Come Into Thisby Tiisetso Molobi / 27.05.2010
I used to be into Slam Poetry a thousand years ago. It was right around the same time I was into my Afrocentric, Power-to-the-people phase. The first time I watched Lebo Mashile and Masello Motana live at the Bassline I thought, wow, these girls are rad. I followed Lebo’s rise with her all female poetry ensemble, Feel as Sistah. And I quickly lost interest when I started finding boys more interesting than words. For years now, I have been disappointed by boys, time and again, but have found that words seldom let you down. Poetry can get a bit tricky though, especially when the wordsmith speaks above or over their audiences’ heads. This is what I was afraid would happen as I briskly walked to City Hall on Friday evening. But boy was I wrong. I arrived at exactly 20h07. First up was D’bi (Jamaican), followed by Kwame Dawes (American), a 15minute interval then the duo Black Pearl & Croc E Moses (South African) and lastly Anis Mojgani (American). So, all in all 2 local poets and 3 international ones went head to head to claim the admiration of the audience. Having attended both nights, I was eager to see how different their acts would be from night to night.
D’bi Young describes herself as follows, “born in kingston Jamaica, raised in Whitfield Town, birthed from the womb of dub by Anita (poets iin unity) Stewart who raised her child at orality’s hub storyteller, D’bi. Young takes performance live is celebrated by the people on her way including receiving two Doras for blood.claat first of the Sankofa trio of plays the second and third are benu and word! Sound! Powah! Onewomban biomyth monodramas D’bi. is dubpoet, educator, soul-searching wombanist also aspiring rawfoodist played staceyann in da kink in my hair founded anitafrika! Dub theatre recorded six dub disks with two collections of poetry published new album set to blossom late 2010 watching her two sons grow while currently touring the world welcome to her wombanifesto!”
The way this is written is the way she delivers her stories. Her most famous piece, Blood Claat is intense in accent and content, to say the very least. Young performed it the first night with as much fervor as the message in the poem. It speaks of her troubled youth, molestation and the power of blood. In it, she questions why society is so afraid of blood, of the colour of blood, particularly in the adverts that sell sanitary goods, she asks why the colour used is blue and not red? She raised the same point that many of my girlfriends and I have asked when seeing similar ads. Why the shame? Blood is blood, it’s RED, not blue?! The poem questions all the subversive crap the media tries to feed us about the notion of woman, blood and what it means for her to be a woman, who bleeds. The delivery was very fluid, I enjoyed that. It was essentially one long 20 minute piece, with no more then a few tiny breaks to sip some water and continue her story. After watching and listening to Young, you feel exhausted, only because she gives it all when she performs. Each facial expression, glare, pause and exclamation is intentional and sincere. Not at all cheesy. Towards the end of her set, I really expected her to weep, I could have sworn I saw a shining glare in her eyes that threatened to end up trickling down her cheek… alas, she kept it together and ended tear-less, on this night. The Saturday night mood and show was alot more intense and my suspicion of her tears were proved right, as she did indeed break towards the end of her set.
” …yuh evah notice/see dem pon tv cotex tampax always or maxi dem nuh use red/a blue dem use instead and i’m wondering from where di shame / around my cunt came from like a covert operashun / more than half di populashun bleed
we used to have nuff nuff nuff nuff blood ritual where oomaan come togeddah/and bleed inna di land but now di blood naw flow/where did the rituals go manufactured shame/designed to keep me inna chains
five nights of bleeding/blood inna mi eye five nights of bleeding/blood inna mi head five nights of bleeding/blood inna mi womb five nights of bleeding/blood inna mi cunt five nights of bleeding/blood deh pon di ground and when war come/whose blood run…”
Next up was one Kwame Dawes. This man is a fan and made it his literary life’s work to research and unpack the lyrics to all of Bob Marley’s songs. So much so that, his book Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius remains the most authoritative study of the lyrics of Bob Marley. Fact. So, having read that, a stupid part of me figured he would recite some of Marley’s tunes, but instead, he read poems about all the women in his life, from an iPad I might just add. That kinda put me off, and honestly distracted me most of all. I did not like his delivery at all. I suspect he is most comfortable penning his poems in the privacy of his study somewhere away from the world’s stage. Unlike Young, Kwame was far more rigid in presence, and visibly slightly nervous. Well into his third poem, he managed to ease up a bit. So much so that by the second night, Dawes started his set by strumming a guitar and belting out a tune by his muse, Bob Marley. I actually don’t know the song he sang. Before I could get excited at the hope that he wouldn’t use the iPad again, he put down his guitar, and picked up the damn thing. Made me wonder, isn’t he kinda defeating the purpose here? A poet reading from an electronic device? Is he not making a contradictory statement, that perhaps books will vanish as a medium? I’m just saying. While his first performance was dry, his second was alot more palatable. I noticed he dedicated all his pieces that night, to the various women in his life. From his piece “Sela” about his little daughter, who isn’t so little anymore, it speaks of a father’s love for his child and his trepidation of doing the inevitable letting go, which ends abruptly, followed by “Goma” about the biblical character form the bible. As we know, Goma was the bad ass whore in the Bible that all the men had their way with. In his piece, he paints the other side of the story, from her point of view. It was refreshing to get that other imagined perspective. From playing the devil’s advocate in “Goma” to taking us on a mind’s journey through “How the Wedding laughed”, yes you guessed it, a piece on a wedding about this and the other, it didnt really speak to me, maybe because I found myself drifting between boredom and distraction from all the gasps, the oohs and aahs from audience members. Clearly the crowd was feeling a brother.
What followed was a 20 minute break, the second night, of which I opted to stay seated for, and wait for the next act to come on. Black Pearl together with Croc E Moses performed a piece called “Circuit Tree”. An odd couple, on stage. a very tall white tongue twisting male with a very short bald coloured woman with an audible and almost annoying lisp, who’s poems are mostly in Afrikaans. Already that, made me want to see the end of their piece. I was growing impatient with them. Moses, is strange, wonder what he is like in real life. Wonder if he talks the way he writes? I mean honestly, the man should be crowned the king of alliteration.
“Free as a free range moth blinded by de-light It’s a crash course in wake up calls… where there’ s no peace of mind, just price of mind It’ s called prisis… did you get that it’ s a criss cross crisis. It’s still a crash course in wake up calls. We’re shitting our minds because our minds have a long way to fall It’ s hectic, hectic, hectic… It’s beyond poetic. Hmmm I guess we all get to be dumfounded in the fun folded flippant times. Hopefully everybody downloading mind. Searching like a little sniff snoop snoof… sniff snoopy snoof… oh there we are juggling curveballs. Connecting dot to dot déjà vu, déjà vu, danger vu… it’ s still a prisis, criss cross crisis…”
This is a taste of what I mean from his piece “Fire is our favourite Colour”.
I would have to note that both this piece “Circuit Tree” and D.Bi Young’s content, is very political with loads of social commentary to be picked up in between the lines.Their performances were far tighter the first night. I also did not like that Black Pearl wore the exact same outfit she had on, the night before. That is a no-no, only because her outfit was not in anyway a costume or part of the act. I dont want to write much more about this act.
The one that stole the show however is tiny by frame but huge on perfomance and even bigger in telling his stories. Anis Mojgani did not win the World Slam Poetry title by mistake. With a bottle of water in hand, he climbs the stage only to blow it up into tiny lyrical pieces with each penned poem. The first time I heard him I was snapping photographs and I must be honest, I had to remind myself to keep shooting. The man has cadence. I just don’t know how to describe the guy’s skills. Maybe I should insert a sound bite, > right here < , well let me insert the words to a piece of his that one has to witness live in order to fully appreciate it. No theatrics, no gimmicks, just words. Words came out his mouth dancing merrily and landing softly in our ears, to an array of more and even louder gasps, ooohhs and aaaahs than Dawes’ words could muster. The man is talented and writing and even performance is in his blood. Looking natural and comfortable in front of us, you could tell, Majgani gets along well with words, sentences, metaphors and the like. The passion for his craft is unquestionable.
“Come into this. come closer.
you are quite the beauty. if no one has ever told you that before know that now. you are quite the beauty. there is joy in how your mouth dances with
your teeth. your mouth is a sign of how sacred your life truly is. come into this. true of heart come into this. you are true of heart. come closer. come
closer. know that whatever God prays to He asked it to help Him make something of worth. He woke from His dreams scraped the soil from the spaces inside Himself made you and was happy. you make the Lord happy. come into this.
know that something softer than us but just as holy planted the pieces of Himself into our feet that we might one day find our way back to Him. you
are almost home.
come closer come into this. there are birds beating their wings beneath your breastplate gentle sparrows aching to sing come aching hearts come soldiers
of joy doormen of truth come true of heart come into this.
my heart was too big for my body so I let it go and most days this world has thinned me to where I am just another cloud forgetting another flock of swans but believe me when I tell you my soul has squeezed into narrow spaces. place your hand beneath your head when you sleep tonight and you may
find it there making beauty as we sleep as we dream as we turn over when I turn over in the ground may the ghosts that I have asked answers of dothe turning kneading me into crumbs of light and into this thing love thing called life. come into it!
come you wooden museums you gentle tigers negro farces in two broken scenes. come rusting giants!
I see teacups in your smiles upside down glowing. your hands are like my heart. on some days how it trembles. let us hold them together. I am like
you. I too at times am filled with fear. but like a hallway must find the strength to walk through it. walk through this with me. walk through this with me. through this church birthed of blood and muscle where every move
our arms take every breath we swallow is worship.
bend with me. there are bones in our throats. if we choke it is only on songs.”
All in all, Baldilisha revived my appreciation for the spoken word, well, Anis Mojgani single handedly did that. But honestly, three years since its inception, Badilisha is moving in the right direction. More marketing of their events would be welcomed. This relevant culture. But seeing the pseudo intellects with their blazers and khaki pants holding their glasses of wine at a poetry festival, is, well, a little too cliched. Younger folks would dig this.
All images © Tiisetso Molobi. Check out her blog here.