Kulani Nkuna

Clement Gama03/10/2022
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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 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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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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