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Centre for Creative Arts

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Poetry Africa 2012, Third Evening: Tumelo Khoza, Gouslaye, Philo Ikonya and More!

Poetry Africa 2012

Leading the NightThe Makings of YouMuch loved Thekwini musos Guy Buttery and Nibs van der Spuy, just back from a tour of Europe, provided the intro to the main event on the third evening of Poetry Africa 2012, their guitar work delicate and interesting as usual.

The first poet on stage, Tumelo Khoza, hails from Empangeni, and currently lives in Durban. Young, and confident, dressed simply in jeans and a T-shirt declaiming, “Poet”: Khoza has just returned from visiting Sweden, where she was hosted by the Ordsprak poets (also represented at Poetry Africa this year). Tumelo was inclusive in her delivery, inviting a guitarist to accompany her as she spoke her first poem “Black-padded bra”, then calling up two young male dancers to animate her poem “Democracy”. Feistily, she characterised “Democracy” as a vagrant “forever high on a spliff of our disjointed society…he’s a reflection of you and me”. Khoza’s poem about abortion was hard-hitting and deeply felt; she cried as she performed it. In a playful about-turn of gender roles, she summoned Ghanaian poet Nyii Ayikwei Parkes, on to stage, where she recited a remixed nursery rhyme, which, although a little strained, was admirable in its rendering of her as the active pursuer, and him as the passive recipient of her love interest. Her last poem, a direct address to Jacob Zuma, implored the President to acknowledge SA youth, asserting that “our silence is the cheapest gold”.

Following on from Khoza was a poet from Reunion, Gouslaye, who performed his poetry in Creole (it was translated on an overhead projector). His work was foreign, other: quite eerie, strange and philosophical. Speaking of “magic visions, I dream with eyes wide open”, he summoned up ethereal, occasionally bizarre, often fantastical images of a man wandering through nature. I wondered if the translator had got it wrong, naming Reunion the “barmy” island, or perhaps Gouslaye really did think the island induces madness? The music Gouslaye made with a piece of hosepipe whirled round his head added an element of melodrama.

Last up before interval, Philo Ikonya, a Kenyan poet, showed a strong rootedness in human rights activism. She said she was glad to have had the chance to get a suntan, and braided hair, from “fabulous” Durban. She refuted claims that an activist is like a “female Anopheles mosquito, a blood sucker looking for donor money”, instead noting that the “word is powerful / this optic fibre is here,” and emphasising her belief that a “person is a person because of other people”. Ikonya’s poem dedicated to the 44 miners killed at Marikana was hair-raising, as she brought the audience in to sing “Senzeni Na” (what have we done). Calling for better pay for miners, she said simply, but powerfully, “let us open up new ways/let the miners sing new songs”. In closing Ikonya said she had Mandela’s face in her mind as she performed that poem, she thanked the audience for singing and connected her with the feelings.

After the interval, SA musician Pedro Espi-Sanchez performed one song (played on a piece of Paw-paw sapling he had hollowed out as we watched), and then ushered in Xhosa matriarch and mouthbow player Madosini, in full traditional regalia. The audience ululated as she played songs she had learnt as a girl, which were anthropologically interesting as she revived a way of life gone by.

The last act for the night was Oliver Mtukudzi, a Zimbabwean legend. Strangely quite hesitant at first, the guitarist nevertheless had us in the palm of his hand as he played expertly, explaining: “Where I come from music is like food…also, we use it to diffuse tension”. He explained his world view “life is what you make it”. For me it was interesting to learn more about one of my favourite Mtukudzi songs, “What shall we do”. He explained that he wrote it to get his fellow Zimbabweans thinking about AIDS, saying he felt he had succeeded in making people listen.

Eventually Peter Rorvik, director of the Centre for Creative Arts, and all the poets joined Mtukudzi on stage, dancing as the audience stood up and clapped to the music.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    October 22nd, 2012 @09:20 #

    Hah! I hung out with Gouslaye and recited some English translations in tandem with him at a school visit. I asked him about 'barmy' and he said it was the right translation. His English wasn't good and my French is worse, but he was gesturing at something like a 'serene folly'.

  • Sarah Frost
    Sarah Frost
    October 23rd, 2012 @11:31 #

    Thanks for clarifying that, Rustum. So the translator didn't get it wrong.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Phillippa Yaa</a>
    Phillippa Yaa
    October 23rd, 2012 @17:32 #

    sounds so wonderful!

  • Sarah Frost
    Sarah Frost
    October 24th, 2012 @07:59 #

    It was hey Philippa. Poetry Africa is like a well for thirsty poets.


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