Bonginkosi Ntiwane

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10min3950

This is an interview between Tha Bravado Editor Bonginkosi Ntiwane and multiple award-winning playwright Napo Masheane. The interview took place in late 2021 around the time when The South African State Theatre (SAST) presented TSOGO (The Rise of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke), a biographical theatre play exploring the life and times of the iconic social and political activist Mama Charlotte Makgomo Mannya-Maxeke (1871 -1939). While the season of the play coincided with her date of death 16 October 1939, this piece fittingly gets published today on what would have been her 151st birthday. She was born in Botlokwa, Ga-Ramokgopa in Limpopo. She is the first black South African woman to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree and is the founder of the Bantu Women’s League in 1918.

Written by Napo Masheane and directed by thespian Mapula Setlhako, TSOGO which means rise or the awakening is a resurrection of one of South Africa’s Pan African, black conscious, and feminist pioneers.  “Yes! Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke must rise in all of us, so that all those who come after us can also rise from us,” Masheane says.

The moving play is told through seven actresses who are all also strong vocalists, intensely telling Maxeke’s expansive life before she even got married. The ensemble represents seven portraits of Maxeke, focusing on seven prominent milestones of her life, almost symbolizing the seven decades of her tapestry, against not just tradition and religion, but also patriarchy and politics. “Majority of the girls in the play, I’ve had the pleasure of working with before. And actually some of them have a musical background. So I had to mentor them into becoming actresses,” Masheane says.

The playwright: Napo Masheane. Photo supplied
The playwright: Napo Masheane. Photo supplied

The seven actresses are Hazel Mehlape, Zamachunu Mchunu, Tshepiso Madikoane, Thokozile Manakomba, Solani Maswanganye, Ncamisa Nqana and Katlego Tlokana. “People I tell stories about always choose who will best portray them on stage. As I always say; theatre for some of us is not just a church but it is a ritual practice and an initiation process of constantly telling her-story.” The chemistry of the all-female cast felt genuine, as though they were carrying each other on that stage, similar to how Maxeke carried some of her sisters in the African Jubilee Choir while touring abroad in the late 1800s. The premise of the story-arch draws on ‘Re-Birthing- Re-Imagining and Re-flecting’ on Maxeke’s her-story, which is echoed through the seven female voices on stage.

Tsogo cast
The Seven: These are the seven charlottes each representing milestone of the political activist Charlotte Mannya Maxeke. Photo by Mpilo Zondi.

“For every playwright before you write a play you have to flesh it out, you have to decide on the artistic treatment and approach. You need to imagine (from the page) who your character is, what do they want, need, seek and what could possibly be blocking them from that. Then you need to create a world (on stage) for them to exist in which is the defining premise for their existence. Hence in the case of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke knowing that she lived almost to her 70s, I highlighted seven milestones that epitomised her journey thus in meeting the magic of theatre created seven voices through seven portraits, to be carried out by seven girls,” shares Masheane.

The actresses’ command of the rich Sepedi language was a marvel and through choral and Afrocentric melodies, TSOGO also suggests Maxeke’s imaginative childhood, her coming of age, her undying resistance and resilience, her bravery to travel the world as an artist (chorister) in persuasion of a dream to empower the black child.

Sitting there watching the play, I was personally taken aback and inspired by Maxeke’s story, that well over a century ago this black woman was actually the true definition of being woke. If it’s had such an effect on me as a man, you can imagine how much it would fuel women.

Seven charlottes each representing milestone of the political activist Charlotte Mannya Maxeke. Credit Mpilo Zondi..
Songbirds: The seven charlottes each representing milestone of the political activist Charlotte Mannya Maxeke. Photo by Mpilo Zondi..

“Whatever Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke experienced in the 1800s still hits home to most of us in the 21st century; so in imaging and knowing who she was I am able to articulate and reflect how all of us overtime (across different eras) are affected by patriarchal standards, political landscapes, academic settings, religious controversies, cultural and traditional norms that have no interest in our true existence. So, every interaction or immediate response during the performance affirmed that we all know, agree and fully understand hers and our journeys. She was us and we are her even today, period!” Masheane says defiantly.

In statement director of the play Setlhako said “Not many know about her as a creative during her life and activism in the 18th century. We need to set up unity of sisterhood in the arts fraternity, which will help raise the next generation of female artists to the next level. We need structures which will help shatter the ceilings of patriarchy and gender inequality in the arts.”

The production is now available for streaming on The State Theatre’s YouTube channel. Click here to watch

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7min2900

I couldn’t help but ponder on Perfect Hlongwane’s description of black joy, as Eskom’s blackout hit right in the middle of Malcom Jiyane and Nonku Phiri’s performance at the Joburg Theatre.

“There is laughter and there is festivity in the very pits of hell, because that is the only way to escape the searing licks of these flames, even if only briefly and in bursts whose volatility already gives an indication that they may not last,” the Culture Review‘s Associate Editor, Hlongwane said in describing the theme at last week’s Kulture Blues Festival.

The Uprize Ensemble which was performing on stage together, were the night’s last act. It was also the first time Jiyane played his much-admired album, Umdali. It was symbolic that the last song they performed before he lights were cut was, Sizwile. Nonku was just getting into performing her solo work went the theatre got blacked out. While a handful of people decided to leave as the organisers were re-connecting the sound to the generator, the rest of us were patient enough and watched the rest of the performance.

Phiri and Jiyane on stag together are a joy to watch. While Jiyane is the mad scientist dripping of sweat on keys, Phiri stationed under the blue lights she sorely asked for, was like a spiritual guide on her voice changer with her sound effects.

uPHIRI: Nonku performing at the Kulture Blues Festival at Joburg Theatre. Photo supplied
uPHIRI: Nonku performing at the Kulture Blues Festival at Joburg Theatre. Photo by Zivnai Matangi

They were supported by Lungile Kunene drums and The Brother Moves On’s Ayanda Zalekile on bass. The latter’s singing took everyone aback, even Nonku turned back pleasantly surprised, with a smile she asked “And then wena?”. You could see it, feel it and definitely hear the joy that Eskom tried to steal as we sat in the audience enjoying the talent on stage.

Before their performance was Gabi Motuba and Tumi Mogorosi alongside. Gabi looked elegant in her green dress and her natural hair in fine splendour. Her voice exudes the tranquillity one would experience in a view of Mpumalanga’s Three Rondavels on a quiet morning. Every South African deserves to at least experience her voice live. While Mogorosi doesn’t fight with the drums, but somehow caresses them with intent. Bokani Dyer on piano, Daliwonga Tsangela on cello, Dalisu Ndlazi on bass complimented each other and that too, was black joy in action.

THA ENSAMBLE (from L to R): Daliwonga Tsangela, Bokani Dyre,
THA ENSAMBLE (from L to R): Daliwonga Tsangela, Bokani Dyre, Dalisu Ndlazi, Gabi Motuba and Tumi Mogorosi. Photo by Zivanai Matangi

The day’s first performer was East London’s Luyolo Lenga, an eccentric artist with strong vocals. He opened his performance playing the Uhadi traditional instrument and then later played from his acoustic guitar. One would’ve liked to hear more of him playing Uhadi.

A common thread of the night was the artist’s complaints of the sound, which seemed to lie with the sound engineer of the day. While comedian Roni Modimola’s jokes left the handful audience cringing at times.

THA OPENING ACT: Luvuyo Lenga
THA OPENING ACT: Luvuyo Lenga. Photo by Zivanai Matangi

“It was a beautiful day. On and off the stage. Black love permeated the Joburg Theatre and when loadshedding hit us during Malcolm Jiyane/ Uprize Ensemble’s set, the spirits remained high and the musicians continued playing with high esteem, much to the adulation of the audience. It was a special night man,” says satisfied producer of the festival, Kulani Nkuna.

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12min19320

This is the first of a two-part book review of The Lives Of Black Folk, a collections of essays by a variety of Bantu writers. It is the brainchild of online magazine, Culture Review. I was fortunate enough to have first dibs on which two chapters I would review and I instinctively wanted to talk to and about Abantu and Azania-which are the second and fourth chapters respectively. Khulisile Nkushubana will share his two cents on the first and third chapters, A Disturbance and Culture in part 2.

In that disappointing final episode of Game of Thrones, a shrewd Tyrion Lannister said something poignant as he was pleading the case for Bran Stark’s kingship. “What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”

I was enthralled by the 181 pages of The Lives of Black Folk, but the Abantu chapter was particularly special to me as a storyteller and an avid consumer of chronicles. But these aren’t the fictional tales of George R.R. Martin. The stuff on Abantu are real accounts from real people, abodarkie abanjengami nawe. In his intro to the book, editor and founder of Culture Review magazine Kulani Nkuna describes the hardcover as “A disavowal of the black condition as it currently exists, and the seeming disruption brought about contemporary challenges. It is simultaneously a mourning and a celebration-of blackness in all its attendant vicissitudes.”

A Letter To All The White Women Whose Panties & Bras I have Worn by Palesa Nqambaza is one of the stories on Abantu. Nqambaza details how she was a lifetime recipient of hand-me-downs of underwear from white women, who employed some of the women in her family as domestic workers. Nqambaza, who is a ph.D candidate at Wits, Politics Department and is a sessional lecture in the same department, addresses this demeaning part of her life with a sense of humour. “They raised you until they were ultimately employed by you. You in turn, have raised my bum. Yes, white women, you are my bum’s keeper,” she writes. Yet she calls-out this false-sense of goodwill white women possess. “…you just came from a world where someone else could be a site of your garbage disposal; a world of excess. And (thank God for philanthropy) a landfill opened up to you in the figure of my aunty. She represented lack, an abyss waiting to be filled by that which you needed to dispose of.”

It’s cute how Nqambaza’s criticism ends with her aunt’s employers, not her aunt who has been handed these personal and used items for years and yet hands them over to relatives. The letter also highlights the generational disparity between Nqambaza and her aunt’s feelings towards white women’s behaviour in this regard. That her aunt still hands her the black garbage bag with clothes, despite the fact that Nqambaza is now a middle-class educated woman who can afford, is telling.

Under the title Working Women, the real life accounts of black women toiling for their children, interviewed in the 1980s shows just how much things remain the same as they change. The story of Dolly, whose husband was jailed in the 1960s and was forced to do extra work to support her two children, could very well be a story of a women living in South Africa today.  “I became a prostitute because of circumstances. I was struggling. Most of the time I to borrow money,” says Dolly.

She was a sex worker from 1964 to 1984. “I used to operate in Hillbrow a lot. But nowadays I haven’t got a place to go during the day, You’ve got to go maybe in a passage. It’s risky. It’s very risky. Prostitution is not nice at all. It pays…it does not pay. No.”

Perfect Hlongwane’s Dignity Isn’t Always Pretty (for Fikile ‘Bra Fikz’ Magadlela) talks to the struggle black creatives wrestle with, when it comes to the balancing act of making a living through your art without devaluing the artwork or yourself. Yet writer Hlongwane addresses this animal through his friendship with artist Bra Fikz. You can listen to the audio version of Hlongwane’s letter here.

The Abantu chapter has 13 colourful, unique, educational and real-life anecdotes that display the intricate beauty of our humanness as black folk.

Makhafula Vilakazi’s Ulele is a timely opening piece to the Azania chapter. He poignantly titled his poem Ulele, which talks directly to black folk’s lack of urgency pertaining to issues of land. An extract from the poem:

Udakwe kamnandi um’Afrika omuhle,

Udakwe yivangeli;

Udakwe yindlala;

Udakwe yis’thembiso sika Nelson nabashana bakhe base

Luthuli abarhudulwa amaKula nama Juda ngesende;

Udakwe yisikoloto saseNedbank;

Udakwe yinhlamba zononkroyi we’shwaphha om’biza

ngemfene ezweni lakhe

On Whose God Is It Anyway? Pastor Xola Skosana, a former pastor of 30 years talks about unshackling from the chains of slavery, religious slavery that is. “May I add and say that the church captures the heart and imagination. The gun, the school and the church do a complete work, in the process of making a slave,” writes Skosana who now runs Kilombo Village, a home for Run-Away-Slaves.

“So, when a slave burns down a building in a system that maintains his/her slavery, and stands by to watch the flames engulf the building, it is a beautiful moment. It is the closest thing to the possibility of undoing what was done to make him/her a slave. When the slave finally wakes up, not even Jesus will stay inside the church; for the furry will be too much to bear.”

Romantic as this sounds, I was left with more questions than answers after reading the former pastor’s thoughts and ideas. Since religion and spirituality are different things, I got a sense ambiguity about what a run-away-slave is in this sense. I was expecting him to introduce perhaps into the conversation, ideas about black spirituality or a more nuanced conversation about religion. Be in ancestral worship/belief or the discussion about real Jews being black.

Overall I enjoyed reading The Lives of Black Folk. It felt like being in a room with Bantu people, listening to each other’s stories and finding ways to attaining true freedom.

I believe black South African from different walks of life need an opportunity to read this book, as a reminder of one’s blackness. In the book are artworks from black superstars such as Thabo Lehobye, Sive Mqikela, Thonton Kabeya and Ayanda Mabulu- the artworks were a cooling interlude between the hard-hitting black experiences on paper.

The book is available at Book Circle Capital (27 Boxes), 75 4th Avenue, Melville, Johannesburg.

Then via email at
sales@culture-review.co.za

Whatsapp at 076 616 2845

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8min18560

Awards and elections have this in common; not everyone who contests walks away victorious. But leading up to any elections or award season, one can make forecasts looking at the landscape.

That the ANC was going to lose its grip on a number of metros in the November 1 Local Government elections was predictable as Priddy Ugly’s Soil album being nominated in a slew of categories at this year’s South African Hip Hop Awards (SAHHA). Yet only the former became a reality as Priddy was surprisingly recognized in just one category in the nominations announced this week.

“Too many good albums were submitted and didn’t make the cut. If we’re looking for five albums, it becomes a numbers game and others will automatically fall short,” said Creative Director of the SAHHA Rashid Kay. He was responding to the absence of the Soil in the album of the year category. 25K’s Pheli Makaveli, Logan by Emtee, Costa Titch’s Made in Africa, B4Now by Blxckie and Big Zulu’s Ichwane Lenyoka are the shortlisted albums of the year.

The 10-track Soil is a good body of work that Priddy Ugly released in July, together with some absorbing visuals to help narrate his story. That this album wasn’t nominated is unfathomable- more so because local Hip Hop has been starved of a consistent album in the commercial space, where temporally hot singles and Amapiano are the order of the day.

“In a case of a tie, we then look at factual numbers from Radio Monitor for airplay, and Capasso for streams and digital sales. It’s not only Priddy Ugly’s album that didn’t make the cut, like Kwesta’s album, Yanga Chief’s album, Zakwe and Duncan’s album, and other dope dope albums that fell short with numbers,” said Rashid.

Creative Director of the SAHHA Rashid Kay. Photo by Rashid Kay
Creative Director of the SAHHA Rashid Kay. Photo by Rashid Kay

Priddy’s solitary nomination came in the form of Lyricist of The Year alongside LandmarQue, PdotO, YoungstaCPT and A-Reece. Similar to Priddy, none of LandmarQue’s EPs were nominated in the Mixtape of The Year category, yet he got the nod for his pen game. “You must realise that every category has a different criteria. With Lyricist of the Year, numbers don’t count but it’s strictly about lyricism, your pen game has to be on point,” Rashid said.

That these awards have been hosted consistently in the last decade is commendable. In celebrating its 10 anniversary, they’ve introduced the Artist of The Decade category where 16 Hip Hop acts were selected, which include AKA, Gigi Lamayne, Cassper Nyovest and K.O among others. “We’re looking for consistency, impact, and achievements within the past 10 years. You don’t necessarily have to have been in the game for 10 years but who fits that criteria in the past decade.”

Another new category is Best International Act where Drake and Ye were nominated together with the UK’s Little Simz, Sarkodie from Ghana and Botswana’s William Last KRM. It doesn’t make sense as to why you’d want to nominate artists from the Western world when they already have such global dominance. It would’ve been refreshing to shine the spotlight on Hip Hop on the continent to help grow the camaraderie among African Hip Hop heads if they limited the nominees to African acts. “If we wanted an African award, we were gonna call it “Best African Act,” was Rashid’s response.

SAHHA
Tha actual Awards

Amapiano’s unquestionable domination has prompted questions about the strength of SA Hip Hop. “The “SA Hip Hop is Dead” narrative usually comes from people who are not part of the culture and don’t know the difference between Rap and Hip Hop,” said Rashid.  “Hip Hop has never relied on a song or an individual to be “alive”. The SAHHAs have been around for 10 years and they are not here to prove any point.”

This year’s awards are themed The Manifesto, as to coincide with the country’s current political climate. The awards will be streamed live on the third next month and be televised the following day on SABC 1.

You can view the list of all nominees here

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11min21390

Songwriters are a special bunch, they have this divine skill of finding inspiration in some of life’s most complex moments. Their ingenuity would have them take on an odd topic like an oedipal relationship and turn that into a beautiful top-charting ditty that throngs connect with. But is there a direct link between the songwriter’s personality and the songs they write?

Artists with a narcissistic character are closed lyric writers. Meaning that they’re more introspective in their music, focusing on self rather than talking to the greater public. While the opposite of that could be writers who are genuine empathetic human beings, who view themselves as conduits relaying a message which most of the time has little to do with them, but a lot with the people who hear the music and their plights.

On one of his sit-downs with Zane Lowe, Kanye West once said “…go listen to all my music, it’s the codes of self-esteem, it’s the codes of who you are. If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me you’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m just the expresso, I’m just a shot in the morning to get you going, to make you believe you can overcome that situation that you’re dealing with all the time.” There probably isn’t a more self-absorbed artist of our generation as Mr. West, yet his discography evinces that narcissists have a role to play.

“I believe personality is a lot of what informs the kind of songs you write,” says singer songwriter Zoë Modiga.  “Your personality encompasses the qualities that make you the unique person you are. What you are is what holds value to you, what you think, how you see yourself and the world around you.” Modiga comes-off as a compassionate individual which is further emphasized by her music. Inganekwane, her 2020 critically acclaimed sophomore album remains etched on the souls of her fans and those who knew her not, prior to Inganekwane. In the same way James Brown’s message on Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud cannot not be misunderstood, so is Modiga’s message on Abantu which is on the album.

ROCK'N IT: Zoe Modiga. Photo by John Baloy
ROCK’N IT: Zoe Modiga. Photo by John Baloy

The track is a candid conversation she has with Bantu people- touching on black on black violence, self-image and poverty but yet leaves one encouraged. “I subscribe more to the idea that I am a vessel for messages to pass through and impact people first. With this being said, being a vessel doesn’t remove you from making music that moves you, it is just an acknowledgment that as much as you have the genius of creating, you know that the creation in and of itself comes from a force bigger than yourself. My music isn’t for me first but the messaging is something that speaks to me on a personal level and something I am proud to stand behind,” Modiga says.

“Yes there is a link between songwriter’s personality and the songs they write, but only to an extent because things like creativity come into play,” singer songwriter Sibusile Xaba says. Xaba who is a folk music singer, began his career as part of a Hip Hop group with childhood friends says song writing can be complex in itself.  “When I started, I use to write rhymes with the gents and [in our music] we spoke about things we hoped would happen. We even wrote for other people. You do this by observing the person you’re writing for, their tone and their personality.”

For his 2017 debut album, Open Letters to Adoniah, Xaba famously said the music came to him through dreams. “But why is it a thing, because we dream always. I think for creatives that happens a lot, even for you as a writer I’m sure things happen subliminally or things might feel like déjà vu or a vision. For me it was quite normal, the only thing I didn’t understand was that it happened in consecutive days.”

HEALING THE PEOPLE: Artist Sibusile Xaba on stage with Neftali on the right. Photo by Sip The Snapper
HEALING THE PEOPLE: Artist Sibusile Xaba on stage with Neftali on the right. Photo by Sip The Snapper

“What I’m thinking I put down. The way I see those thoughts, it’s voices. Like other beings conveying codes or messages that need to be translated or shared with our people.”

“My role is to just pass the code man. How I feel or how a person reacts, I’m beyond that. It’s not about me, it’s about these codes that need come out at this time and now and I believe in the frequency. You’ll hear by how people react whether it’s positive or negative,” says Xaba.

Of her writing process Modiga says “I usually do not remember my creative process because it feels like a trance most times however, the times I do remember involves me writing down words and then music to it or composing a musical sequence that I then write words to,” she says. “In a communal writing session it works a little different. We decide what we wish to write up and take it from there however it flows out of us. There aren’t any rules and there are many ways to build on a song. As long as we are open to that, anything is possible.”

Xaba touches on Modiga’s last point on the music being communal, speaking about how generations before us approached music writing, particularly amahubo (hymns).

“Hymns were communal, there was never one composer because everybody joined in on the hymn. In the fields where our grandparents worked, they sang together. As much as we’re talking about this [songwriters and their personalities] in today’s context, we need to inform our people of its origin. When you belt out a hymn, energy automatically vibrates and taps into other frequencies in the body by singing or humming”

The era where teens would jot the lyrics of some of their favourite songs in scrapbooks seems to have gone by, but being one of those girl who grew up scribbling artists’ lines Modiga gave a nod to that by releasing Inganekwane together with a booklet that has credits, lyrics and translations of the songs written. “That was my way of trying to bring back that culture of appreciating lyrics,” she says.


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