This is the story everyone needs to hear and to see – but before My Name is Jimi opens in Brisbane on July 22, it will have its world premiere in Cairns on July 11, celebrating the page-to-stage finale of this important work, close to its heartland.
In My Name is Jimi, charismatic actor and storyteller Jimi Bani (Mabo, The Straits, Redfern Now) finally tells his story, and that of his family and his place of home – Mabuiag Island, a remote speck in the sparkling blue of the Torres Strait and the keeper of thousands of years of rich history and culture. Now, with just a few hundred people fanning its flame, the story, colour, characters, challenges and history of the Wagadagam culture come to the stage in what is a truly memorable live theatre experience.
It unfolds through music, dance, stand-up and fireside storytelling, with four remarkable generations of one family on the stage - Jimi’s grandmother, mother, son and brothers come together to share incredible yarns of totems, traditions and childhood memories. On stage it is a true celebration - Jimi performs alongside his son Dmitri, mother Agnes, and grandmother Petharie with his brothers Conwell and Richard Bani.
Drawing directly on the lived experiences of the Bani family and their role as leaders of the Wagadagam tribe of Mabuiag Island, the stories span the generations – Jimi jokes in three languages with his grandmother, and then tortures his son with spontaneous break-dancing. It’s an Australian story, and a world story of family and preserving the culture and language of Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait.
My Name is Jimi has been realised by an exceptional team of artists from all over Queensland. Jimi Bani worked closely with co-creator the Cairns-born stage powerhouse Jason Klarwein to develop the production. Fellow Cairns-based designers, the Italian-born Simona Consentini and Simone Tesorieri have created sets that combine 3-dimensional maps, live video projection and skilful lighting to transform the stage into Jimi’s cultural home of Mabuiag Island.
Co-creator Jason Klarwein sets the scene best: “The story actually began with Ahdi Dimple Bani, Jimi’s father the 8th Chief of Wagadagam in European recorded history. He passed away during the creating of this play, with Jimi now the bastion of the story, the new keeper of the chord of Wagadagam culture and soon, the 9th Chief.”
“I cannot really recall a play like My Name is Jimi. Sure there are works it can be related to, but what audiences will see, experience, feel and celebrate on stage is only a sliver of what is happening culturally within this extraordinary family. It is truly a unique theatrical experience.”
He said the ability for this family to bridge generational and cultural timelines was constantly surprising.
“Sometimes, when rehearsal pauses, out of the corner of my eye I see 15 year old Dmitri Ahwang-Bani (Jimi’s son) put his iPhone down and learn dance or language from his uncles, his grandmother or great-grandmother. I watch the tangible passing of language and culture from several generations to another. I watch this boy, who will soon be a man, grapple with Instagram and cultural lore simultaneously. Like the two things were made to be together.”
Always humble yet with a presence that takes one’s breath away, Jimi Bani said sharing the stage with his family and sharing his story with audiences was a tribute to his father’s passion for keeping traditions alive.
“With my father’s guidance, this is the story of a small community of people clinging tightly to each other, and fighting to protect what really matters, in the whirling chaos of a rapidly changing world. It’s funny and challenging, it’s inclusive and it’s honest, most of all, it’s hopeful.”
“There are few Torres Strait Island-led productions in the Australian theatrical cannon, and even fewer make it to major state theatre companies – we say Esso (thank you) to Queensland Theatre for allowing us to tell our story, and in doing so, pass our traditions to our audiences in the hope they will stand as bastions of our culture beside us,” said Jimi.
My Name is Jimi is dedicated to the memory of Adhi Dimple Bani and those that came before.
*Koeyma Esso (many thanks).
*This is the Kala Lagaw Ya language of Mabuiag Island
Brisbane 22 July - 13 August
Bille Brown Studio, Queensland Theatre
Tickets: 1800 355 528 or online at queenslandtheatre.com.au