New Victory Arts Break: Africa – Discover

It is time to head to Africa! This season, we’re visiting artists from all around the world to get to know their art forms and their homes! As we explore the continent of Africa, you might remember a few theater troupes from their performances at New Victory. Let’s learn about some awesome companies and then learn a bit about Africa and its rich cultures.

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New Victory Arts Break Africa Discover

Meet the Artists

Let’s explore the rich and beautiful artistic landscape of Africa! Artistic trends in Africa are rich in tradition and culture, and include musical theater, music and dance. Let’s check out some of our favorite African theater companies and see what they have been up to recently:

Africa Triptych
Left to right: Nairobi Musical Theatre Initiative, Ndere Troupe, Egyptian Center for Culture & Arts – Makan
Isango Ensemble Triptych
Photo credits: Keith Pattison, John Page / Arts Emerson

Lastly, from Cape Town, South Africa, let’s spend some time with Isango Ensemble. You might remember them from the New Victory stage, where they have performed Aesop’s Fables, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and The Magic Flute. Let’s learn more about the ensemble as its members give us a backstage look into their lives.

Let’s reflect on a few things we saw in the video from Isango in our New Victory Notebook.

  • What were some things you noticed about Cape Town? What were some activities you recognized or would like to do?
  • What were the different locations you saw? Did they remind you of places you go to in your own life?
  • When watching the video, were there any people that reminded you of family or friends in your life?
  • The Isango Ensemble is from South Africa. What would you want to explore in South Africa?
  • What is something new you learned about the continent of Africa?

Exploring Africa

After Asia, Africa is the second largest continent on the planet—it covers 20% of the entire Earth!

Here are some other fun facts about Africa!

  • Africa is home to 54 countries, each with their own rich histories.
  • There are 1,500 different languages spoken in Africa. Whoa!
  • The Sahara Desert, which is the largest hot desert in the world, is located in Africa.
  • The world’s largest, fastest and tallest animals come from Africa. We are talking about elephants, cheetahs and giraffes, oh my!
  • Africa is home to the oldest university in the world—the University of Karueein, located in Morocco.
  • Hungry for more fun facts? Check out the “Destination World: Africa” guide from National Geographic Kids.

Explore the continent of Africa using Google Earth and “walk around” a bit! Locate countries like Namibia and Somalia, and the countries they border.

Africa Map

Africa Activity

As we’ve learned, there are many languages spoken throughout the continent, including 11 official languages in South Africa! Isango Ensemble member Siyanda Ncobo filmed a short vocabulary lesson in her language, isiXhosa. Follow along!

Can you match a few of the isiXhosa words and phrases from Siyanda’s video with their English translations?

  • Mholo
  • Unjani?
  • Ungubani igama lakho?
  • Umculo
  • Sala kakuhle

English word bank: Music, Hello, Good-bye, How are you? What’s your name?

Looking for pronunciation help? Check out this video lesson from Khanyi Mathole, explaining how to pronounce some of isiXhosa’s more challenging sounds. Jot down the words and phrases from both videos in your New Victory Notebook, along with their translations, and keep practicing!

Turn your next New Victory Notebook page into three columns like so:

Three Column Notebook

In the first column, write the word/phrase you learned today. Then in the second column, write its translation in English. In the third column, write all the different ways you know how to say that word. It could be a different expression that means the same thing, or a phrase in a totally different language.

Here is our example! We found some words in English slang, Spanish and Swahili!

Word Meaning Notebook

In South Africa alone, there are about 11 different languages spoken. The Kids World Travel Guide is a good resource to check out, with words and slang in many different South African languages.

Arabic is another language spoken in countries throughout North and East Africa, including Morocco, Egypt and Tanzania. Learn some more words by exploring Google Translate. Simply type the English word you would like to learn on the left side and the Arabic translation and pronunciation breakdown will populate on the right side.

Ask your family and friends to see if they can teach you another way that they would say that word. You’d be surprised at all of the new words you can learn from different people who are from different cultures!

Practice greeting each other in the different ways that you have learned how to. A fun way to practice with two people is to have one person stand across from you. On the count of three approach each other, meet each other with the greeting of your choice, pass each other, then turn around and do it again like you’re meeting each other for the first time.


A Beautiful Mix

Isango Theater Ensemble creates beautiful shows by working as an ensemble, bringing together different people with diverse skills and performance backgrounds in order to create one cohesive piece of art on stage. These days, it is tough to gather with a bunch of people—but we can bring together a bunch of different artistic media to create a piece of visual art that represents a collaborative group. Let’s get crafty with New Victory Teaching Artist Christina Eskridge as she leads us through a craft all about making your very own visual ensemble.

Get ready to follow along! Grab your New Victory Notebook, any drawing or writing utensils and a cup of water to play.

Check out our visual ensembles!

William Artwork
Artwork by William Porter
Mia Artwork
Artwork by Mia Sommese
Siobhan Artwork
Artwork by Siobhan Pellot

Materials: Paper, a cup of water and things to color with (ex. watercolors, inky pens, water based markers)

Step One: Draw anything you’d like on your piece of paper using a combination of drawing materials. Lines, shapes, images, background colors—all is fair game! The goal is to use as many different drawing materials all together as you can.

Step Two: Lightly dip your finger in a cup of water and blend your designs together. Watch parts of your design bleed together to create a new look. How does this change your image?

Don’t want to get your drawing wet? Think of all the other ways you can blend together artist mediums! Try shading or layering—or even glue or tape other materials on top of your image to make a visual ensemble collage!

Oftentimes, artists work on multiple projects at once. That means they can be members of many ensembles all at the same time. You can do the same thing on paper! Create as many visual ensembles as you would like in your New Victory Notebook. How many different ways can you express your artistic self in 2D?

Thanks for discovering alongside us during our first week exploring the vast continent of Africa. Come back next week to learn more about how the Isango Ensemble creates theater in South Africa.

This Arts Break is dedicated in loving memory of Isango Ensemble Associate Director Zamile Gantana, who brought abundant joy to New Victory audiences and staff with every visit to our stage.

Zamile Gantana

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.