The twinkle in his eyes. That’s what I first noticed about Atlas Philani Duma as we sat across the table from each other to discuss his life and work, which are one and the same really. A man of vision, extraordinary creativity and innovation, he is the brains behind the establishment of Sagiya Foundation.
That day as he spoke of culture and environmentalism, his passion was infectious. I had not felt so enthused in a long time. He is currently producing the third show of Dim-Dep Musical: Faces of Environmental Success. When he explained that Dim-Dep is the sound of the beating drum, especially by hand, I was enthralled as his voice played out the dim-dep, dim-dep, dim-dep rise and fall of the drums. It is also an acronym for ‘Drums and Indigenous Music Development Project’. Clever!
The story juxtaposes the life of ancient times of reliance on the land, with today and our disregard for environmental issues.
“Dim-Dep is a revival of community spirit. It sparks the individual to take pride in how we live and how we care for our environment. In doing so, it leads to community development and ownership of issues affecting the particular community,” he told me.
It begins with auditions, giving jobs to upcoming and established artists. Once rehearsed, the show takes to the communities and deals with real, burning issues in each community. Then while it plays at the ICC for school and theatre lovers, academics and environmentalists and those with an interest in culture, community projects take place. These range from clean-up campaigns to #ValaUkuvuza (community participation for leaking taps and pipes) and #SilimaSonke (using vacant lands for community gardens).
“In this way, this project is unique as it goes way beyond theatre and changes lives. We do it because we are passionate about preservation of our earth and keeping culture alive and aware,” the eyes twinkled.
This current Dim-Dep Musical is about to kick off and the community activations will be May and the shows in June. This project runs currently in the eThekwini municipal area and is gearing up to go provincial and national.
Once I was totally immersed in this, Atlas then told me that Sagiya Foundation is multi-faceted with theatre, records, publishing and music school arms. Wow. I left armed with DVDs and a book, which blew me away.
His history? Well that could be a book on its own. With a National Diploma in Light Music, Atlas has behind him, teaching, assessing, theatre production, business consulting and a host of awards from anything from drumming to being declared a KZN Legend of Jazz.
It is a privilege to know this man and to be around him!