Hierdie is die LitNet-argief (2006–2012)
Besoek die aktiewe LitNet-platform by www.litnet.co.za

This is the LitNet archive (2006–2012)
Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Feeste | Festivals > Artikels | Features > Poetry Africa on tour in Cape Town

Poetry Africa on tour in Cape Town

Bibi Slippers - 2011-10-20
Untitled Document

On the first page of the Poetry Africa 2011 programme an invocation derived from the words of Colombian poet Fernando Rendón informs readers:

An exultant wave of poetry is moving through the world, linking people who attend the same desire, the same aspiration to take the challenge of the great transformations of the spirit, building a gesture, an openness to all the changes and disruptions needed to establish a new life in this world.

On Saturday, 15th October, this exultant wave broke on the shores of Cape Town in the form of the Poetry Africa Tour, the touring leg of the annual Poetry Festival held in Durban. After performing in Blantyre (Malawi), Harare (Zimbabwe) and Johannesburg, the poets and musicians who were selected from the official Poetry Africa line-up arrived in the Mother City and were treated to a full house at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. (This was, in all honesty, the largest crowd I have ever seen gathered for a poetry event. You had to be there to believe this.) The audience, in turn, were treated to stellar performances by a star-studded line-up of local and international poets.

Lebo Mashile was the MC and opened the floor with a poem of her own, after which she introduced the performers, saying that a thread of social justice and activism runs through all their work, and that they all make poetry live beyond the page in one way or another.

The Poetry Africa Tour hosts two local guest poets in each of the cities it visits, and first up in Cape Town was Gabeba Baderoon, a poet of unmatched grace and elegance. Gabeba chose to read poems that "thread together the geography of this place". Her poems were, for me, the highlight of the evening, which meant the other performers had an extremely tough act to follow. But they followed and held their own, each bringing a unique and highly individual performance to the table.

Read three poems by Gabeba Baderoon on LitNet.

The second guest poet was Sandile Dikeni, a resident of Khayelitsha, who stepped up to the plate with his signature mixture of humour and dry wit, and shared poems and stories from his days as a political activist in the 1980s and more recent work. Sandile was a charming and funny performer, reciting his poems from memory and introducing slight variations on the printed text. Among others, he performed his well-known work "Love poem for my country" which is a prescribed text for matric students.

Watch Sandile Dikeni recite "Love poem for my country"

The first international artist to grace the stage was the spirited and extremely stylish Khadijatou, a spoken-word poet, writer, singer and drum percussionist from the UK. Khadijatou performed songs from her album Sex, Lies & History, and brought some glamorous flair to the event which one wouldn't normally associate with poets per se. Khadijatou stressed the importance of sharing our stories, especially those that can bring us together. In her work (as with her wardrobe) she fuses elements of traditional African identity with Western influences.

An introduction to Khadijatou

Next up was TJ Dema, "the face of the spoken word movement in Botswana," according to Lebo. TJ made a striking entrance proclaiming the words, "Poems are bullshit" from the heights of her classy heels. She did contextualise this dramatic opening statement in the rest of her poem, saying: "Poems are bullshit/ unless they teach/ and they serve absolutely no purpose/ unless they reach someone." The rest of her performance served as proof that poems are everything but bullshit when they are written by a confident hand and performed by a seasoned artist. TJ's career as a spoken word artist already spans a decade, and she's only 30 years old.

Jaap Blonk hails from the Netherlands and delivered the most outlandish (and entertaining) performance of the evening. Blonk is a sound poet, and trying to describe his personal brand of poetic cacophony just won't do it justice. Among his own compositions (influenced by the musical tradition of free jazz and improvisation) he also performed Hugo Ball's famous Dada sound poem from 1916, and a phonetic etude written entirely in unvoiced fricatives. You had to be there ...

Watch Jaap Blonk performing a Dada Sound Poem

Kenyan poet Shailja Patel sent the evening in a more serious direction with her performance, drawing the audience's attention to a number of serious issues in world politics. Shailja is the 2011 Letters to Dennis poet, a slot earmarked for a poet of excellence who reflects Dennis Brutus's passion for human rights and integrity.

Chris Abani, the well-known poet and author from Nigeria, was next in line and delivered a beautiful poetic benediction, threading together a variety of fragments from different works. His aim was to take the audience on a symbolic journey "up the mountain" and to "bring [them] down changed". He dedicated his performance to his father, who had passed away on the 15th of October years before, and with whom he seems to have had a difficult relationship. Two fragments from Chris's reading stayed with me, and I share them here (hoping that I remember them correctly): "Find god for yourself/ and make sure he is true, lusty, rude and alive" and "i am not afraid of love/ and its consequence of light." Sigh. You really had to be there.

Chiwoniso, a Zimbabwean mbira player, provided a musical interlude before Kwame Dawes (from Ghana and Jamaica) took the stage. Kwame brought the technological edge to the performances, reading his poems from his iPad. (Yes, apparently there are poets who own iPads. Who knew?) Written in a lively creole, the poems were an experience. Again, you had to be there.

The final performer in the line-up was Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi, who brought his signature blend of militant African rap influenced by Western aesthetics to Poetry Africa.

Watch a music video by Didier Awadi

This was the second year that Poetry Africa was taken on tour, giving audiences outside of Durban an opportunity to experience the power of poetry in performance. If you are one of the few fans of poetry and spoken word who missed out this year, make sure you catch the wave next year. To quote the invocation by Rendón again: “A poem prepares the mind for what will be and what is not yet known.” And Poetry Africa creates the space for these poems to live so our minds may be prepared.