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Izeki ndi Jakobo: A reflection of decades of laughter

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ON STAGE – Jakobo

By Ziliro Mchulu:

Laughter occurs across all cultures and in a wide range of situations.

According to Aristotle, laughter holds the ability to animate the human soul, thus separating ourselves from animals.

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While, sometimes, comedy is treated as inconsequential, a means of amusement and merely merriment, the comic expression is actually a highly necessary commentary on life.

Comedy begins with personal reflections on the oddities and anomalies of life in which any individual indulges. Further, it takes on a broader and universal significance when actors structure that reflection into a comic form.

Dismissing comedy as just a laughing matter misses this point and the review reflects on the decades of legendary ‘Izeki ndi Jakobo’ series as reflections and commentaries on social Malawi.

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In Systematic Theology, it is believed that nothing just happens and theologians learn that, in this world, everything happens for a reason.

This theory reposes on the belief that the world is a system that operates on cause and effect, hence if something is happening, it is either a result or an effect of something.

This idea is truly reflected when we see the history of what we call Izeki ndi Jakobo’ comedy series in Malawi. From a mere move to visit Mr Charles Severe and the absence of the then owners of artist corner (Chancellor Collage Travelling theatre) on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)’s ‘Midweek Magazine’, here we are reflecting on decades of laughter of what became a legendary comedy, ‘Izeki ndi Jakobo’.

The biggest question that posterity will be curious to answer and appreciate will be, who was Izeki and Jakobo and how did they start?

‘Izeki ndi Jakobo’, as a comedy series, existed in Malawi for over 30 years but the individual actors had been in drama for more than that.

Izeki, whose real name was John Nyangayathyoka, and Jakobo, who real name was Eric Mabedi, met with their source of inspiration years back when they went to visit Mr Charles Severe of Malawi Broadcasting Unit, who was submitting a weekly air magazine to MBC.

The late Severe hosted Eric, who happened to be his nephew, and John in his office while waiting for Chanco Travelling Theatre to come and fill the slot for Artist Corner, which was featured in Midweek Magazine.

However, the theatre group did not make it on this day and Mr Severe asked the two to just cover up the seven to 10-minute ‘airtime’ space. When they got into the studio, Eric asked John to choose his stage name and, without unnecessary delays, he named himself Izeki while Eric named himself ‘Jakobo’.

To them, this meant they were brothers based on the biblical ‘Isaac and Jacob’.

Theologically, it can be argued that, minus the absence of Chanco Travelling Theatre, we could not have had Izeki and Jakobo but we could have had them as actors in Kwathu Drama group because the late John Nyanga and his friends started Kwathu in 1980 and Eric joined the group four years later in 1984.

Apart from acting in Kwathu, the two took time to produce numerous episodes of their celebrated series ‘Izeki ndi Jakobo’.

From the unknown day they set out as ‘Izeki ndi Jakobo’, they added colour to the country’s history of theatre and comedy.

The two nurtured and inspired the art with dedication and patriotism. On record, Eric was roped into active acting by John, and Winiko confessed that it was Eric who spotted him and gave him space.

The death of Izeki in 2015 meant the end of the duo series but the demise of Jakobo two weeks ago closed the stage-curtain, hence the country is in a zone of appreciation of the legendary comedy gurus.

As human beings raised in rural Malawi, Izeki and Jakobo dramatised the fusion of Christian and traditional beliefs when they created Kutsilika Tchalitchi, where Izeki, as a church member, attempts to influence a father of a Catholic Church into using charms to woo people to the church and secure the church from attacks.

In this episode, known for the line “Simuthatu miyezi itatu, Mukhala papa Jakobo oyamba”, the two presented a Malawi where church leaders use traditional means to secure and cement power.

The Izeki of the episode speaks with confidence that as man of God, Jakobo needs to be fortified from enemies using traditional charms, which he claims come from Mozambique— a country known in Malawi for African charms.

However, the father in the episode turns down the proposal, claiming that the Christian God protects him and the church.

This shows that, in our societies, people mix Christianity with traditional powers.

The two, who did not go to any formal class of drama but managed to write and direct plays, also respected the institution of marriage and family.

In the episode Njinga, Izeki owns a bicycle and his friend Jakobo wants to borrow it for his faming errands.

How Izeki and his wife collaborate to politely stop Jakobo from borrowing the bicycle expresses the sacredness of marriage and how the two view it. They sensationalise the need for married couples to work together and make decisions as one.

“Njingayi siyanga; ndi yathu”. This expression shows that a couple owns things together and not as individuals.

If we reflect on today’s Malawi, we will see elements of individualism in marriage. No wonder, cases of divorce are rising. As we hoot, let us reflect on the morals.

As artists who were mirrors of the society, the two attempted to question some popular ideas that are retrogressive.

In the same episode of Njinga, Izeki is worried that his uncle is arranging marriage for a young girl and his friend Jakobo is the one orchestrating the whole move.

Izeki argues that, if we are to end the vicious cycles of poverty, we should empower the girl child.

As it is argued in developmental literature, development has to involve the majority to be sustainable. In this case, females are the majority, hence they should be empowered and engaged through education.

Further, in Kuyenda Awili Si mantha, known for the line “Uyu nde andipha. Mukanva ndafa, wandipha”, Izeki visits Jakobo for financial assistance in form of school fees for his children.

In a bid to add voice to the money, Jakobo tells Izeki in the face that he is struggling because he did not go to school and that, nevertheless, he is loaning him money simply because he understands the relevance of education.

There is a cliché that “Education is power and a key to success” and Nelson Mandela argued that “Education is a social vaccine”. The relevance of education needs no words and the actors’ sense of humour echoes this.

The two even go farther to promote balanced education by saying that both girls and boys should be encouraged to go to school against today’ sambiances of “empowering the girl child”.

As the last tear drops to the earth, we say cheerio to the fallen legends. From them, we have, and we will continue, to learn.

As brothers, they taught us to live together and gave us the reality of the ups and downs of life.

In one episode, Izeki would be rich and in another it would be Jakobo’s turn to be rich. They even diversified the pillars of morality; it was not always that Jakobo would be the permanent hero or villain; the roles were rotating.

This added colour to the series because one watched without having a hint as to who would be the protagonist. This is a lesson to future comedians.

As we turn to the reality of their absence, we mourn as people who understand the reality and cruelty of death.

With tears, we will always remember the two as pioneers of local comedy and theatre.

The presence of Izeki ndi Jakobo assured us that we have a cream of art and their demise implores us to reflect on their good days.

With Izeki’s shuttered dreams of adapting Billy Kaunda book Hills and Valleys into a play, futile attempt by Smith Likongwe to document Izeki ndi Jakobo and other plays, we will do justice to posterity by giving life to the dead.

Those with capacity should document the life and history of Izeki and Jokobo for generations to come.

As Jakobo meets Izeki in death, we are laughing that heaven is now full of laughter.

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