Art

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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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The Kulture Blues Festival returns for the second consecutive year, but instead of Tshwane, The Joburg Theatre will be the venue for this unique event by Culture Review magazine. This year’s instalment is themed Black Joy.

“Because Black resistance is also Black joy. Yes, 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; unless they recur repeatedly and without repentance,” says Culture Review Associate Editor, Perfect Hlongwane.

The festival’s name was inspired by a Putumayo compilation album titled African Blues. “That album was essentially the blues but in an African context and in our African languages. The Kulture part was taken from the name of our platform Culture Review and an attempt to pay homage to our particular type of sound,” even producer Kulani Nkuna says.

While last year’s edition took place in a space of two days at the State Theatre, this year will be a one-day affair. But this isn’t a downgrade of the talent nor quality, if anything, Nkuna and his team have put together a uniquely strong line-up.

Malcom Jiyane. Photo Supplied
Man Of Music: Malcom Jiyane

Malcolm Jiyane/ Uprize Ensemble, Tumi Mogorosi & Gabi Motuba, and Luyolo Lenga. The performance will take place on Saturday afternoon.

It will be the first time that Jiyane performs his globally acclaimed album, Umdali alongside the Uprize Ensemble which will feature vocalist, Nonku Phiri. Ever since inception, the Uprize Ensemble have never performed together live on stage. “Ever since I ever worked with Nonku Phiri on the Spaza project I fell in love with her voice her work and her gift of ART instantly,” Jiyane says of their upcoming performance at the Joburg Theatre.

Both Gabi Motuba and Tumi Mogorosi have consistently exuded a particular kind of intellectual rigour, in their approach to the music of our people, that has been truly impressive to follow. Their presence, therefore, at this year’s edition of the Kulture Blues Festival promises, not only a sonic feast for the devotees who will be in attendance, but really, an artistic experience supreme. They will be rendering offerings from their sonically astute collaboration album Sanctum/Sanctorium, exploring themes around the sacredness of family and Black communion. The band will take to the stage with the talents of Bokani Dyer on piano, Daliwonga Tsangela on cello, Dalisu Ndlazi on bass, Gabi Motuba on vocals and Tumi Mogorosi on drums.

Tumi Mogorosi (L) and Gabi Motuba. Photo supplied
Tumi Mogorosi (L) and Gabi Motuba. Photo supplied

Rounding off the gifts that the festival will offer is the enigmatic Luyolo Lenga, a transcendent artist whose presently-lowkey status really defies belief. To listen to his 16-track album Sabela, released in 2020, is to encounter an artist whose deep reverence for his Xhosa culture and African spirituality is drenched in exuberance and humility. His is a fusion style of music that pays homage to the isiXhosa language, accessing ancestral sounds from ancient bow and percussion instruments. He will perform from 2019’s Siphiwo Sam and Sabela projects.

The host on the day will be renowned comedian, Roni Modimola who many would know as Sidepocket from his skit on the iconic Pure Monate Show.

The show is made possible by support from the Department of Sports, Arts, and Culture’s Mzansi Golden Economy Programme.

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This is the other half of the two-part book review of Pen Still Inking by Xitha Makgeta and Philani Nyoni. Palesa-Entle Pulse Makua first shared her thoughts on Xitha’s poems in the chapbook that’s accompanied by Phethego Kgomo’s illustrations. The baton is now with Zimbabwean based poet Takudzwa Goniwa who on this article, reviews Philani’s body of work in Pen Still Inking.

Anyone familiar with Philani Nyonis work will know he enjoys towing the line. His wordplay and choice of content often border on indecent, but never enough to completely alienate you from diving into his work.

THA POET: Philani Nyoni. Photo supplied

Case in point would be the first poem I perused through in the chapbook Sonnet on the crapper. The crude title shocked me. As one does not often see those two words together in the same sentence.

But one should not judge a book by its cover or a poem by its title as it is anything but crude. He then proceeds to lay down his technique that makes one forget  their momentary flare of righteous indignation at the onset.

Illustration by Phethego Kgomo.
EN-COUNTER:Illustration by Phethego Kgomo

I quickly learnt that it was the poems with the seemingly harmless titles Number 1 that pushed my delicate sensibilities to the limit. But the use of punctuation to create the lovely phonetics the poem produces when read aloud make you forget the content for a second. I must admit, this is what makes his work such a joy to read.

While his content may not be everyone’s cup of tea, no one can deny that his grasp of technique and usage of literary devices is stunning.

 

DRUNK ON A ROSE. By Phethego
DRUNK ON A ROSE. By Phethego

The illustrations done by Phethego Kgomo compliment his poetry well. Painting a slightly morbid atmosphere which creates a fitting background to the various poems in the chapbook.

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This is a two-part book review of Xitha Makgeta and Philani Nyoni’s Pen Still Inking, illustrated by Phethego Kgomo. I decided to co-write this book review with my friend Takudzwa Goniwa, a poet based in Zimbabwe. I will share my views on Xitha’s poems in the book in this article. While Takudzwa reviews Philani’s contribution in part two.

Xitha’s collaborative work with Philani on this collection of poems is a mind-blowing fusion of poetry and illustrations by Phethego. Xitha’s poetry has evolved so much compared to his previous book Bits and Pieces. I think this chapbook is a necessary collector’s item because he vividly covers the state of the times we live in. On the poem Half Asleep he speaks about how he uses poetry to stay afloat in a country that has no respect for artists.

THA MAN: Xitha Makgeta. Photo supplied.
THA MAN: Xitha Makgeta. Photo supplied.

Burning is one of my favourites as he speaks directly to Gender Base Violence(GBV) and how a woman’s body has become a battlefield. The first part of the poem addresses the rainbow community the LGBTQIA+

He writes…

Maybe God is a Lesbian and her pussy has learned its lesson, to forget how to breathe, to remember the closet

Its no secret how the LGBTQIA+ community is dying at an alarming rate due to homophobic attacks, Xitha continues lamenting GBV…

 …We taught you how to become fire, now the flames are burning our daughters

They are burning

it was their bodies doused in gasoline

 they are burning

Our country is experiencing  two pandemics all at once- COVID19 and GBV. In this piece Xitha shines light on women  like Uyinene, Karabo, Naledi Phangindawo, Motshidisi Pascalina, Noxolo Mabona, Lindo Cele and many others who remain unnamed.

ART AT WORK: Songs of Akiliz. By Phethego
ART AT WORK: Songs of Akiliz. By Phethego

My only disappointment was that I expected more words because two poets collaborated here. But that was my error. I mean, I’m sure chapbooks are usually this size…right?

Every generation has an icon who inspired everyone who had an opportunity to work with them and Xitha pays homage to his icon, Mama Myesha Jenkins.

XITHA'S ODE: A poem for Jenkins, beautifully illustrated by Phetogo
XITHA’S ODE: A poem for Jenkins, beautifully illustrated by Phethego

Born in San Francisco California in 1948, Jenkins was a poet, a cultural activist and a spoken word performer. Jenkins passed away last September. I loved how Xitha chose to honor her the best way he knew her, through poetry.

THA ILLUSTRATOR: Phethego Kgomo. Photo supplied
THA ILLUSTRATOR: Phethego Kgomo. Photo supplied

Phethego Kgomo’s illustrations  complemented the type of poems in the book and I think that was an  amazing choice of artist. Xitha’s love for illustration goes back to Bits and Pieces where he also had artwork complementing his poetry so effortlessly. I would defiantly recommend this book to poetry lovers and MCees (not rappers) because there is that Saul Williams typa vibe in Pen Still Inking.


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