I recently had the pleasure of attending “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding,” from playwright Jocelyn Bioh and I must say, it’s an absolute must-see. As someone who frequents Broadway plays, this musical left a profound impact on me. It not only made me feel seen but also provided a unique and authentic experience that resonates with a diverse audience, regardless of their background.
I should mention that, having locs for most of my life, I’ve never got my hair braided in an African hair braiding shop. However, this play managed to make me feel immersed in that world. It brilliantly captures the comedic essence of a Harlem hair salon. The actors, especially Kalyne Coleman, Lakisha May, and Michael Oloyede, who portrayed multiple characters, flawlessly transitioned between roles, embodying the various people who frequent a hair shop any day of the week. It was fascinating to see how, regardless of the cultural backdrop, all beauty and barbershops attract similar characters.
The actresses who embodied individual characters truly understood their roles and displayed remarkable talent. Notably, Brittany Adebumola, Maechi Aharanwa, Nana Mensah, and Zenzi Williams delivered performances filled with joy, jealousy, hope, hard work, and, most importantly, sisterhood, despite any drama they may be a part of.
The play leans heavily towards comedy, offering a lighthearted and entertaining experience. However, it takes a more serious turn in the last 10 minutes. This change provided a welcome departure from the usual heavy-handed messages that permeate dramas throughout. Jaja chose to allude to a significant issue without placing it at the forefront until the end. In a world often saturated with trauma and drama, this shift added depth and meaning to the narrative. It shed light on a topic that is more often attributed to people from other countries not those from Africa. Jaja’s African Hair Braiding brought attention to the trials and tribulations faced by African women and their communities.
It was in those final moments of the play that Domonique Thorne’s character truly shone. While her performance was often overshadowed by her castmates throughout most of the play, it was in those last scenes that she vividly portrayed the painful and fearful reality that many immigrants constantly live under. My eyes welled up with tears, and I heard sniffles from those around me.
What struck me most was how this play challenged our perceptions of immigrant experiences. It showcased the challenges and aspirations of undocumented immigrants, specifically African women, in a way that’s often overlooked. As a Black woman in America, I have the privilege of moving freely, but “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” made me acutely aware of the struggles faced by those who can’t. It’s a poignant and necessary reminder of the complexities of immigration and community bonds.
The play is a visual feast, with vibrant sets and costumes that capture the essence of a Harlem hair salon. The characters come to life in a way that makes you feel like you’re right there with them. The sharp timing and orchestration by director Whitney White, along with the incredible cast, make this production an engaging and enjoyable experience.
In a world where media is increasingly digital, “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” reminds us of the power of live theater. It’s a celebration of African culture, resilience, and the shared human experience. I highly recommend this play to people of all backgrounds, as it offers laughter, joy, and a fresh perspective on the immigrant experience. “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” is a must-see production that will leave you with a heart full of warmth and understanding. It leaves theaters November 19th, make sure you check it out before it leaves! Click here for more details.