Kenya’s Black Blues Brothers on a mission to thrill Edinburgh Festival visitors

Black Blues Brothers
The Black Blues Brothers

A team of acrobats from Kenya are performing at this year’s Edinburgh Festival in a routine inspired by classic 80’s movie The Blues Brothers.

The show, created by Italian academic and professor of circus history and street entertainment at the State University of Milan, Alessandro Serena, originated in Nairobi.

Serena, who has been managing acts since the 80s, visited Sarakasi, a community circus school and artist development scheme, during a lecture trip to Nairobi almost five years ago.

While there, he watched five young acrobats do a slick act of hand balancing, tumbling and human pyramids, and signed them up immediately. Since then, The Black Blues Brothers has been performed in front more than a quarter of a million people across 500 dates in 200 cities.

‘Back then we were doing more of an African show,’ recalls acrobat Seif Mohamed Mlevi. ‘It was ok, it was part of our culture and tradition about the jungle and warriors. But Alessandro said he didn’t want us to do that show, he wanted to write something especially for us. Not the African jungle show, but something American.’

Serena based the show on the 1980 hit film The Blues Brothers starring Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, but specially adapted for his five-man troupe.

The circus show is set in an American bar and features songs from the musical including ‘Soul Man’ and ‘Shake a Tail Feather’, with ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ including volunteer kids from the crowd trying to limbo under flaming poles with them.

‘We used to perform in street shows in Nairobi for no money, then pass a hat around,’ says Mlevi. ‘Now we have a salary and when we go home to Kenya we can help out our families. The younger kids in Sarakasi learn from us. They want to be like us one day!’

The five acrobats trained for years at Sarakasi before getting the chance to tour the world. ‘The school taught us discipline, about being professional and punctual, working hard. Respecting others. This isn’t a job for us – it’s a passion. Even when the five of us are fasting during Ramadan, we still give the show the same energy every night. We might lose a bit of weight, but the energy levels stay the same.’

The Black Blues Brothers, Assembly Rooms, 3–25 Aug, 4.30pm, £14–£16 (£13–£15).

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