Somi Kakoma and Lakisha May On How JAJA'S AFRICAN HAIR BRAIDING is About So Much More Than Just Hair

Fall Preview 2023

Somi Kakoma and Lakisha May | Photos: Michaelah Reynolds/Theatrely

Jordanna Brody
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September 14, 2023 11:15 AM

New York is in for a treat this fall as we celebrate playwright Jocelyn Bioh’s Broadway debut with Jaja’s African Hair Braiding at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Co-produced by Taraji P. Henson and LaChanze, the play is now in previews and opens officially on Tuesday, October 3, 2023. 

Directed by Whitney White, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding brings audiences into Jaja’s bustling hair braiding shop in Harlem, where every day a lively and eclectic group of West African immigrant hair braiders create masterpieces on the heads of neighborhood women. During one sweltering summer day, love will blossom, dreams will flourish, and secrets will be revealed. The uncertainty of their circumstances simmers below the surface of their lives, and when it boils over, it forces this tight-knit community to confront what it means to be an outsider at the edge of the place they call home.

Somi Kakoma

The cast includes Brittany Adebumola as Miriam, Maechi Aharanwa as Ndidi, Rachel Christopher as Jennifer, Kalyne Coleman as Chrissy/Michelle/LaNiece, Somi Kakoma as Jaja, Lakisha May as Vanessa/Radia/Sheila, Nana Mensah as Aminata, Michael Oloyede as James/Sock Man/DVD Man/Jewelry Man, Dominique Thorne as Marie, and  Zenzi Wililams as Bea, with Victoire Charles, Onye Eme-Akwari, Abigail C. Onwunali, and Morgan Scott serving as understudies for the production.

I caught up with Kakoma and May on the rooftop of the Civilian Hotel to chat about the show. 

“It's such a blessing to be able to be a part of such a joyful story that has a lot of heart and a lot of humanity, and that shows our resilience,” said May on the process thus far.

As a Harlem resident, Kakoma said, “I'm thinking a lot about the African women I pass on the street in Harlem. There are women who walk past, they look so elegant, almost floating past in their gorgeous kaftans and boubous. I moved to Harlem to get close to that, to an African immigrant community that keeps me grounded, reminds me of my parents' struggle, and reminds me of why I have to show up.”

Lakisha May

May added, “Despite all of the really tough shit that gets thrown our way, we still push through. I want folks to leave, and to be thinking about those women.”

Rounding out the creative team are David Zinn with scenic design, Dede Ayite with costume design, Jiyoun Chang with lighting design, Justin Ellington with original music and sound design, Stefania Bulbarella with video design, Nikiya Mathis with hair and wig design, and Dawn-Elin Fraser with dialect and vocal coaching.

Jaja’s African Hair Braiding began previews on Tuesday, September 12, 2023, with an official opening night set for Tuesday, October 3, 2023 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway.

For tickets and more information, visit here

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Jordanna Brody

Originally from South Florida, Jordanna Brody graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Theatre Education and Performance in 2019. Her experience teaching, performing, directing, and working behind the scenes informs her perspective on theatre in every way. She is passionate about uplifting marginalized voices and innovative theatrical experiences.