to tell the tales of Tobi. The much anticipated musical starred the likes of Tolulope T-Boy Ogunmefun of don’t jealous me fame, the talented songstress Vicky Sola, Tom Moutchi known as Tommy Xpensive, Hannah Lindo, Joy Mbakwe, Emmanuel Imani, Homebros dancers, Cilla purple and GOP dancers.

This year’s Oliva Tweest had choreography directed by Ezinne Asinugo of CEO dancers (Britain’s got talent semi-finalist 2013). Backed by lovely renditions and recreations of our favourite afrobeats songs from the likes of Tiwa Savage, Davido, Mista Silva, Moelogo, Wizkid, Sarkodie, R2bees and many more. The ‘Oliva Tweest’ live band was no other than JGen Music; led by Jason Charles Nelson with beautiful vocal arrangements from Conrad Benjamin and Clarity Vocals.

Oliva Tweest explored the difference between the two generations. The generation of a mother who was born and raised in Africa and her son, who has born and raised in London. It explores the culture differences and clashes; this was something that most members of the audience could relate to. Nana Duncan made it easy for audience to relate to the story through the topics of parental pressure, romance, career choice, African culture and so forth.

Tobi-and-Mia

Oliva Tweest followed the endeavors of Tobi; an Afro-British womanizing young man who lives with his mother (Auntie Funke), and is having problems with his girl of the month (Kiesha). Whilst Tobi is at his favourite club (Cokobar) he meets Testimony aka Trisha; a club singer by night and a pastor’s daughter by day. Testimony shows no interest in Tobi’s advance, but that doesn’t seem to prevent his attempt to win her over.

After a sold out show at the west end last year, this years the afrobeats musical moved to the east end and was shown four times across two days. Now if you missed this year’s Oliva Tweest all I can say is sorry. It was an event not to be missed. Am I over-exaggerating? No it was that deep.

On the 6th & 7th September, I had the opportunity to watch Oliva Tweest and my, my, my, what an experience it was. I enjoyed every bit of the musical from beginning to end so much that, I watched it three times and it got better and better each time. Throughout the musical, I was dancing in my seat; literally every song was my jam. The energy level of the cast was amazing.

Tobi-@-Oliva-TweestOh yeah, how can I forget? The first Lady of afrobeats Tiwa Savage was in the building and she had a great time; according to the speech that she made at the end of the show.

From the moment you entered the theatre, you could feel the energy in the building. It was positive vibes all around. The audience had high spirits and seemed ready for a show. With DJ Afro B playing the best in afrobeats whilst the crowd was getting seated; you could see smiles and the eagerness in the faces of the audience. It was bound to be a night of laughter.

The timing was perfect on both days, as all the shows started and finished on time. The doors opened on time and the casts were in position 5 minutes before the show started, grabbing the attention of the audience.

Despite having the band and a few props on stage, the casts managed to make good use of the space they had. They used creative ways to switch scenes. Whenever someone turned on the radio, the band would start to play; this made the scene feel very realistic. The storyline flowed very well and the continuity was great. The cast did well to articulate and make their actions big. Emma Amoafo designed the lovely costumes.kele-kele-love

Considering the fact that this was most of the cast first musical, stage or theatre performances. I believe that they all did fantastically well. It was T-boy’s first musical, Tommy’s first stage performance and Vicky Sola’s first theatre production/acting gig. Despite how popular the Oliva Tweest musical is within the afrobeats culture, the members of the cast and production team were very friendly and humble. The production was well organised.

Throughout the show there was great audience and actor interaction, not only through the narrator, but also the cast members. There was always call and response which made the musical more lively, this grabbed the attention of the audience. The narrator played by Michael Charles-Odimayo
added humour and genuineness to the play. He brought it to life.

Though the stage looked amazing, the band were rocking out and a wonderful atmosphere was created. One thing I enjoyed the most was the hard work that went into the production. It was so transparent, that you could see the hard work. Another thing I enjoyed was the great chemistry between members of the cast, both on and off the stage. The chemistry between Tobi’s mother (Joy Mbakwe) and Testimony’s father (Emmanuel Imani) was incredible.

tracey-720x353Although it was the afrobeats musical, there was versatility in the dances. It wasn’t all Azonto, oh no. There were dances such as African dance, street, hip-hop, ballet and contemporary. The lovely Ezinne Asinugo really took the audience into consideration. It was also nice to notice that the musical did not just focus on Nigerian and Ghanaian anthems; Congolese music was also paid tribute.

Oliva Tweest was really amazing. I totally enjoyed it. Not only did they include some of my favourite songs, but also I could relate to the scene and found myself sitting there like “this is so my mother”. The way that Kurtis and Tommy kept prostrating to greet Auntie Funke was too funny.

The dance section after the interval was a brilliant idea; it really moved the crowd. I mean my goodness; the enigmatic energy that came from the GOP dancers (Patience and Funmi), Homebros (Unkle Tc and Kurty swift), Tommy Xpensive and Cilla Purple was brilliant. The reception they received from the crowd justified this. I must say Patience of GOP dancers has energy levels, I have never seen before. The audience really enjoyed this scene. Another reason why I watched the musical three times.

The beautiful songstress Vicky Sola took us to church, when she performed everything has changed. One thing I know for sure is that, if you didn’t go to church on Sunday but came to Oliva Tweest; you definitely felt the Spirit when she sung. I sat there amazed with Goosebumps.

The last scene was the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene between T-boy and Vicky Sola, which was on point. As Stacey Skeete played her guitar in the background, the scene felt tense, it felt real. As a member of the audience I felt very much involved in that scene. It is by far one of my favourite scenes.

The Live band was a rare treat that you don’t usually get at musicals, you normally get a live band at concerts. So this was very special for the audience. Oliva Tweest brought people of all origins, nationality and colour together. oliva-tweest-1

After the show, I had the chance to interview a member of the production team; who stated “Seeing the show come to life, I mean from rehearsals to the live performance, it has been amazing. We have all worked really hard and now you can see the hard work manifesting”.

The comments after the show showed that indeed the musical was a success. @Melissargh tweeted “No but seriously today! #OlivaTweest there aren’t enough characters on one tweet to even begin telling you of the greatness!”

@Uncle_De tweeted “BRUV EVERY SONG BANGED WE NEED TO MAKE AN ALBUM FOR ALL THE SONGS!!”

@CaroOhemaa tweeted “#OlivaTweest is opening the theatre world up to a whole new audience, making this cultured form of entertainment accessible to our community”. Another popular demand was that people wanted the show to be a bit longer.

I interviewed Lara (14) and Tomike (11), two young girls who watched Oliva Tweest for the first time, they said, “The show was really funny, interesting and entertaining. I would definitely come to the next one and I would bring my friends”.

Interviewing the lady of the hour Vicky Sola; who was picked to be in the play after her performance at jazz cafe and 2face and friends concert. Asking her about the productions Vicky stated, “This was a massive risk and I’m glad I could overcome it, because I was actually scared that my career could be ruined, since I’ve never done acting before. But I decided to take the risk and we thank God for his strength, his guidance, his protection and for overcoming the experience”.  She also disclosed that her EP OMG is out now on iTunes, be sure to grab your copy.

imagesWhen I asked Nana Duncan how she felt being so young and getting her script into the west end she stated “it makes me feel really good, just to be a part of a group of young talented black people from London. It’s an honor!”

She further stated “The show exceeded my expectations because we put on a great show in the space of 4-5 months. I would say the entire cast, JGen band, the vocal manager Conrad Benjamin of Clarity Vocals, director Yinka Ayinde, musical director Jason Charles-Nelson, set designer Sanaa Abstrakt, costume designer Emma Amoafo and assistant director Hannah Lindo made it all come alive. It has been a strenuous journey but it has been worth it. My fondest memory is sitting in rehearsal and seeing it all come together so well.”

When asked how she reflected her culture in the play, Nana Duncan also quoted “It’s my culture, it is a part of me. I read a review that suggested that Oliva Tweest wasn’t inclusive because of the Yoruba in the musical but I think it’s fair to say that it’s ok for us to have something that belongs to us. I think a lot of people immediately think that pro-black is excluding other races but the two aren’t synonymous. We shouldn’t have to apologise for wanting something for us.”

Yinka Ayinde stated “He feels proud and hopeful for the future of African arts in Britain”. Regarding future plans for the show he said, “I will spend the next year on some research & Development. Developing the story further and also developing & preparing our audience very well for the finished product in 2015. This will most likely come in the form of a UK, Europe and African tour between 2015 – 2018” how exciting is that!Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 11.16.47

Oliva Tweest this year was a huge success. The actors, dancers, musicians and vocalist all done well, It was a really great production. According to twitter, many people believe that the cast should produce a cd with all the songs from the musical. This tweet gained several retweets and I must say I totally agree.

It would be nice if the track list and artist were written in the programme; as there was a range of different people present at the show. This would make it easy for them to get familiar with the songs.

Overall, I cannot wait to see how the production continues to grow and become bigger and better. What a show it was indeed. Even the after-party popped off. How many musicals have an after-party? The Oliva Tweest productions team is setting new levels, I must say.

Lastly, Yinka is looking for another co-producer, sponsors, investors and media partner. If you or anyone you know is interested, please spread the news! 🙂

Written by Noelle Asiedu / @Missndott

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