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Wordsmith Wonderland

Deep Voices

by Tala Leratadima / 04.08.2009

As I stood at the Baxter stairs looking down at the teeming mass of colour; turbans high, daishikis the rage, I felt the same sense I felt last year, and the year before (it’s the 9th year running), ‘oh yes the wordsmiths are in town’. Mecca has come to us. Its Urban Voices International Poetry festival time.

The majority of the poetry crowd is made up of people that haven’t combed their hair since 1999, refuse to wear anything that borders on trendy and are not formally employed. So it’s nice to see some “everyday people” rocking their high heels, pointy-man shoes and R250 a pop hairstyles in the crowd, sharing their office stories as they mill about the foyer.

I suppose poetry at the theatre stifles the urge to go ape nuts and scream, failing to give the performers the affirmation that charges the room. Waiting for the performance to finish before we give a whistle and a clap is just not how it should be done. This is not prose at the English Tea Garden, it’s Urban Voices, so loosen up Cape Town.

I have a brain that can’t keep still; it always veers off to visualizations of potato ice cream, geishas in the Congo and other arbitrary thoughts. So I made myself remember at least three words from each poet’s performance so I can quote the poets’ wisdoms and stupidities, to inform this article.

House lights go down and in walks Mbali Vilakazi with two candles in each hand, that vision automatically shifts the gears, the mind goes into ohm mode. Hush the sister is about to engage you on the higher planes of conscious. She is very subdued, and what I remember from her is,
‘We are here, we are many’. Is it not crazy that there are more people that want peace than those that want war yet the ones that want war always win? Just like there are more people that think the new graffiti bylaw is utterly absurd, yet the law will probably get passed.

Following her was local rastaman Teba Shumba, with his ankle long dreadlocks wrapped around his head in a turban like fashion. He mesmerized the audience with his Gugulethu patois. Now we all know that you have to be in that culture to decipher all that raggamaffin. The tempo and rhythm is proper, and got us all backing it up in our seats. The words that I remember from his set are, “deeper that a dimple, dis ting simple”.

I don’t mean this in a bad way but Mbali and Teba we see around, we bump into them at Marvel, their mothers go to church with our mothers, they are our people. So when I say that I was glad they were done and the internationals were about to rock the stage, I am not suggesting they sucked, all it means is I was amped to see something new, that I am probably not going to see again.


First up was Willie Pedomo, the Puerto Rican with an easy style, more like story telling. He speaks as we speak; leaves the ancestors and the tripping metaphors alone, throwing in some Spanish that I don’t understand, but it sounds good. See if I was that kind of girl, Willie would be the cool kind of dude I can hang out at the local tavern with, have tequila shots while he teaches me some Spanish phrases and eventually I would take him up on that drawing on windows fogged with carnality. But because I’m this type of girl I would take him out for tea and ask him to tell me that funny poem of two guys speaking outside a church and one saying, “I pray every morning and every night and even when I’m high.”

Willie was followed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the Haitian American who introduced himself by saying that his father loves American wealth but shuns American culture not realizing that they are one. I feel him, I want Kimora Lee Simmons’ money without the disgusting consumerist bling overkill. But what do you do with lots of money if not to buy plenty shiny things you don’t need?
Marc’s unique technique, is a hip hop style poetry that incorporates dance. Watching this man who can outdo any avant-garde dancer and stand his ground next to any MC, and be able to do both at the same time, was mind blowing. He said himself that he managed to convince the culture machine that he is both high art on one hand and hip hop on the other. A cute boy oozing boundless energy and emanating the most genial aura, with sharp wit and acute observation, he delivered lines like, “Freudian paradigms never had coloured folk in mind and told the story of not becoming the superstar he thought he would become when he showed up at a hip hop club in Japan, and nobody gave him any props even though he was the only black man there.”


Folowing Marc’s performance was AK47 thelovegun Abena Koomson, the high priestess who made magic in front of my eyes. She had this blue thingamabop with her on stage that she calls Sapphire, which creates a cross of what Enya and Zap Mama does, voice-layering, soulful harmonising and kick ass reverberations. Right there on stage, in real time she would sing something press Sapphire, sing something else and press Sapphire again, then playback. Then the sound coming out would be as though there are 5 backing vocalists. It’s like she just created sounds like Angelique Kidjo and Khadja Nin at the same time. Total mind trip. Her poetry was soulful and motherly, she said that she,” wants to make love cakes and place them on hungry tongues.”


After the soothing Lovegun came the unassuming time bomb. Staceyann set the stage on fire starting her perfomance expressing that she actually has nothing to say after Willie Pedomo, Marc Bamuthi and Abena, she now just wants go home and masturbate. And for a long while her poems resided in the lower lady area, best was the poem she did about falling in a pit toilet as a little girl while checking to see whether her ‘cocoa bread’ looked like the one in the porn magazine. Staceyann Chin, is what I call a crazy chick on some moon powder, totally out of control, taking it to the next dimension of crassness. She called St Nicholas a holiday transvestite, Jesus a middle eastern Rastaman and she believes its wrong to fart in an elevator and get off at the next floor. With more fire and bite than Winnie Mandela and Hellen Zille all rolled into one, Staceyann made us laugh, think, feel and believe.


I judge an artistic offering as good if I go home with the delusion of being a good person who can make a worthy contribution to the world. It was a spectacular night of schizophrenia, champions and magicians; the Artsexchange team responsible for putting the festival together should be put on a gigantic velvet chaise and fed caviar, chocolate and champagne for a week. I can share in Stacey Ann’s viewpoint of believing that Pinky and the Brain were revolutionaries because every night they tried to take over the world, they remind us that there will always be something to fight for.

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  1. Natural Mystic says:

    Staceyann lights my fire shes revolutionary in her own right.

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  2. Tara says:

    Man i remember Saul!

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