Tyson Ngubeni: Shining a light in The Dark Ages

Tyson Ngubeni performing in his show The Dark Ages. Photo: Kyle Prinsloo.

Against a backdrop comprised of various African flags, a bag of charcoal, and the quintessential South African school shoes, Tyson Ngubeni keeps his audience captivated and howling with laughter for the entirety of his all-too-brief one-man show.

Peppering his performance with glimpses of his musical talent — on the keyboard, beatboxing, and singing — Ngubeni casts a critical lens on South African politics and current events. He focuses on the xenophobic attacks of 2008 and 2015, as well as the controversies around South Africa’s Finance Minister shuffle and Guptagate. Using personal experiences to illustrate how xenophobia affects his daily life, Ngubeni ensures the audience keeps chuckling with his tales of having his nationality questioned and tested. Although amusing, these stories highlight these issues and how they need to be addressed.

The title of the show, The Dark Ages, makes references to Ngubeni’s dark complexion. Ngubeni shares anecdotes of his nephew saying that he looks like “a Gautrain tunnel during loadshedding”, and a childhood acquaintance in Diepkloof, Soweto presenting him with charcoal as a comparison with his skin. He mentions the protection melanin offers against the sun’s UV rays, before referring to his skin as an “added security feature”. He also pokes fun at his impressively large head, referring to it as the Mercedes-AMG or BMW M3 of heads.

Video by Kyle Prinsloo

In contrast to many performers of the Festival, Ngubeni actively engages with his audience throughout his set. Asking questions conversationally and reacting to the audience’s responses, he ensures that their attention does not falter throughout his performance. This isn’t difficult. With his quick wit, his precise impersonations, and his soaring vocals hitting notes high to low, Ngubeni is truly a talented performer worth seeing.

By Ashleigh Dean