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11min720

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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8min760

The presence of a loving father greatly increases a child’s chance of success, confidence, resilience, physical and mental well-being. According to community-based organization Shiloh Synergy,  South Africa has one of the highest rates of fatherlessness in the world. In 2017 Statistics SA General Household Survey indicated that a shocking 61.8% of children under the age of 18 live without their fathers. We need to better understand the impact of this disheartening social plight and its legacy on family life in contemporary society, which unfortunately impacts greatly on a boy child. These Are Not My Shoes is a theatre play written and directed by Mxolisi Masilela that addresses this social issue.

A shot from These Are Not My Shoes play. Photo by Nolwazi Mbli Mahlangu
A shot from These Are Not My Shoes play. Photo by Nolwazi Mbli Mahlangu

The play was staged at the Moses Molelekwa Arts Centre’s TX Theatre in Tembisa. It was delivered in a musical melodrama theatrical performance that captured all the essence of theatre production. The play explores and confronts the narrative of fatherhood and fatherlessness. It tells a story of a father’s love and the pleasant environment he had created for his wife and two sons. An environment that was created to mold their development and how they view the world. He persistently introduced discipline, in the form of routines concerned with his sons’ moral standing while grappling with his own demons. It is these unknown challenging points that changed him and led him to leave his family. His sudden departure did not only tear the family apart but left his sons confused, vulnerable, and overwhelmed. This mostly affected and challenged their ability to live a physically and emotionally fulfilling life. The hurdles also threatened the boys’ ability to live a competent life as youth causing irrefutable moral repercussions for the whole family.

The story is based on the Masilela’s real-life experience. He used theatre to highlight and interrogate this subject of parental love and abandonment as well as the traditional role of the African black man. The question is not posed in a disobedient manner, but it is used as means of drawing attention to the issue. It is also a way to engage and learn from each other about the prevailing cultural beliefs and systems of ideals and ideas of what it means to be a father.

EYE TO EYE: A scene from These Are Not My Shoes. Photo by Nolwazi Mbali Mahangu

The play is used as means of moving forward- through looking back into the past and naming the current reality. A reminder to men to review and evaluate their lives so as to end the cycle of absent fathers. For them to became good examples of fathers or father figures that resist the set traditional role of authority and control and rather subscribe to more nurturing and non-violent forms of care.

The production directed by Masilela himself and managed by Kamogelo Raphadu had many aspects and detailed costumes, props, and technical parts such as sound and lighting managed by Sizwe Ndabana. The set design of the shanty house set the scene, bringing back memories and experiences of growing up in a township. Another aspect of the production that stood out is the stellar performance of the cast of actors consisting of Itumeleng Moeketse, Mongezi Mabunda, Thabang Chauke, and Tshwarelo Selolo. Their acting on the open,  displayed innocent and vigorous freedom, as well as a proud showcase of their craft. They delivered their lines characterized by multilingual dialogue, significant actions, and gestures that contributed to the play’s meaning. The actors were accompanied by dynamic vocals of music arrangement by Muzi Shili, Thulani Hlophe, Velile Mkhabela, and Hlabelela ensemble. Their music rooted in emotion had a powerful hand in bringing the story to life.

ALL THE PROPS: These Are Not My Shoes stage. Photo by Nolwazi Mbali Mahlangu

These Are Not My Shoes delivered a successful emotional and inspirational theatrical show. The staged drama and captivating performance with all the elements and complexities of theatre-making unpacked the issues and referenced realistically unimaginable raw and ragged scenes that highlight the trauma, frustration, anger, and anguish playing out in our communities.

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8min16940

“I know every man understands what that’s about, when you have the baddest [sic] girl in front of you and it’s all about to happen and you can’t even believe it,” says Maxwell in describing the essence of his track Stop the World, which is on his BLACK Summer’s Night album. The sensual singer was speaking in the short doccie, 5 Days of Black which came with the 2009 project.

 

But that quote and the song itself, talk to the delightful significance of consent right before intercourse. Lovemaking, ukubhebha, thobalano or whatever you call it, has an inconceivable lovely thrill to it. It sometimes finds you cornered by stress and anxiety, especially when your thirst for it has been an elongated one. It then releases your endorphins, oxytocin and you from the bondage of that angst. If done right, with the right person of course.

Maxwell’s quote above zooms-into that moment just before doing the nooky when you can feel and clearly see that she too, wants to share this here intimate moment with you. That’s where the beauty lies, in the agreement.

But speaking to a handful of guys, you notice that this seems to be a grey area for some people. “Sometimes she says ‘no’ but actually means yes,” one fella told me, explaining how a woman would spew the word no, simultaneously smiling and nodding her head to his advances. “I like it when there’s a bit of tension involved,” another guy said to me.

Rape by definition, is the unlawful activity, most involving sexual intercourse against the will if the victim through force or the threat of force or with an individual who is incapable of giving legal consent because of minor status, mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness or deception.  Rape has been part of our fabric as a society since the existence of humanity. But we’re living in a time where it’s slowly being called-out and eradicated, but we still have a long way to go until it’s no longer a part of who we are as a people, especially as men.

There’s clearly a culture created by men around rape. Before the dawn of democracy in South Africa and also even in the new Mzansi jack rolling was a colloquial term in the country’s townships for rape. Prevalent ekasi, it is a crime where men gang-rape their victim in retaliation to a perceived cold shoulder from the female victim who is being asked out. She’s basically being raped because she simply isn’t giving the guy her time.

While Jack rolling is the modus operandi in urban spaces, in our rural areas Ukuthwalwa works well for the men there. Ukuthwalwa is an old age customary marriage practice where a man, by force, takes a girl to his home with the intention of following through with a customary marriage. In his 2018 doctoral thesis, which News24 wrote a piece on last year, Mkhuseli Jokani explains that there are three types of Ukuthwalwa.

Ukuthwalwa ngemvumelwano – abduction by agreement happens when the girl is aware of the abduction that will take place. This could occur for example when there is a conspiracy between the girl and her suitor.

Ukuthwalwa kobolawu – abduction for arranged marriage happens through an agreement between the families of the girl and the groom’s family. In this case, the girl is unaware.

Ukuthwalwa okungenamvumelwano – abduction without agreement is when the girl and her family isn’t aware of the abduction and months go by without the male’s family arriving at the girl’s home to negotiate lobola, or even explain what has happened.

According to customary law, an explanation is that “the girl is not regarded as a minor if she has reached puberty and has acquired a certain level of maturity, where she can start a family.” Although largely shunned upon today, this still does take place.

Maxwell aptly titled the name of his song Stop the World, recognizing that precious moment where both (or a trio of) parties involved agree to coitus. He sings…

Imagine if it was, if this was you, if this was I

So perfectly designed to be here all night

Let the world rage outside, cause when I’m here with you

The world stops for me, the world stops for me

Since there is a culture built on, around and through rape it means we can also build a culture on, around and through the sensibility of consent. But there needs to be commitment from men, in instilling those values on the impressionable young boys growing up today.

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8min26510

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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4min27100
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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