Red Red Rhymesby Tala Leratadima / 09.12.2009
Like Dorothy on the yellow brick road, except ours was a wood chip path, and very much like Scarecrow, Tin man, Lion (and Toto who went for the joy ride) we were in a way seeking for the poets to do like the Wizard of Oz and fill us up with love, courage and wisdom and all the other things our mundane lives lack. We trudged and stumbled on the lightless path with the sound as our compass. Trustfully we followed that fiddle through the Spier backyard to land upon a grey dreadlocked master on stage.
I must say it’s nice to be at a smart place to listen to poetry, sometimes those dark, dingy arty venues get to me. I get to feeling like a hobo, with all these artistic people that dress as though they have no homes. But the Badilisha Poetry X-change was upmarket proper, and the 60 kilometre drive seemed inconsequential after settling down, with a glass of free wine, to immerse yourself in spoken word. There is something about being out in the open air with the wine in your tummy, knowing there is more to follow, and listening to people speak their souls into the mic. It’s close to a magical experience.
Ngoma Hill, witty and amusing, took us on a poetic journey of social commentary on child labour in Asian sweatshops. But who went home and threw out their swoosh gear? He went on to call Adam gay and proclaimed that hip hop grew up listening to him. True. In that old school way that respects the craft and the crowd that comes to listen, Ngoma performed for over an hour, alternating musical instruments and pouring out his mind. All the other poets read their works. He asked the crowd to sing and clap along at some point. And to get a Cape Town crowd to expend energy is hard enough at Zula, how are you going to get it at Spier? Are these people not forewarned about snooty, self-conscious Capetonians when they get off the plane? Or do they feel that it’s their duty to break them out of their middle class inhibitions?
Kenyan born, London raised by Somali parents Warsan Shier, who trills her r’s in a way that makes me curious about Somalia, was really mindful in a way that belies her age. Young women with social agendas on their minds make the rest of us wonder about our biggest worries being matching shoes to handbag.
“My father yields his passport like a machete,” were her opening lines, in that train of thought all her poems spoke of injustice, trauma and the hardships facing Somali men and women daily. Before each poem she would mumble something like a prayer into the mic. When she was closing she said she was going to do something light, and it turned out to be a sweet love poem with images of her father lying emaciated in a hospital bed and her mother making fun of his state.
During the interval the wine ran out. Can a bee hive run out of honey? Does a bakery run out of bread?
Dorothea Smartt, a sight to behold all in white resembling a high priestess from an ancient order, had a mini altar on stage with pictures of her mother and aunt if I remember well. Much of her set was deep, slow and melancholic. Her themes were of slavery and loss of a child. At this point one understands why they put out twelve bottles of wine when they could in fact put out twenty four. The Jezebel juice does mess with a girl’s level of comprehension and memory. I do remember Dorothea would at times slip into patois and I would get down in a seated skank.
My goose bumps were taking it easy the whole evening and only came out at the end when African Noise Foundation got on stage. AFI shatters everything that is formulaic to making good music, with a marrying of genres, collaboration with unlikely artists and a freedom to let the music do what it wants to do. It’s a niceness I don’t quite know how to describe. Anyone who needs to be schooled in the mesmerizing power of Zim Ngqawana should take time out and think about their value on earth. Great master of the saxophone, capable of summoning anything and silencing anyone. Mesmerising the drunk and invoking sobriety with his psychedelic improvisations. He was not alone, he turned that stage into a magnetic force field along with Mantombi Matotiyana on uhadi, Ngoma Hill on fiddle, David Mayekane on vocals (he could have possibly played guitar I don’t remember).
And how can I forget the man who made this ensemble legitimate for a ‘poetry festival’. Aryan Kaganoff, who killed all the fantasies I had that life gets easier as you grow older, when he said, “when I was younger I used to blah blah… but now all I want to do is get laid and paid.”