Black Labone

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The State Theatre in Pretoria was the venue for the inaugural Kulture Blues Festival and one would easily assume this to be an Africa month celebration, looking at the line-up.

“That was pure coincidence,” says the event’s producer Kulani Nkuna. “That was simply the day that was available for us. But we are Pan African in outlook and ideology.”

The unrivalled Thandi Ntuli headlined the two-day festival which began on Friday night with an intimate performance by the pianist. While Saturday saw Makhafula Vilakazi and Iphupho L’ka Biko on stage.

Together with her band, Ntuli serenaded the sizeable  audience inside Malambo Theatre with her gentle voice. She could’ve sang the whole night and we wouldn’t have cared for time. She has the astuteness of a Thelonious Monk on keys, while her voice has the gentleness of a Spha Mdlalose.

LADY WITH KEYS: Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
LADY WITH KEYS: Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

It’s a sad truth, but it is a rarity to have such artists playing together in a prominent space such as The State Theatre, unless the country’s commemorating a holiday day like Youth day or Africa month. There’s a paucity of spaces that accommodate the not-so generic artist. “Some of the content is not palatable to white sensibilities, so most veer away from these artists and their content,” Nkuna says. He pitched the idea of the festival to the State Theatre a while back and fortunately they opened their doors.

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,” Nkuna tells me. This will be an annual festival.

BIKO' DREAM:
Biko’s dream in full effect. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

There’s a palpable inquisitiveness and a longing for African spirituality and a steady growth in Pan Africanism, particularly with this generation. The art scene hasn’t been an exception. Artists are creating works that are inspired by the aforementioned elements.

BLOWIN': Sthembiso performing at The State Theatre with Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
BLOWIN’: Sthembiso performing at The State Theatre with Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

Iphupho L’ka Biko is one ensemble that creates music that revives the spirit. The band was on stage Saturday evening after Vilakazi’s performance. While the smell of dank weed ushers you at Hip Hop shows. The aroma of impepho burning filled the auditorium during Iphupho L’ka Biko’s performance.

“The art scene is beaming with artists who make music that speak to the dire conditions of black people in this country live in. Art is a critical mirror that speaks to the brutality meted to black bodies by the state and by whiteness,” Nkuna says.

POLITICALLY CHARGED: KK performing at The State Theatre. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
POLITICALLY CHARGED: KK performing at The State Theatre. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

Iphupho L’ka Biko performed their hit Uthixo Ukhona and they also played songs which commemorate lost black lives including that of American Sandra Bland. An ode to Chris Hani titled Thembisile is so moving, it should be heard by all South African school kids to help give them insight about our past.  But IPhupho’s performance felt all over the place at times. They should shelve the afro-beat inspired section of their set; it’s a paradigm shift from the more jazz and protest sound they have. But Iphupho L’ka Biko surprisingly had a bigger audience than Ntuli’s the previous night. This is probably due to the fact that the band had performed at Black Labone on Thursday night.

BIKO' DREAM:
Izingane zikaBiko: IPhupho L’ka Biko Uthixo at the end of their performance. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana.

“the artists performed at an exceptional level, and the audience were really in tune with the performers on stage,” says Nkuna post the event. Nkuna’s still unsure of the exact number of attendees of the festival as he still awaits for a ticket sales report from webtickets.

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My typing cannot keep-up with the pace at which this rain is coming down. For some people, this here downpour could symbolize their growth, rebirth or sum like that. While for someone squatting in a shack somewhere, it’s simply a pain in the butt.

In the same way some still believe that any talk of miscarriages or child loss is taboo or a no-go-area. So much that a term like ‘fetal demise’ is preferred over ‘death’ or ‘passing away’ when talking about this kind of bereavement. But there are rebels out there, with a cause and without a pause, fighting against this stereotype. Palesa Makua is one of them.

EYES OF THE WARRIOR: Palesa Makua. Photo by Sello Majara
EYES OF THE WARRIOR: Palesa Makua. Photo by Sello Majara

Through her movement, Her Skin Speaks, which is dedicated at celebrating women’s ever-changing bodies, Makua put together a photo exhibition titled What Do We Call Women Who Have Lost Children? as a way of healing herself and other women who’ve lost babies.

“I was miserable and almost losing my mind, I then decided to quit my job to fully focus on myself and those like me,” she says. The Mamelodi-native lost her son through stillbirth in 2017 and has experienced two other losses after that. The idea to do this project came to her in January this year.

A patron appreciates the Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara
A patron appreciates the Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

“This project has been what therapy is for most who find it useful for them.  It has not only given me the chance to openly deal with what has happened to me but also gave an amazing sisterhood with women who are strangers yet relate to my story wholeheartedly.  This project has been a healing space for me and it continues to serve that to those I have not yet met.”

Since this was also a therapeutic experience for her, Makua found herself reliving what she had gone through. “I also struggled with holding back my tears when we were documenting real conversations with the women who have lived these stories (which is totally understandable because we don’t necessarily get over the loss but with time we learn to coexist with the pain).

The Her Skin Speaks exhibition. Photo by Sello Majara
The Her Skin Speaks exhibition. Photo by Sello Majara

The exhibition was launched in August. “Showcasing at Vavasati International Women’s Festival hosted at The State Theatre was absolutely a dream come true, having to step on that much of a big entity’s stage and bare my soul was absolutely amazing.  The platform has added enormous weight to Her Skin Speaks ExHERbition as a brand.”

The exhibition has also made its way to the Kingdom. “Lesotho has become my second home and show casing there was absolutely needed as I have featured two ladies based in Barea and Morija (Lesotho) It was an honour seeing the subjects there with their loved ones to witness their contribution to such a movement and even heavier topic,” she says.

A photographer herself, Makua took photos of the four women who were part of this project. “The initial women whom the exhibition was about did not feel comfortable with being shot nude so I had to make a call out for women who are able and would like to embody their stories and it wasn’t really hard for them to agree to this idea as some of them knew why I needed to do this shoot because they are familiar with my story.”

Cafe What? – Her Skin Speaks exhibition in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

The vulnerability that comes with nudity is no child’s play, especially in a society that sexualises the female body. It makes sense why some women would pull out of such a project- we live in a world where people even shun being naked by themselves. But not Palesa Makua, she has a liking for the bod. She embraces the beauty of her body without shame.  “The reason I am fascinated by telling stories through human nudity is because for a very long time women’s bodies have been a battlefield and unfortunately they continue to be.

I honestly couldn’t think of any other way to portray this “Battlefield” in its truest, most beautiful and sincere form as we know it and call it what exactly it is.”

“All these unfortunate events are taking place emizimbeni yethu or it is the foundation of the amount of damage that happens emuntwini, I couldn’t have chosen any other way to document our stories.”

– Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

“What I hope that people take from this is that no one has to suffer in silence and in the words of Zewande ‘The soul of a miscarried child never leaves the womb’ also hope that more women finds comfort that we are here holding space for them and that they should never go through this loss alone.  I hope this inspires more women to open up to other women about such events (I know I wish oh I had someone walking me through this).”

Makua will today showcase her work at Black Labone in Pretoria (381 Helen Joseph Street African Beer Emporium)


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