Jimi Bani hails from Mabuiag Island, in the near Western part of Torres Strait. His show My Name Is Jimi, is about culture and tradition, and the resolve to keep the uniqueness of his Wagadagam tribe alive and thriving in the modern age. True to form, the production features performers from his own family, across four generations, illustrating the essence and the importance of what is being relayed.
Small communities are always at risk of losing their identity. The young is seduced by external forces, through cultures of technology and consumption determined to establish a conformity, as required and dictated by Western capitalism. We see Jimi’s son Dimitri devouring the smartphone like any other youth, gradually losing touch with the real kinship that surrounds him.
Ambitiously directed by Jason Klarwein, the work is complex and detailed with its depictions. We learn not only what it is, that Jimi is keen to preserve, but also why and how these traditions have come to be of such value. Folklore and dance feature prominently, to inform and to entertain, although perhaps most importantly, as a demonstration of ancestral pride. There is exquisite humour in the piece, alongside its inherent warmth and poignancy.
Jimi Bani’s naturally commanding presence wins us over from the get-go, allowing us to empathise with his story effortlessly, even though his circumstances are admittedly far removed from many of our daily realities. Dimitri shares his father’s humour, delivering memorable moments of comedy. Agnes and Petharie are the senior women providing music, in ethereal, glamorous and dignified fashion. Conwell and Richard are Jimi’s brothers, appropriately sharing the weight of the show, as nimble sidekicks, particularly effective with their live camera work for filmic projections called upon to represent legends of the land. Especially noteworthy is Justin Harrison’s work as sound and projection designer, beautifully transcendent and crucial to the success of the show.
Family can mean different things to people, but there is no denying the emotional hold it can have over each one of us. Watching Jimi and his loved ones cultivate their extraordinary closeness, is reassuring, even though challenging to those who seek a radical independence in today’s climate of rationalism. It is now normal in many societies to find definition for the self as an entity distinct from practices of the past, especially when one identifies weaknesses and problems associated with those customs. Jimi’s emphasis on language, however, is noble and inspiring. Words contain so much, and they allow us to connect with histories when we choose to. Times will change, but forgetting the past will only hamper any effort to progress. As we seek to become better, a link with earlier experiences is invaluable. Talking with those who had come before necessitates a bridge of understanding, especially of one’s own culture. It is often more rewarding than we can imagine.