E30 The Unlock Moment: Anthony and Kel Matsena – Creativity Fuels The Journey From Darkness To Light
In this episode I interview emerging stars of the dance and performance world Anthony and Kel Matsena. This episode of The Unlock Moment is very special, very moving, very powerful. Listening back. I was amazed at Anthony and Kel’s richness of thought, their perspective, their wisdom at such a young age, still only in their 20s. The Matsena brothers have been through a huge amount in their lives. Being uprooted from their home in Zimbabwe, terrible family tragedy, and their experience of oppression has shaped their creative identity as breakthrough choreographers and performers. But so has the warm community that welcomed and embraced them in South Wales, the creative industry that has given them a huge platform, and the audiences who are wowed by their work. I’ve known the brothers a while and knew some of their story before we talked, but I have rarely had a conversation that has left me so affected. If you’re like me, you’ll be struck by how the tough times could so easily have pushed them to a really dark place, and instead have inspired them to speak through love, joy and empowerment in their creative voice. With most of these podcasts, we edit them down to give you just the best bits of the conversation. Here it’s so compelling, we just couldn’t take anything out. Sit back and listen in to this incredible interview with the extraordinary Anthony and Kel Matsena.
Gary Crotaz 0:00
Hi, Gary here. This episode of The Unlock Moment is very special, very moving, very powerful. Listening back, I was amazed at Anthony and Kel’s richness of thought, their perspective, their wisdom at such a young age – still only in their 20s. Anthony and Kel Matsena have been through a huge amount in their lives. Being uprooted from their home in Zimbabwe, terrible family tragedy, and their experience of oppression has shaped their creative identity as breakthrough choreographers and performers. But so has the warm community that welcomed and embraced them in South Wales, the creative industry that has given them a huge platform, and the audiences who are wowed by their work. I’ve known the brothers a while and knew some of their story before we talked, but I have rarely had a conversation that has left me so affected. If you’re like me, you’ll be struck by how the tough times could so easily have pushed them to a really dark place, and instead have inspired them to speak through love, joy and empowerment in their creative voice. With most of these podcasts, we edit them down to give you just the best bits of the conversation. Here it’s so compelling, we just couldn’t take anything out. Sit back and listen in to this incredible interview with the extraordinary Anthony and Kel Matsena.
Anthony Matsena 1:33
I started university September, I think it was September 1st or September 2nd, at The Place. Really, really big change, London, big city, adjusted, first year. And a few months into my first year, on November 20th, our two older brothers were murdered in South Africa, Andrew and Alexander, and that completely just flipped not just my life, the life of our whole family, it shook us up. And I had to leave school and go back home. And there was something that was really difficult to to understand. I distinctly remember a conversation my brother Andrew, who used to mentor me a lot, we went for a walk the night before we caught the flight at midnight and he gave me all these words of wisdom that I still carry with me today. But he said something to me that, in that moment, removed the dreams of what new life we were going to, and he put a drop of realism, and he said, I hope that we’ll get to play another one-on-one basketball match together, because that was our sport, we played basketball all the time. But if we don’t, don’t ever stop playing, just because I can’t see you again. I made the decision to keep going, to go back to school, knowing that the answer was was in me keeping going and not stopping, and doing that awakened something in me because I couldn’t face school or dance or art in the same way I was looking at it where I was looking for the industry to give me answers and to give me opportunities and to create a voice for me. So something changed in me, something that was always bubbling, this sense of like, this character of mine who always wanted to create. So what happened is the pot just boiled over and I had to speak, and I had to speak through through my movement, and the first piece I made after this was This I Must Understand, which was me trying to understand the grief that was going on in me. People loved the piece, it was gut-wrenching, it was in your face. In that moment I realised the power of creativity, but also the power I had to make work. And that was an incredible feeling that something so tragic and terrible had budded also something so meaningful and beautiful that their memory wasn’t just something that was soured and something that is, you know, kind of made me bitter and sour about the world but something that had given me a kind of boost into something, into, into creativity, into composition, into choreography, but more importantly into activism, into seeing the world and and realising that the world isn’t as nice as maybe you think it is, so unveiling the truths of society and delivering that to an audience is something that is now, is now part of me.
Kel Matsena 5:06
When you’re dealing with work like this, you need a lot of heart, a lot of vulnerability, a lot of support, a lot of laughter as well. You know, it’s in our nature, we like to enjoy ourselves as human beings, especially when we’re doing something we love. whilst still also balancing that we are dealing with a very serious topic and honouring the people and the stories we’re telling. But in that we have to protect ourselves as people and approach it with heart, with love, with joy, with laughter. If we just make it an all-black cast, our audience members, we’re going to invite all the people we know and we’re going to have a mainly black audience, and we’re all just sat there just agreeing with each other, which does nothing, it really does nothing. So we wanted that cast to be diverse, we wanted a super-diverse audience, as well as that, because we live in a society and these issues affect us all. They’re not individual, you know, how you think about the black community or about the tension between young people and the police, that is not exclusive to one person, it affects everyone. And we need everyone to be involved in these conversations. And we need that audience to be diverse. So we really loved it at the end of the show that you’d see people going at each other. But, Oh, no, but that shouldn’t have been! Oh, but that was a bit much for me! And Oh, no, I love that. And that’s really what it’s about, bringing different minds together.
Anthony Matsena 6:31
But I would say know that, no matter how, how dire and how nasty or how dark a hole you find yourself in, know that you make your way out of it, not because you’re brilliant, and you’re doing it by yourself, but because of the people around you. Trust in them. Ask for help. Ask them to lend you a hand. They’ll come to your saving. And remember the last thing, that the traumatised are unpredictable, because they know they can survive. And you are unpredictable, because you know you can survive. Never forget that.
Gary Crotaz 7:17
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound, that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things or brought about significant change in their life, and you’ll be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times, and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello dear listener and welcome to another episode of The Unlock Moment podcast. The phrase emerging stars is often bandied about in the world of dance, theatre and film. But in the case of Anthony and Kel Matsena could not be more appropriate. Their powerful mix of contemporary dance and spoken word is taking audiences by storm. And they brought their latest piece, Shades of Blue, referencing oppression in the black community in the wake of the murder of George Floyd to the world-renowned Sadler’s Wells theatre here in London to rave reviews. But their message is much more than this. It’s a message of love, joy, empowerment and community that I know they will bring to life throughout this conversation. I’ve never met anyone quite like them. And I’ve been working hard to bring them to you on The Unlock Moment for quite a while. Theirs is an extraordinary journey from the streets of Zimbabwe to Swansea in Wales, the gymnastics studio, achieving places in prestigious dance and acting schools, and now bringing their own message through choreography and performance to great acclaim. They were featured recently in a dedicated BBC documentary about their lives, entitled Brothers in Dance. All of this and they’re still only in their 20s. This is a very special episode of The Unlock Moment. And I know it’s one that will stay with you for a long time. Sit back and listen to this incredible story. It’s my great privilege to be bringing it to you. So without further ado, Anthony and Kel, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to The Unlock Moment.
Kel Matsena 9:45
Hello, hello, hello!
Anthony Matsena 9:47
Hello Anthony here. Good to be here. Thank you.
Kel Matsena 9:50
Yeah, Kel here. Pleasure to be on the show.
Gary Crotaz 9:53
So Anthony, start out by telling us a little bit about growing up in Zimbabwe in the late 90s, early 2000s. What was that like for you, what was the country like at that time?
Anthony Matsena 10:02
The country was flourishing, it was at an incredible place. The economy from the outside looked like it was stable. People were able to advance in careers, in their lives, save money, take their children to extraordinary schools, not just Zimbabwe but around the world. Dreams were being met and fulfilled. And there was a lot of openness in what you could be as well. There were a lot of artists coming up. The music scene was incredible. A lot of sports stars were coming out of Zimbabwe, because there was a lot of support that, in that area. But firstly, I fondly remember the gatherings, the gatherings of our family, friends, people who were friends, but I always thought they were family and only found out weren’t even related! But just sheer joy of community. The amount of aunties, uncles, nephews, nieces, great aunts, great uncles, grandparents, it was just epic, epic music, epic times, epic dancing, it was, it was a whole lot of fun, a whole lot of joy. I really have the best kind of memories there. And they’re really engraved in my memory, despite being so young. I remember them like they were yesterday. And school was a blast. The schooling system was really, really, really great. I woke up every day, like, you know, like a rabbit, just spring out of bed and I was ready to go! I was always the first one up and yeah, I loved it, I really did love it.
Gary Crotaz 11:38
And Kel, paint a picture of your family. You had a large family?
Kel Matsena 11:42
Oh, yes, large, large family. I mean, my mother, she has nine siblings, well she, she had nine siblings. And my father had, I think six siblings. So you imagine they all had kids, those kids had kids. So it was literally, the amount of birthdays and parties, it was like, every weekend you were going to someone’s house, and you’d have all your cousins there, you’d just be running around. Because Zimbabwe is a country with a lot of space. So regardless of, you know, if you have a big house or a small house, there’s always so much garden space. And I just remember just being with like, 10, 15 of my cousins just running around playing tag, hide and seek, all this wonderful stuff. So we’re completely surrounded by love, by family, by joy, and by celebration, celebration of life. It was really engraved in us from a very young age.
Gary Crotaz 12:37
So Kel, you and Anthony were two of five brothers?
Kel Matsena 12:40
Yes, yes, myself and Anthony, two of five, two of the youngest actually. So yes, we feel like our parents really raised our oldest brothers. And then our oldest brothers raised myself and Anthony. So there’s just all this knowledge, me being the youngest as well. And getting to see four people who are quite similar to me in the way they think and approach life, and gaining all that experience. I think they were very generous and open as brothers in how much they shared about their experiences. So I kind of feel like I’ve lived their lives as well, which is really cool.
Gary Crotaz 13:14
And what was the span of ages across the five of you?
Anthony Matsena 13:17
There was an average space of three, three and a half years between us. So Arnold is four years older than me, Andrew, so it goes Alexander oldest, Andrew, Arnold, me Anthony, and then Kel whose, his birth name was Amukelani. So five A’s our parents gave us.
Gary Crotaz 13:41
I was going to say, there’s probably an A in there somewhere!
Anthony Matsena 13:43
There’s a lot of As in there. So yeah, between Alex and Andrew I believe it was four years, and then between Andrew and Arnold it was three years, and then between Arnold and me four years, then between Kel and myself is two and a half years. So it works out to about three years between.
Gary Crotaz 14:01
And what kinds of things did your parents do? What were they, what were they doing in Zimbabwe? What were their jobs?
Anthony Matsena 14:06
My dad, he studied accountancy and math at school, at university. So he started out as an accountant, and then went into managing Zupco, which was the national bus company, became managing director there and that was kind of his path, working for the different headquarters around Zimbabwe. And my mom, she started off a secretary and then started working for the WHO [World Health Organisation], for their malaria division, which was the headquarters for malaria in Africa. So she did a lot of work there. Did a lot of also translating. And yeah, she was very, very good at shorthand.
Gary Crotaz 14:53
Talk to me about what started to change and how that led you to moving over to the UK.
Anthony Matsena 15:02
First of all it was, the economy was starting to crash. You know, I vividly remember getting on the plane here, and having 40 million, which was 10, which, I had four $10 million notes. And that was enough to buy me a loaf of bread. But by the next day, it wasn’t enough to buy me a loaf of bread. So the inflation was just through the roof. I think at many times the inflation in Zimbabwe was the highest inflation in the world. So lots of things were going terribly. And then the UN decided to move the WHO main headquarters to the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. We didn’t want to live with the DRC. So my mom was out of work there. And she was really interested in a life in nursing because she’s always cared, wanted to care for people. So coming to the UK was now the option because her twin sister was here studying to be a nurse. And then at the company my dad was that, there were some shady businesses going down in, in a lot of the executives were trying to cut corners, or buying inferior buses from China instead of from India. And they eventually got caught and sent to jail. And they pushed my father out of the company, because he wouldn’t agree to do it. And then after that my dad owned an abattoir, which is, which was a joy. The amount of times I would go to school with biltong in my pocket, just snacking throughout the day. It was, for somebody who’s in a family of a lot of meat lovers, it was really great. But when Mugabe started to push out the white farmers and give his generals and people in the army, land that they had no right owning, they came in claimed the abattoir and the land that my dad and his friend owned. So there was, there was no form of any sort of income that was coming in, it was do we, do we push and fight away, do the struggle, and hope that better days are coming? But so far the trend around other African countries, as well as what’s happened before, it seems like it was going to get much, much worse for much longer, before it was even going to get better. And in 2008 when we came, it was just before the general elections and the political landscape was, was really shaky. I had never seen Zanu PF’s people, you know, driving around in pickup trucks with, like, machine guns in their hand. There was a lot of propaganda, which was making its way into the suburban areas. And it was just very frightening. And I think our parents just wanted us to have a fair shot at this game of life. So a lot of our family are here, so it seemed like the obvious and most sensible choice was to relocate and emigrate to the UK.
Gary Crotaz 18:05
And how old were you two at that time when you came over to Wales?
Kel Matsena 18:11
I had just turned 11, I believe. And then Anthony you were 13 going on 14?
Gary Crotaz 18:18
But not all of you were able to come over together?
Kel Matsena 18:21
No, no, at the time, not all of us were able to come down to the UK. Basically, it was myself, Anthony and our older brother Arnold, who’s third in line, we were able to come over to the UK, because we were all under the age of 18. And because our mother was already here, then it’s, it’s very easy to get a visa and to, you know, join your mother because you’re still under the care, because you’re not yet fully an adult. But for Alexander and Andrew, they were over the age of 18. So much harder for people 18 and older to get visas from Zimbabwe, still now and definitely still back then, because of what was going on with the country, there was a massive influx of people who were just migrating to the UK and Canada and all those sorts of countries. So if you apply for a visa, even if it was a holiday visa, unless you had a lot of money in your bank, unless you’re already studying in Zimbabwe, or you had very wealthy relatives over here in the UK, they didn’t trust that you were not going to land and emigrate straightaway. And none of those three, we had, basically so we were in the process of basically trying to get them their visas to come over to the UK. But it was much quicker for us three.
Gary Crotaz 19:41
And we have a very international audience here on The Unlock Moment. So for those who don’t know where Swansea is, paint a little picture of two young kids from Zimbabwe landing in Swansea and what that was like.
Anthony Matsena 19:54
It was surprising not as shocking because we had come over here for a holiday in 2006, so we had spent, I believe, six weeks in Swansea. But I was speaking to a friend last night and she was talking about the fact that living in London is now a complete different experience than when she came for holiday, because you just see the nice bits. So the shock was, you know, coming here on holiday, staying in our beautiful aunt’s house to then being immigrants and staying in like council houses and it was like, Whoa, what’s this world? And almost feeling, not feeling but knowing you’re a second class citizen. Knowing you’re not looked at as an equal to the rest of society. That was mental. But, all of that aside, Swansea is a beautiful place. Just the scenery, the beach, the woodlands, but more importantly the people. When we arrived at our house, when the Home Office put us in this house in Ravenhill, I wouldn’t even say an hour passed before the street was knocking on our door and welcoming, welcoming us saying, Hey, how you guys doing, you know, and introducing themselves. I just vividly remember our friends like Rhea, Cara and a few other people, like four or five of them, standing in our bare living room talking to us, it’s like, what do you, do you want to go out and play? But yes, I think that sense of community was not lost in that moment. I thought, Oh, we might be okay. But yes, Swansea’s a, it’s strange, but it’s beautiful. And it’s wonderful. And as much as, you know, all the greenery and the scenery, makes it a beautiful city, as well as the people. I’ve got to hand it to them. Speaking to other friends who’ve grown up in other parts in the UK, we were spoilt by the community we had, they supported us, they paid for classes, they did so many things for us that I don’t think we’d be able to be standing, sitting here on this podcast if it wasn’t for them. Yeah.
Gary Crotaz 22:02
Where did the love of movement and dance and performance begin for you two?
Kel Matsena 22:07
In terms of movement, dance, entertaining people and all of that, that’s always been part of our family and our culture. With those big family gatherings and stuff, there’d always be music blaring. And, you know, you’d always have an uncle, certain cousins just dancing around the whole time and entertaining each other, and having fun. So the idea of movement, the idea of groove, connection with music, that’s always been in our family. But in terms of it actually being a thing thing, in Zimbabwe people don’t really see it as that, it’s just a bit of enjoyment. But a career as a creative is like, whoa, that’s, you know, space talk. And that really doesn’t happen. But I think it was our oldest brother Arnold, who had such a love for performing. And the way he pursued it and was resilient in making a life out of this. I think that was really inspiring. And he’s, he’s the one who really first opened the doors for us. And we’re like, Oh, oh, this is an actual career! You can do this, like that, like that. So he took us under his wing, mentored us and then from then on, when I was living in Swansea, that’s when we started training, and just eat, sleep, breathe, dance, you know, we’d wake up before school, 6am. And we’d be doing the dance drills, straight back from school, you’d have a ham sandwich, a bit of Hannah Montana on Disney Channel, and then straight back to hours of dancing till bedtime. So it just, it became a lifestyle, it became a culture, later on it became a career but the love for it started from a very young age. So for us, it just feels natural when we hear music and we start moving to it. Because it just makes me think of my grandma, my auntie, my uncle, my brothers, cousins, all of that.
Gary Crotaz 23:59
Anthony, where did it start for you?
Anthony Matsena 24:01
Yeah, I would, I gotta say it started with our brothers. I just have these memories of certain, there was, there was this thing on Saturdays where our brothers, before they would go out to whatever events they were going to, at the time they were like 18, 20 they were at that age of like figuring out life. What they would do around 12pm, we had these massive speakers, which were in the living room. They would wheel those out to the veranda and they would thump music for like the whole street and it would go on for hours and hours, and I had little to no rhythm then, and little to no dance moves. But I would sit there and just enjoy Andrew, Alex, Arnold, just dancing to dance or reggae, hip hop, R&B, Zimbabwean music, like traditional music, it would just go on and on and on. And I didn’t realise that in those moments, I was learning the essence of how to love and enjoy music and dance just for yourself even without an audience. So those, I think those moments were the, were the, were the moments when things started to flicker and to start for me. And because of that, I was, I was so adamant. And I was like, I’m going to learn to dance so, so every day I would, after school, I’d go in the mirror, and slowly try and teach myself how to do the Wave. And once I conquered the Wave, oh, it was like Game Over! It was like, Yes, I could do this. And then the real, real big moment. Or the few actually, was Kel and I got to dance to Usher. And I think, I can’t remember which Usher song it was, but it was for a school talent show. And it was in the school assembly hall, and the stage was quite high. So you could see everybody and I remember us just doing this duet, and that was the first time we started our legendary career of duets. And the hall erupted! And that feeling, I was like, I wanted to just bottle it, put it in a little, a little jar and just sip on it from time to time. I remember, I remember that gave me the confidence to be like, Oh, all that time in the bedroom, then to wave and do all of that, it’s paid off. I can actually do this. And then I guess, like Kel said, the real moment was coming, was coming here and seeing Arnold pursue the career, and seeing that it was financially viable, and that you could earn money and that there was a pathway, it wasn’t so clear, it wasn’t even the path we were on now. But they were pathways in terms of dancing. That, you know, that for me was a big moment.
Gary Crotaz 26:47
And the two of you both decided that you wanted to pursue this as a professional career and you went, you went to top dance schools, to top acting schools. So what was the point where you figured out this is more than just something I love doing, this is something that I want to make my life?
Anthony Matsena 27:05
For me, I had, I actually had a terrible time during my A levels. So during the summer between my AS and A levels, I’d done pretty well in my AS. So I was looking forward to my A levels. And I vividly remember this, because the London Olympics were on at the time. And I all of a sudden got really ill from being super-fit, being in gymnastics, dancing, training, I just woke up with a cold, a sore throat. And then over a few days, I just deteriorated and ended up in hospital at the age of like 18, or whatever it was, really, really fit. And I had this heart condition, acute pericarditis. So I remember being in, I was meant to be in the hospital for two weeks. And I was meant to take beta blockers and this other drug called ramipril for the rest of my life, and I was not going to be able to exercise. Long story short is I managed to fully recover in a few months. And because I missed so much of school, because of being ill, I had to go to college, and when I went to college, I decided to take dance as just a supplementary subject. Because I remember being in the hospital saying, you know, Has my life, has my life been stolen from me? You know. And if I’m going to do this, and if whoever showed me the sign that life can be taken away from you so quickly, I need to try and live a life that I want to live. So I vividly remember doing the dance classes and realising that when I’d go to physics, chemistry, and maths, I didn’t have the same joy I had when I was in my dance classes at college. And then the biggest moment was when we did, I did National Dance Wales in 2014. I remember in the summer walking through the hallway from the studio to the Green Room. And it’s this specific hallway in the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama where I said, Oh yes, I’m going to do this dance thing, I’m going to apply for dance school. And when I made that conscious decision, because that was my first professional experience dancing from 10 till 6 and creating a work, I was like, if this is what it’s going to be like, I am totally sold. So yeah, that for me, that was the moment I decided to go to dance school, but not only go to dance school, I had only one dance school I wanted to go to and that was The Place and that’s the only place I auditioned. I was like, If I don’t get into there, I’m not going anywhere else. That’s the only place I want to go.
Gary Crotaz 29:31
And what was it about The Place, London Contemporary Dance School, that, that made you so clear that that was it for you?
Anthony Matsena 29:38
So when I would go watch shows, I’d get the programme, or I’d go on different choreographers’ websites, and check the bios of the dancers. And a lot of the companies I wanted to, I found that there was a trend that there was at least one or two people who had gone to The Place. With some of the schools I felt that there’s certain companies aesthetically that you’d see them in, but they, they weren’t across the whole band of the industry. But also the alumni of The Place had so many different roles in these companies. So you know, I started to see that there were a lot more choreographers, a lot more different careers you could pursue after that. But most importantly, one of my mentors, big brothers, Joseph Toonga, he had just done a two-week residency with us before we did the three weeks at National Dance Wales, so he had just graduated from The Place. And he’d come to Swansea to make a piece with us. And here I was met with a man who is from African descent, but growing up in Europe, in London, he’s gone to The Place, he’s black, and he’s making amazing choreography, and he’s gone to this School. So for me, it was like, it was kind of like the same beacon of light Arnold had for me. I was like, well I want to live some kind of career or pathway that he’s taken. And if the School has looked after him, and nurtured that in him, there might be a place for me there. So yeah, that was, that was my thinking at the time.
Gary Crotaz 31:03
And Kel, for you, you had the dance drive, but also for acting as well?
Kel Matsena 31:08
Yeah, so it sort of progressed in a few steps for me. I think first off, I was not interested in every dance. Not at all. I was like, no, no, no, I’m not dancing with my shoes off. I don’t know what weird stuff those people do with their toes, no, no, no, no! And I was very much into just mainly hip hop and street dance. And you know, these different ideologies, probably because we don’t understand each other’s worlds that much. But Anthony was very persistent. And he was like, come, come to, come to class, come to contemporary dance. And at that time, we were both in college at the same time, because although I was younger, because of Anthony’s heart condition, we ended up being in the same year at college, which was really cool, actually, because we got to study at the same time. But I was just doing the sciences and the maths. And I was just focused on that, I wanted to be a chemical engineer. And I thought dancing was just something for fun. And then I started going to contemporary classes, and I was like, Oh, okay, this is this really cool. And then I started getting introduced into the way people make work and how, how theoretical and academic you could make your physicality. And I was like, Wow, I love the theory. I love the academics. But I can bring that into dance. I can use concepts. I can use my knowledge in chemistry to make a contemporary dance piece. I was like, This is amazing. And then I started watching more work. I remember watching Motion House in I think it was 2014 in Cardiff, Sherman Theatre. Anthony was like, Okay, I need to take the whole family so that you understand what this is. And I watched them do this piece and I was just like, Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it! And then that’s when I was like, okay, contemporary dance can be a thing. And same thing. I did National Youth Dance Wales. And after doing National Youth Dance Wales, I was like, Oh, okay, living, breathing dance, living like a dancer, I can do this. And then had to have the conversation with my parents. I was about to go to uni. Like, maybe two weeks after I came back from this National Youth Dance Wales summer course. And then I was like, Look, guys, I can’t, I can’t go to uni, I have to pursue dance, which was tough at first, you know, being from, you know, having African parents and, you know, it’s definitely not a viable career option for a lot of people back in Africa. So for them, it was quite tough, but they finally got behind it. So I auditioned for London Contemporary Dance School, same time as Anthony. Loved the audition, it was just one of the most fun auditions we’ve, I’ve ever done, and we’ve done together. And then the letters came through. Anthony got through and I didn’t get through! And oh, I tell you, this little heart of mine just went into a million tiny pieces because suddenly something that it took a while for me to convince myself that I’m gonna go to dance school. And then I auditioned and I didn’t get in. And that was really tough to deal with. But something very interesting happened there, was, I found myself in a place where I was like, Okay, so if I’m going to have time where I’m going to re-audition for dance schools because I’m not going to uni, I might as well use that time to do what I’ve always wanted to do as well, is do some drama and do some theatre, figure out some acting. So I went and went back for a third year college, finished off my dance but then picked up English literature, language, and as well drama, and just fell in love with it and rediscovered Shakespeare, rediscovered my love for language. And suddenly it just, you know, when you think you love something, and that’s just your thing, and then something else comes along that you love just as much, it was, that was what acting was for me. So I applied for dance schools and drama schools, and then ended up going to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School which was just the perfect place for me. You know, from the moment I walked in, I sort of went, Wow, this can be a home. This can be a place I can rediscover. This can be a place I can investigate for three years. So yeah, a lot of steps to get there but eventually found the place I was meant to be in.
Anthony Matsena 35:12
I vividly remember your selfie outside the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and that smile you had, I think you still had braces at the time. And I just, I knew what I saw that photo, I was like, Oh, I’ve lost him to the dark side, he’s not going to come back!
Gary Crotaz 35:31
An amazing articulation of, you know, when one door closes, another one opens. That, you know, if you hadn’t been rejected by The Place, then maybe that drama thing would never have been unlocked in you, which… and it’s interesting now, we’ll come and talk to this later, but it’s it’s an integral part of your work together, the spoken word that comes through that Kel you deliver. So bring us forward Anthony, to 2015. And, and the thing that happened that started to change your life and your outlook.
Anthony Matsena 36:03
Yeah, so I started university September, I think it was September 1st or September 2nd at The Place. Really, really big change, London, big city, adjusted, first year. And a few months into my first year, on November 20th, our two older brothers were murdered in South Africa, Andrew and Alexander. And that completely just flipped not just my life, the life of our whole family, it shook us up. And I had to leave school and go back home. And there was something that was really difficult to understand and to make a decision for myself. Do I stay at home and grieve for a year and then come back? Or do I come back after the Christmas break and continue onward? And I won’t lie to you, most of me wanted to stay because the pain and the weight of it, of dealing with that, with that tragedy was a lot, was really a lot. And also seeing my family go through it. Because you know one thing you don’t understand about grief till you suffer a grief that affects a lot of people, you realise that everybody goes about it their own way. And that’s so frustrating. And in so many ways if you don’t come to terms with that. But I distinctly remember a conversation my brother Andrew, who used to mentor me a lot. We went for a walk the night before we caught the flight at midnight, and he gave me all these words of wisdom that I still carry with me today. But he said something to me that in that moment removed the dreams of what new life we’re going to, and put a, he put a drop of realism. And he said, I hope that we’ll get to play another one-on-one basketball match together, because that was our sport. We played basketball all the time. But if, but if we don’t, don’t ever stop playing, just because I can’t see you again. And I made that, I made the decision to keep going, to go back to school, knowing that the answer was, was in me keeping going and not stopping. And doing that awakened something in me because I couldn’t, I couldn’t face school or dance or art in the same way I was looking at it, where I was looking for the industry to give me answers, and to give me opportunities, and to create a voice for me. A lot of, you know, a lot of dancers say their choreographer speaks to me, that’s where I want to be. But I couldn’t see that. And I couldn’t feel that in, around the industry. So something changed in me, something that I had was always bubbling, this sense of like, this, this character of mine who always wanted to create, I vividly remember having disagreements with Arnold when he used to like choreograph for us as a trio. I’m like No, but we should go this way. Or you go this way. He was like, No, no, we’re going this way. So I look back at those moments and I laughed. And I was like, Oh, yes, I already had a knack for it! So what happened is the pot just boiled over and I had to speak, and I had to speak through my movement. And the first piece I made after this was This I Must Understand, which was me trying to understand the grief that was going on in me. And This We Must Understand, there was a trio and then there was a version I did with 11 dancers in first year. And we did it the end of first year and I know, we’d do these student platforms at The Place and people enjoyed them, and they clapped. And that was the first time people stood on their feet. There was a standing ovation, people loved the piece, it was like a 25 minute piece, it was gut wrenching, it was in your face. In that moment, I realised the power of creativity, but also the power I had to make work. And that was an incredible, incredible feeling that something so tragic and terrible had budded also something so meaningful and beautiful that their memory wasn’t, wasn’t just something that was soured. And something that is, you know, kind of made me bitter and sour about the world, but something that had given me a kind of boost into something, into, into creativity, into composition, into choreography, but more importantly, into activism, into seeing the world and realising that the world isn’t as nice as maybe you think it is, so unveiling the truths of society and delivering that to an audience is something that is now, is now part of me.
Gary Crotaz 41:06
Unpack that word activism for me, what does that mean for you?
Anthony Matsena 41:12
Kel better articulated this when he said, I’m a creative activist, because I’m not, I’m not the activist who’s on the streets, shouting, I sign my petitions, I try and do my work. But I feel as an activist, it’s my, it’s my responsibility as a creativity to keep people aware, and to remove the falsehood of what’s in front of us and to, like I’m repeating myself in terms of saying unveiling the truths in our world, because we, we’re often trying to kill ourselves and lie to ourselves. So it’s a lot of, for me, it’s about honesty, it’s about honesty about what’s going around the world. You can’t just switch off your phone, you can’t just turn off your TV from it. I try and deliver the stories that maybe the people with the smallest voices, or the quietest voices, or the most oppressed voices, would want to say and bring forward to an audience. So I think as an activist, that’s my role, it’s in highlighting the truths in the world, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how tragic, no matter what they are, we need to confront them in a way that isn’t combative, but in a way that breeds understanding, and breeds conversation, so we can further understand what it is, what it is, these situations are, and our relationship to them, and how we can assist them and how we can, I think the power of conversation is everything, you know, if conversation is, is the primary thing that, that is, is a primary thing that sparked change, not violence, not conflict, but conversation. That’s how I feel.
Gary Crotaz 42:51
And Kel, what was going on for you at this time?
Kel Matsena 42:52
So yes, so at this time in 2015, I was now just starting out my third year in college. So yes, it just picked up all the English language and the acting, as well as really focusing on the auditions for the dance schools. And then this tragic event happened in November. And that was, that was very strange. And having to deal with with grief that close. In the years leading up to that there had been quite a bit of grief actually leading that because of what was happening in Zimbabwe, life had become very difficult. So I had been faced with quite a lot of grief at a young age. And it had become almost this ritual about how we get through it, but it always was a slightly more distant cousin. But then when it’s a sibling, it was, yeah, I just didn’t really know how to digest that. Even when I think back to that time. There’s so many gaps, because there’s just, it was such, the information was so hard to digest. But what had happened is that I sort of decided to carry on with college as well, just carry on studying, focusing up and carrying on with the auditions. And still being inspired by my brother’s memory and how we’ve been about, as a family about, you know, resilience and pushing through. But then what happened is that the first play I really picked up and read and used for all my auditions was Hamlet. I read that first soliloquy. And I remember just my heartstrings just going ‘pang’ and just being pulled, reading that first soliloquy, because I don’t think I had the language or the understanding to even articulate what I was feeling, which it probably was like, Oh, just be resilient and carry on through, because I just didn’t know how to digest this information. And then suddenly, here’s this dude from you know, 16th, 17th century England who’s written out basically what I’m experiencing, written it out in detail, grief and everything. And it was just, it provided so much closure for me. I know sometimes I say it feels like it saved me a lot. And I remember seeing a live stream of puppets doing Hamlet with the RSC, it was a 2016 production. And it was just unbelievable. And it provided so much closure for me, it helped me articulate what I was feeling. And I remember after watching that, in our local cinema, just going, Wow, if this is what theatre could do, this is what dance, words can do, to literally pull me out of this, this hole where I didn’t even understand what was going on around me. But suddenly, I am seeing clearer, I can articulate things. And I was like, if I can do this for people, then that’s really important work, that is a really important thing to do. And that’s when I set my sights on, Yeah, let’s, let’s carry on with this, let’s really make this a career and, you know, to be in a position where we’re having that effect on people. It just makes an 18 year old Kel really proud. Because, yeah, that was such an important thing for me.
Gary Crotaz 46:12
So bring us forward then to the origins of Shades of Blue. So where did that come from? And where was, where were you in the first moment when you thought, we know this is what we have to put together?
Kel Matsena 46:29
Well, what had happened is sort of March 2020, myself and Anthony, we’d been, we’d started up the company, I think 2017, when we had started it up and there was real fuel with the company, you know, we’re saying what we needed to say to the work and then sort of about 2018, 2019 our work in the company sort of slowed down and we started to pursue solo ventures pretty much, and we’re finishing off uni, all this sort of stuff. But what happened in March 2020 was, because of COVID, we all just, myself, all our brothers, we just came back to Swansea and then just started living together and had to go back to, to just ground level. It felt like 2008, being in the same house again. And just looking at each other and reclocking in into why we were doing this, like oh, okay, about each other. It’s about lifting each other’s voices. It’s about lifting the voices which aren’t being heard, because I was off doing a theatre show that was touring the UK and after the US. Anthony was doing commissions all over the UK. So things were going really great. But then we’d sort of lost sight of what we wanted to do together as a family. But what happened in May 2020 with the murder of George Floyd, may he rest in peace, it was, I know personally for me, I don’t know about you Anthony, I sort of avoided the video for a few days. Because in the lead up to that, there was so much stuff going on and you had Ahmaud Arbery, you had all this stuff going on in New York and Manhattan, you know, them going into black neighbourhoods and just terrorising people through the… There was this, it just felt like things were on fire. And I really, I couldn’t deal with that. Because, you know, being black, and being in the UK, and all of this sort of stuff, you get a sense of, of all this stuff. And sometimes it’s just too much. And I didn’t know what it would do to me. So I avoided that video. But when I finally watched it, it was just gut wrenching. And everyone who seen the video or watched the trial or all of that just knows how crazy that situation was. And, and sadly, it had been happening for so long. But I think what happened is, because we were all stuck in our houses, there was no form of escape, there was no way to avoid that, the whole world really saw this situation for what it is, and everything else that was going on around it, because that video really erased a lot of ambiguity. You just saw the ridiculousness of what was happening in that situation, completely unnecessary. And it just felt like suddenly, we were all speaking the same language and everyone was ready to listen, ready to hear. And for myself and Anthony, we’ve been experiencing incidents of you know, racism and stuff like that, but we just never know how to articulate it. We didn’t have language, we didn’t really understand it too well ourselves. That’s the difficult thing about some of the racism you experience in the UK that it’s, it’s, it’s not very much in your face. It’s all the little things, all the terms like microaggressions and all this sort of stuff we’ve, we’ve experienced these things, like that feels off but I don’t know why it feels off, and trying to understand all of that. But for years we’d cared about this, even in the work we made, our work had always been perhaps a flavour of a political energy, it was always about, you know, fighting injustices. But because we didn’t have the language, and also we weren’t, we didn’t feel like audiences were really ready to be faced with the rawness of whatever we needed to say, there was a real distance and ambiguity to a lot of the work. You know, we always laugh and say how we’d, you know, change the title of the work to a French word, or a word of an African language, that no-one really knows, just add a bit of distance, and then you check the programme note, and it’s all this very beautiful language, which is really just trying to avoid the crux of it. But May 2020 hit and we were like, look, we finally understand what we need to say, and it feels like the world and audiences are really ready to hear this. So we just hit the ground running. And although it was COVID times, because we’re living in the same house we could carry on creating, we could carry on exploring ideas, carry on writing, choreographing. So we just, you know, sort of went full speed ahead and made a full-length work, called Geometry of Fear with the Messums Wiltshire. Alongside that we made a short film called Are You Numb Yet? and a feature film called Error Code. So all in that summer, we were, you know, pushing out content. But what happened is that Messums Wiltshire live-streamed that performance, live performance of Geometry of Fear, which caught the attention of Sadler’s Wells, who Anthony had been working with, and you can explain that relationship in a bit Anthony. But then, it was really perfect timing because Sadler’s Wells were working with the BBC at the time on a programme called Dancing Nation, which is basically a programme so that the BBC and Sadler’s Wells could show that, even though we’re going through COVID, there’s still people out there supporting arts, supporting dance, supporting creativity. And they asked us to be a part of that. And to do a section from Geometry of Fear. But for me and Anthony, we feel like being honest about this kind of work. The conversation is always evolving when you’re dealing with work that deals with these themes. And the difference to what you’re seeing in May of 2020 is very different to when we did the programme in January of 2021. The conversation is always evolving. So we decided look, let’s title the work something new. And let’s continue to move the conversation forward and say something new with it, which is where Shades of Blue came along, that title, which was done as an excerpt of BBC Dancing Nation, and has quickly grown into this full length work that we’ve now done on Sadler’s Wells main stage, in Dance East in Ipswich and Royal Welsh College in Cardiff.
Gary Crotaz 52:53
Anthony, tell me about the impact of George Floyd for you.
Anthony Matsena 52:58
Yeah. Realised that my pain and my confusion about my my place in British society… was an experience that I had to feel like was my own. That there was a community out there, who not only have been going through what I’ve been going through, but needed, needed in many ways, I needed to realise that there was there was more for us than we realised that were out there. And not only did people who were, who looked like me, were ready to support one another, and here you saw them uplift each other, that there are many people within society, who had our back, who are ready to listen, who are ready to protest, who are ready to go in the streets, who have been doing that for a long time. It opened my eyes up to that, and like Kel said about the language, because I’ve come to understand that it’s very, it’s very hard to notice or understand something if you don’t have the language for it. I was, I was with a friend yesterday and they were saying that the Portuguese don’t have a word for the, for a lime, you know. So when they started learning English, they either they call it, they’re like what’s a lime and what’s a lemon? Because it’s just like lemon and green lemon. And for them, it’s so hard to understand what that simple thing is to me who, I’ve grown up knowing the difference between a lemon and lime but because the language isn’t there, you can’t identify what that thing is. So in many ways, those feelings were cloudy, they were nebulous. What I was going to do was very nebulous as a young British black man, but in that moment, something just clicked. Clicked in terms of the community that I was a part of, but also the global community, but also the outreach and the need to not be silent and quiet and do sort of some time make work that’s kind of about it, but isn’t, but to go full steam ahead. Because what I what I watched on that, on my phone, I just couldn’t believe it was real. And I needed, for me in that moment, I was like, the world needs to know that this is real. This is really what people are going through is real. If this has been caught on camera, what else hasn’t been caught on camera? You know, there’s many, many stories out there. And there’s many people out there who are suffering, who need a voice, and who need a sense of community. But above all of that the first thing was an extraordinary amount of pain. I don’t think I’ve cried over a video, or, I think I was shocked at first, I couldn’t even cry. I was so shocked. And I think I just cried in silence, and in the dark, because I was like, What the hell? What is going on? With everything that was going on with COVID, and it just felt like Kel said, the world was on fire. But yes, lots of different things, lots of coming of age and coming to understand my position and coming to own my blackness, and own my my Africanness, and own my Welshness, and own a lot of things that I was shameful of. There was a lot of, there was a lot of, a lot of things that would just get in clicked and turned on. But yes, an extraordinary amount of grief and pain for someone I’d just known for at that time, eight minutes, 46 seconds. But I feel so connected to that, to that person, not just because of the moment and the global moment. But I’ve, I’ve never, I’ve never heard vocal cords shout and scream for help like that. And I have such a deep connection to my parents. And when he says mama, that, that had just like, is ingrained in me. And yeah, it’s, for me, what was also upsetting, it was how some people were trying to defend the means of which the first officer took and how some people was trying to deny it and say it’s a fake video and all of that, that to me just outraged me. And I was, you know, I just I just felt like we had to get that story out, and many of the other stories out there. But yeah, a tremendous amount of grief and pain. And a lot of loneliness, which then turned out to be, you’re not, you’re not, you’re not alone. There are lots of people out there who want to talk and who want to have conversations. And also just extremely inspired by the way some arts organisations decided enough is enough. And let’s be brave, let’s trust that our audience will still come if it’s not the Nutcracker, it’s Shades of Blue, they will still come. To me I’ve been really thankful to the sector that, you know, they held themselves accountable and said we need to put more of this work out there.
Gary Crotaz 58:17
So these two incredibly powerful, impactful moments in your life, the murder of your older brothers in 2015, and then the experience around the death of George Floyd in 2020 sparked an activism but then sparked a real clarity around the work that you needed to do. So Anthony, paint a picture of what is Shades of Blue, and what is the message, the story that comes through that piece?
Anthony Matsena 58:53
I feel like Shades of Blue has a three-sided coin. It has one side that shows the joy, the intelligence, the power of the youth of today. And then it has a side where it strips away that, that joyfulness, that openness, that playfulness, that sense of community, because of the structures we have right now that are all pressing these young people and how young people in many ways are quite literally losing their voice. Though the, you know, although the laws getting passed to suppress protests and all of these things, just speaking to young people and how they feel like they will not be heard. There’s a lot of that. And then there’s another part about what that does, but also what does that do to you? It puts the, it puts the question in the, in the viewer – is this trauma porn? You know, are you going to keep watching these stories, clapping for them? Going on your feet, going into, going into the lobby or the bar after the show and saying, That was great, having your Pinot and going home and not doing anything about it. It questions how we view theatre and how we view trauma on stage for the audience. So it is not an answer. It is a series of questions and provocations that leave you as the viewer to make your choice. One of the most powerful things that we never expected was at the end of Kel’s epic monologue, he starts asking, Are you numb yet, are you numb? And he’s done this monologue, right? And we’ve never, even in the studio, we’ve never said No! Or, Yes! And you just heard the audience? No, no! Every time he kept asking, it was not meant to be an audience participation. But you saw, you saw what the power of theatre can do when you pause at groups and you actually ask genuine questions. So it is that and it’s also for me, it’s a way to… not to wrap up and move on, but it’s a place where I can find sanctuary in the pain that I have gone through in dealing with this topic so heavily over the last two years, it’s a place to put that somewhere so that it doesn’t just live and corrode me, because it’s very hard to stay in that world for a long time. And it’s also something that I think people who feel oppressed or feel like they’re losing their sense of self can rediscover either their love of creativity, their love of theatre, their love of dance, their love of family, community, friendship. I hope it can re-spark that in them. Like, re-spark the basic emotions that we experience that often we don’t allow ourselves to experience – joy, laughter, sadness, pain, all of this stuff that we always try and just stay on one continuous level. So it’s many things, and it has, excuse me for the pun, but it has many shades to it, you know? It has really a lot of shades to it – it’s not one particular thing. But yeah.
Gary Crotaz 1:02:13
And Kel, you didn’t have an all-black cast for Shades of Blue? It wasn’t a piece that you wanted to speak just to the black community?
Kel Matsena 1:02:21
Yeah, absolutely, there was conversations about that, about the casting of it and who would be in this work. And we decided that we were going to make the cast just as diverse as possible, and just go with our instincts in terms of the people we auditioned, and go with the people we feel just want to fight for whatever injustice they’ve experienced in their lives. And you know, the way we sort of go about picking the people we want to work with is we go for the people with the biggest hearts, although that may sound cheesy, or whatever. But we really go for the hearts because when you’re dealing with work like this, you need a lot of heart, a lot of vulnerability, a lot of support. A lot of laughter as well, a lot of people they see our work they’re like, Whoa, the studio must be crazy intense. And we’re like, No, we’re having a laugh, we’re having the greatest time, because, you know, it’s in our nature. We like to enjoy ourselves as human beings, especially when we’re doing something we love, whilst still also balancing that we are dealing with a very serious topic and honouring the people and the stories we’re telling. But in that, we have to protect ourselves as people and approach it with heart, with love, with joy, with laughter. And that’s how we go about picking people, so the casting was very open and very free. And we also felt like it needed to be diverse, because we wanted Shades of Blue to be a real picture of society. There’s very few spaces that are completely black or completely East Asian or completely white now, we’re, we’re becoming this global village. And the thing is, if we just make it an all-black cost, our audience members, we’re going to invite all the people we know and we’re going to have a mainly black audience, and we’re all just sat there just agreeing with each other, which does nothing, it really does nothing. So we wanted that cast to be diverse. We wanted a super-diverse audience, as well as that because we live in a society and these issues affect us all. They’re not individual, you know. How you think about the black community or about the tension between young people and the police. That is not exclusive to one person, it affects everyone. And we need everyone to be involved in these conversations. And we need that audience to be diverse. So we really loved it at the end of the show that you’d see people going at each other. But oh, no, but that shouldn’t have been. Oh, but that was a bit much for me. And oh, no, I love that. And that’s really what it’s about, sparking the conversation, bringing different minds together. And it really had to start in the room so that it spread out to the audience.
Gary Crotaz 1:04:56
And I think from my perspective, what happened with George Floyd’s murder was, was this piece of, as you said before, clarity, and the loss of ambiguity. And for the non-black community, actually, that you had an outpouring of people across all ethnicities saying, This is not okay. You know, this has to change. And I think it’s something that comes through really clearly in your work that it talks to, to people of all backgrounds, as you say, you know, it’s not a black cast and a black audience agreeing with each each other, it’s a diverse cast and a diverse audience, all agreeing with one another. And that’s really powerful. Anthony, if you watch Shades of Blue, and that’s all you’d seen of the Matsenas, then maybe you’d think, you know, you guys are the kind of angry political guys, you know, talking about oppression or whatever. Is that you?
Anthony Matsena 1:05:58
It’s a part of me, but it’s not all of me. A lot of fizz, a lot of laughter, a lot of silliness, a lot of joy, a lot of love for the, for the art of creating. I just love, I have a lot of interests, and they don’t just sit within politics. These are the, these other things in life that interest me equally as well, as well as that. So, you know, I don’t want to spend my whole life making work that is just political. I think I would say work will always be political in some sense, but not it being the driving force. You know, I had one of the most fun times directing Midsummer Night’s Dream alongside Kel and Jonathan Munby early in the year, and a lot of people who came and watched that were like, What? Did you really do all that? Because that’s not really you guys. I’m like, Alright, yes, it is. It is. It totally is. So it isn’t all of that I think, actually reflecting on Shades of Blue, when I think the first version of Shades of Blue seemed like angry political guy. But there’s a lot of playfulness and silliness in this version, that especially is at the beginning, that I hope people maybe who hopefully remember the whole piece, see that these different tones to, to the kind of work we want to make. So yeah, you know, I am not just the angry, angry political guy. I mean, he has an interest in life that I want to explore in many different creations. And I hope that the industry, especially the Arts Council, doesn’t expect that for people of the global majority, that they have to make work that reflects their societal position in Britain, that they can be free to make whatever work they want to make, because they’re great makers. Not because of the colour of their skin or their background.
Gary Crotaz 1:08:02
And Kel, what’s your reflection on the journey ahead for you guys?
Kel Matsena 1:08:06
Oh, the journey ahead! We’re just going to carry on just following our instincts and carry on exploring things we’re passionate about. I mean, myself and Anthony are real geeks, we love science and mathematics and equations and sequences, and we want to explore that in a creative space more and bring that through, because that’s what we were exploring in the early days. And, you know, the activist in us was, you know, awakened, but we still want to explore all those other things. And yeah, when, if something comes on that we feel really affected by politically and we want to speak on that, no, we’ll follow that instinct too, but it’s not the only thing we’re interested in. And, you know, going forward it’s really just trying to understand how we can really understand how to communicate dance on on, digitally, really, film and television and all of that. It’s still a very new age in terms of how dance is put on film and screen. Obviously, with acting we’ve, it’s been going on for such a long time. Opera is getting very good on film, because they’ve had three, four decades now trying to understand the medium. And for myself and Anthony, we really want to be spearheading that understanding of how we communicate dance through a screen. So those, that’s part of the next journey for us, is still rocking out on stage, and also on screen.
Gary Crotaz 1:09:35
One more big question, and I’d love to get both your perspectives on it. Kel, I’ll come to you first. If you could port yourselves back in time to Zimbabwe and meet Anthony and Kel, aged 11 and 14, before you moved over to Wales, and had an opportunity to put your arm around the shoulder and say something in their ear. What would you say?
Kel Matsena 1:10:00
That would be… I think if I, if I got to speak to my younger self, I very much remember being really young. And the ground was constantly shifting for us from, you know, sort of just after the early 2000s. My mom’s work, my dad’s work, us moving country, us trying to figure out we’re in between two places, okay, we have African heritage, but then now we’re in this place in Wales. And there was just constantly things shifting. And in that, what was really difficult is, when you’re jumping from community to community, place to place is, you can really see some people who are settled in their community, you can really see certain people living in a life that looks somewhat structured, you know, and I remember being quite jealous of that, being completely honest, of seeing that some people were able to plan ahead and have a path for their life, because things were following some sort of, some sort of steps, some sort of order. But for us, it felt like we don’t know what was going to happen next week, what was going to happen next month. And that was something that I really struggled with at first, but I think I’d tell my younger self that look, everyone’s journey is unique. And from a distance it may look like someone’s life is just really lovely and perfect, and you know, rose-tinted glasses, but everyone has their own hardships, you don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. So, you know, there’s this quote I love from drama school. From my very first week, our head of acting, Paul Clarkson said, I think it’s a quote from Roosevelt, that comparison is the thief of joy. And I think comparison stole quite a lot of joy in my younger years. And still, and can very much steal joy, your joy as a creative as an actor, as a dancer, if you’re constantly comparing your journey. And I tell myself to just invest in my uniqueness, because my uniqueness is exactly why I’ll be able to affect the lives around me. So yeah, I think I told my younger self that it’s gonna be alright. Just focus on you and what’s going on around you.
Gary Crotaz 1:12:16
Anthony, if you were ported back in time to talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Anthony Matsena 1:12:22
I’d put a shoulder around him and give a little knuckle scratching the head and say, Hey, knucklehead. Stop, stop being so stubborn at times. But those, yeah, I think my younger, younger years, I was in such a loving environment that I never felt, I always felt like I could try anything. Even if I wasn’t good at it, I would just give it a go. Because the stakes had gone up so high when we moved and I was about to move, I felt like whatever choice out to make had to be the right choice. So often getting in my way before I’ve even had the chance to experience something, I would tell that person, Look, you always want to have the option to say no because you’ve tried it. You know, if something intrigues you in any kind of way, go and find out why. If it feels unrelated to what you’re doing, or your journey, it’s, it’s probably some sort of thread that’s going to help you excel on the journey that you’re on right now. So go out there and just give it a go. Give it a go. And remember that song you used to say to yourself when you were much younger, when things would go terrible. Tony don’t worry, about a thing. Yeah. ‘Cos every little thing’s gonna be alright! Yeah, as a kid I would sing that to myself, we don’t get really mad or get sad. But I would say just always give yourself the option and know that no matter how, how dire and how nasty or how, how dark a hole you find yourself in, know that you, you make, you make your way out of it, not because you’re brilliant, and you’re doing it by yourself, but because of the people around you. Trust in them. Ask for help. Ask them to lend you a hand and, you know, they’ll come to you’re saving. And remember the last thing, that the traumatised are unpredictable because they know they can survive. And you are unpredictable because you know you can survive. And never forget that.
Gary Crotaz 1:14:48
I love it. It’s so powerful. So what’s next for you in 2022? What are we going to see from Matsena Productions coming up through the next six months to a year or so?
Anthony Matsena 1:14:58
So Kel and I are doing a few solo projects. I’m doing a commission at The Place at the moment, at my old dance school, which is like a big, big come around moment, I’ve always wanted to do the graduation piece. I think that was one of my stamps of approval that I’m a choreographer is if I did, if I did this, I’m really enjoying that. Kel’s gonna come assist at some places. So the shows will be on from the 5th to the 8th of July. And then I’m also doing a massive pan-Wales project, which is part of the Unbox Festival. Our team is Collective Cymru, and the project is called GALWAD Call To Action, which is a trans-medium story that’s going to take place over radio, live performance, and on a massive broadcasting channel. And in many different forms over a whole week. So watch out for that. And the last week of September Matsena Productions is going to continue building a really thick and epic tour, and a slightly buffed up version of Shades of Blue, one version 4.06.3080 by this point! But that will be coming to you around the UK, around Europe, around America, we’re going to make it happen because people need to see the story. And hopefully in Zimbabwe, we will try and make that happen. And then we’ll also be working on a series of short films that we’re going to start filming towards the end of this year and releasing to you, and then there are some other projects that hey, there’s something called signatures to contracts that keep you, keep your mouth zipped up. And we can’t, we can’t speak on that. But there’s a lot coming your way. Don’t you worry!
Gary Crotaz 1:16:41
And Kel, your solo projects?
Kel Matsena 1:16:44
Oh, yes. And I’m currently working on a video game. And I can’t say what it, what it is. But that is very fun and strange to be in like, a very tight grey suit with all the sensors. But yes, that’s what I’ll be getting up to for part of this summer. And a film, as well as that, I’ve just finished writing my play supported by National Theatre Wales. So I’ll be doing some R&D for that this autumn. And cracking on with that. I’m very excited to really get into that too. And again, working on all the short film series and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, a whole lot of pen to paper. Well, keyboard really, a lot of writing and stuff. But yeah, it’s an exciting final half of this year!
Gary Crotaz 1:17:32
And if people want to follow you, where can they find you on social media and so on?
Kel Matsena 1:17:37
Oh, Facebook, Instagram, you find us @MatsenaProductions. At Twitter we’re @MatsenaProd because Twitter doesn’t allow you to have a very long name! And then check out our website too, Matsena Productions and then our personals are there as well, on Instagram I’m @KelMatsena and you guessed it Anthony…
Anthony Matsena 1:18:02
Anthony underscore Matsena @Anthony_Matsena
Gary Crotaz 1:18:04
The underscore is very important! We’ll put all those links in show notes so people can find you and follow you and find out about this incredible stuff that you’re filling your diaries with. I think you’re, you’re some of the busiest people in, in the entertainment industry at the moment. So it’s fantastic. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity when you suddenly know the right path ahead. For breakthrough contemporary dance choreographers, performers and actors Antony and Kel Matsena, it was the tragic death of two of their older brothers that shifted the focus of their work and awoke a clarity of purpose in them around activism, telling stories and impacting real change. The murder of George Floyd sparked the creation of their most powerful piece to date, Shades of Blue, but also reinforced the importance of bringing the values of love, joy, empowerment and community through their performances to audiences around the world. They’re so young and so very talented, I’m incredibly excited to see what the Matsena brothers are going to go on and create over the coming years. Anthony and Kel, thank you so much for joining me today on The Unlock Moment.
Anthony Matsena 1:19:08
Thank you for having us!
Kel Matsena 1:19:09
Thank you for having us!
Gary Crotaz 1:19:13
This has been The Unlock Moment, a podcast with me Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset, available in physical book, ebook and audiobook format. Follow me on Instagram and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon