Ntate Keorapetse Kgositisile would have been proud of the poets who bravely shared their truth at this year’s Keorapetse Kgositsile Poetry Café held almost two weeks ago in Jozi.
The mind-blowing poetry session had poets and writers from as far as Sweden touching down on African soil, was the highlight of this year’s South African Book Fair.
Ishmael Sibiya, who I describe as the young father of poetry, produced this year’s poetry café session and together with his team curated a thought-provoking and heart-wrenching event. Sibiya is also the founder of poetry movement, Hear My Voice. I know him as a poetry advocate whose passion has afforded him the skill to organise poetry sessions that have the power to impact and change the experiences of those who might have the privilege of attending.
Vangile Gantsho doesn’t read from her hard-hitting poems which are reflective at most times, she shares her experiences. And that is what I mean by choosing the right poets to deliver what I call poetry. Sibiya has good taste in selecting the right poets. Through the poetry competitions and workshops he runs throughout the year, Wits is where (I am convinced) Sibiya gets these amazing poets
Gabi Selloane said: “Their poems leave you searching your soul.”
I guess that is why I ended up at the poetry café session, beause I was searching for some soul and truth – only poetry can give that and yes, Jazz too.
One of Gantso’s poem’s left me paralysed. She asked why women and children were not safe in present South Africa and why men were inflicting so much pain in their bodies. That made me a bit uncomfortable as a young man who has never beaten a woman before or intentionally hurt a child. But I needed to hear those questions and ask myself what have I done to prevent the continued violence on these harmless innocent bodies?
The truth was still lingering in the air.
Looking at how things are, the number of women who were read about and whose stories grabs newspaper headlines each week, I had to really ponder on why we as men are so angry. And why we take out that anger on those we should be making happy than scared.
Swedish poet and writer Jenny Hogstrom shared a story that talked to race within romantic relationships. Hogstrom interrogated the idea of an interracial couple, who seem to be happy on the outside but are fighting a quite inner war with each other.
The poem she read contrasts our different backgrounds – our clashing worlds. But because we love each other we stick together, creating an unhealthy type of a relationship which is caused by our skin colour, our privileges or lack of (depends on which side of the world you are viewing this from).
I love what poetry does – it has this ability to give a million meanings to different people, even when Gothenburg-based poet Nino Mick read some of his poems in Swedish, those in the room could understand what he was saying. The infusion of slam poetry, which was a surprise at the fair was enjoyed by fair-goers.
Just like Gantsho and Hogstrom, Upile Chisala made me think deeply about the role we as artists, storytellers have, which is to bring the truth forward. Africa is a place filled with darkness and sorrow as much as it is with joy and successful stories. US based rapper Noname described Africa as forever dying. And that for me is the truth – uncomfortable as is.
Chisala delivered some truth when reading some poems from her debut collection, Soft Magic.
Jamaican-Canadian born poet D’bi Young Anitafrika launched her new collection of poetry and interacted with some of the people who attended the fair.
The fair has been known to attract thousands of people annually with the aim of inspiring a reading South Africa. Since its inception almost 14 years ago, it takes place during the national book week-first week of September. According to Elitha van der Sandt, chief executive of the South African Book Development Council (SABDC), the Fair has been able to get more than a million new South Africans readers.
Who would have thought that something so good as South African jazz would be born from the dark days of apartheid?
Well the likes of ntate Hugh Masekela, ntate Abdullah Ibrahim, and mama Dolly Rathebe, and mama Miriam Makeba, didn’t let what the apartheid government and its oppressing laws silent their voices.
One can’t begin to tell the story of Jazz icons or its history without going back to the past, a place which most of us are comfortable with it being erased from our minds.
Jazz music in South Africa came at a time when the then government was really making life difficult for many black, coloured, and Indian citizens. It was a nightmare for artists to freely express their minds and talk about how things were in South Africa. There were oppressive laws that made it hard for omama Dorothy Masuka and obaba Jonas Gwangwa to paint pictures of what was happening in the townships.
I had the privilege to meet ntate Sipho ‘Hotsix’ Mabuse where he spoke at the Democracy Works Foundation discussion that was held at the Constitution Hill about the impact Jazz music had in people’s lives.
Many musicians during those years sang songs that portrayed apartheid in bad light, which seek to highlight black people’s hard and traumatic experiences under that government, something which the then regime didn’t want to happen.
Some of these artists like mama Makeba spoke out against the evil acts that were done against people of colour, especially black South Africans, including police brutality, racial segregation and unfair policies that kept many black people under oppression.
“Musicians, visual, performing, spoken word artists used their talents to weaken and topple the apartheid government in South Africa but the government wouldn’t back down easily,” Mabuse said.
Harsh punishment like banning of their work would be made possible by the officials, who would later banish some of these artists who were not willing to keep their mouths shut.
They didn’t fear persecution and prosecution, even if it meant having their homes petrol-bombed or being killed.
Mabuse said throughout his music life, all he wanted was to change people’s lives through music, which he and the old school school generation managed to do so well.
PASSING ON THE BATON
Ntate Masekela, who was affectionately known as Bra Hugh, collaborated with many young South African musicians, including a track with Thandiswa Mazwai, which speaks about violence perpetrated on non-South Africans by locals, a topic that is currently grabbing news headlines in the country.
Bra Hugh believed in mentoring young people and we can see young musicians like Bokani Dyer, Mandla Mlangeni, the late Lulu Dikana, Nomfundo Xaluva following in the footsteps of those who came before them. The baton has surely been passed on as we are seeing more and more young musicians like Zoë Modiga, Langa Mavuso, Ami Faku and Kesivan Naidoo contributing to new school Jazz that IS sometimes referred to as Afro soul or Afro-Jazz.
Even though we are fighting new battles as a country, old ones like racism and crime are still making us turn against each instead of being unified as tata Mandela wanted.
JAZZ LIVES ON
Through initiatives like the annual Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, which starts tomorrow, Jazz artists and producers have been supported for the past 21 years, many of them are gaining international recognition just by performing at the stage.
New notable voices in the jazz scene are given a platform to showcase their talents at the Showcase Stage.
The Showcase stage has been unearthing new and raw talent for the past few years, while the On the Road to the official Joy of Jazz Festival also looks at shinning the spotlight on new jazz artists like the Karabo Mohlala Quartet, Thabang Tabane Quartet, Zano, aus’ Tebza, Sobantwana and Nelisiwe.
Some of these artists have been in the music scene for years now, but it would be the first time for them to perform at the festival. This would introduce them to new audiences, who would be traveling from countries overseas to attend the event.
Filled with so many emotions, I wonder how Aubrey Sekhabi and Kabelo “Bonafide Billi” Togoe managed to actually write the whole script of the musical. Freedom, which was inspired by the efforts of brave young people who took their issues to the streets when university vice-chancellors flatly ignored their pleas of free education.
Students fought hard (with some being arrested and others succumbing to wounds which were inflicted by the police and community members) to get what is now a free education, which others still argue there is nothing free about it as taxpayers will have to forge some cents if not more to pay for billions of fees in the next coming years.
The musical by Sekhabi which has been running at the SA State Theatre summaries the dramatic events which led to the then president of the republic, Jacob Zuma, announcing this free education.
Phindile Ndlovu, who is one of the main characters lived to tell the tale of how she was raped by her musician boyfriend, Bonafide- the music star’s life was taken by a member of the SA Police Service. His story reminds me that of Katlego Monareng from the Tshwane University of Technology whose life, like that of Bonafide’s, was cut short by a trigger-happy policeman. Bonafide’s character was portrayed by rapper PdotO.
There are many stories that will never be told on mainstream media including those of young men who sell their bodies to men and women just to be able to pay for an apartment.
But I must say, I appreciate both Sekhabi and Togoe’s hunger to tell those stories so authentically and so honestly. One has to salute the Freedom team for having chosen to tell the stories of these young people who were failed by the government and the higher education department’s minister Blade Nzimande (who features in the musical in the form of the talented opera singer Otto Maidi).
So many issues are explored in the musical including femicide, which has claimed the lives of many women. Young women like Karabo Mokoena and model Reeva Steenkamp, who like many women whose bodies lay cold in cemeteries and morgues, were killed by their partners.
I pray and hope that this musical, which has now been adapted into a book, will be bought by some TV station and turned into a film or TV series for it to be seen by many, especially our ‘leaders’ who were elected into power to protect and serve the people. We both know that some people don’t do the theatre like me and you.
Freedom is an award winning musical, with brilliant choreography done by award winning choreographer, director and actor Mduduzi Nhlapo;the story was well-researched with a stellar cast.
Mbuso Khoza plans to take theatergoers on a trip to Africa through music this week at the Joburg Theatre.
The celebrated musician whose love for culture and heritage can be heard in some of his hits songs including the recently released track Thando which he collaborates with the talented deejay, film and music producer Black Coffee.
Khoza will be joined on the Mandela stage by his band the Afrikan Heritage Ensemble, where the team will, in music demonstrate what Africa Day is. Africa, a rich continent with a painful and dark history has enjoyed little freedom, with much of existence was spent in freeing itself from foreign exploitation and domination. Many countries will take part in celebrating what is today known as Africa Day, which is really a celebration of what Africa and Africans have achieved in these past decades after many years of colonel rule.
In a statement, the versatile Khoza said that art is the most influential channel to make the intangible heritage felt. He said he uses it to also pursue the revival of Afrikan unity which he said is very important to use it without dividing our people.
“We continue to draw inspiration from our roots as we redefine our identity using the body of work bequeathed to us by our forebears in the arts, culture and intellectual disciplines. I believe that as an artist, my job is to mirror the views and feelings of my people – especially around the painful issue of Xenophobia. Africa Month serves as a tool to spread the message of patriotism and acceptance of one another as brothers and sisters, and with the universal language of music we want to contribute towards breaking these chains that bind us as brothers,” says Khoza.
According to the Joburg Theatre, this performance follows three consecutive sold-out performances in January 2019 where Khoza and the Afrikan Heritage Ensemble staged the first Isandlwana Lecture which was described as a first of its kind in the country.
Khoza together with his four-piece band will mesmerize those attending with a two-part performance. Patrons will enjoy 16 songs chosen from the band’s previous projects. “With the four-piece band, we shall present a selection of Africa-centric music consisting of both original compositions as well as other seminal works by other African giants including Salif Keita and Richard Bona,” says Khoza.
Khoza and The Afrikan Heritage Ensemble will give audiences an enchanting performance when they interpret Amahubo, the music from 17th century Southern Africa region, concretising this marriage of past and present with the view into the future.
The ensemble will also explore the relationship between Amahubo and the songs of struggle.
The Afrikan Heritage Ensemble has recorded two full albums of Amahubo with the latter featuring a decorated jazz pianist from Amsterdam, Netherlands Mike del Ferro.
“Those lucky enough to secure the tickets for the Joburg Theatre shows will be mesmerized by the vitality, originality and the stimulating qualities of this long-abandoned art-form whose relevance remains uncontested centuries later,” read the theatre’s statement.1