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'My Name is Jimi' is shining a light on a lesser-known Australian Indigenous culture

Jimi Bani is determined to make sure his culture isn’t forgotten.  

He’s well known on the silver screen after roles in important shows like Redfern Now and Mabo, but Bani’s latest project is a theatre piece that will give Australians an insight into a lesser-known Indigenous culture. 
 
“This is a story about my connection to my cultural heritage back in the Torres Strait Islands. It’s very educational because not many people know about the Torres Strait Islanders, especially further down south,” Bani says.
 
After premiering this new theatre show, My Name is Jimi, in Cairns – his second home – Bani is taking the show on tour, stopping to educate and entertain in major cities such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. 
 
The reception from audiences has surprised Bani and his crew, who are only just discovering how little the average Australian knows about Island heritage. 
 
“It certainly helped us to become crisper and clearer in what we were saying in the show, when you realise maybe 50 per cent don’t really know the islander culture. You get really different responses. When we were in Sydney about 95 per cent didn’t know anything about the Torres Strait.”
 
My Name is Jimi isn’t just an educational tool for his audience. One of Bani’s biggest inspirations in writing this play was to pass on important cultural traditions and stories to his children. 
 
“The idea that I was really passionate about was belonging and identity, especially for my children. I was born and bred in the Torres Strait Islands, and my children were born here in Cairns, and I want to see them stay connected. It’s really important to me to pass down the knowledge that was given to me.”
 
Bani’s source of this knowledge was his late father, Dimple Bani, the eighth chief of Wagadagam and the first chief for a hundred years, who’s title Bani will soon inherit. The play was originally conceived by Jimi, his father and director Jason Klarwein before Dimple’s unfortunate passing in 2015.
 
With his father’s death, Bani saw a renewed importance in the piece that he was creating. 
 
“This was part of the urgency behind it, my son’s friends, even though they carry the Torres Strait Islands flag so high, deep within they are searching and really trying to find who they are and where they come from.”
 
Family is a key word in both this play and Bani’s life, something he’s made even more prominent through his casting choices. 
 
“I’ve got my mum, my grandma, my two brothers and my son on stage with me. They were a little bit freaked out, they didn’t want to perform in front of so many people but I said to my Mum, ‘It’s what you always do. You’re the owners of our songs and dance. You perform in front of hundreds of people every time, every special occasion.’”
 
It sounds like a heavy responsibility to take on, this passing of knowledge and education to a whole generation of Australian-raised Torres Strait Islanders, but just because he takes it so seriously doesn’t mean that he isn’t having fun.
 
Bani says comedy is a big part of his culture. He’d even go so far as to say it’s the main part. And comedy, that universal language of laughter, is going to be the biggest allure of My Name is Jimi. 
 
“It’s funny, the design of a theatre show, it’s exactly how we do traditional dancing. The spirit of the dance is so strong, and because it hits them, they do these clownish things. And we call that eggy. We say, ‘Oh here he goes doing eggy.’”

My Name is Jimi will be performed at Arts Centre Melbourne from Thursday October 4 until Sunday October 7 as part of Melbourne International Arts Festival. Melbourne International Arts Festival runs from Wednesday October 3 until Sunday October 21.