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Art, Culture

The Lazarus of Slam

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / 20.02.2012

The Johannesburg slam poetry scene is incestuous. The same faces behind the mic, the same shoeless feet in the crowd. The same content; poems about poetry, about love, about Afrika. Poems about love poems to Afrika. Sessions where the headline act will be a no-name, open-mic slot filler the next week. The scene is still stuck in the “bourgeoning sub-culture” phase, still a seedling lacking growth. The circle is small, and divided. Politicking, ego and delusions of ownership rule the roost. Growth is limited, opportunities slim. And no-one really knows the answer to the ever-persistant question: “what is a successful Spoken Word artist?” And when can you say you’ve attained this level of success? Is it when your handful of fans can recite all your work off the top of their heads? When your name is printed on flyers to sell tickets?

Enter Lazarusman. Largely popularised by his poem in which he refers to an unnamed lover by her phone number, and asks her to reclaim her forgotten thong before his new female 075905911 arrives. The poem is energetic and humorous. His delivery- a torrential and rhythmic river of prose, punctuated by an assault of witty punchlines.

It’s this style that has won him every House of Hunger slam hosted by Alliance Francaise that he entered in 2009. He’s performed at Poetry Delights in Joburg, Cape Town and Grahamstown; at the Bookcafe in Harare.

In 2010, he was invited by the Danish Arts and Culture council to perform at the My World Images Festival. His song “Changes” with Martin Stimming topped the German dance charts, and opened him up to a whole different audience. We sat down with the Lazarusman and found a little more about his journey.

Mahala: Where do you see slam poetry taking you?

Lazurasman: It has already taken me where I have wanted to be actually, my dream was to perform on an international stage with other poets and I did. In Denmark at the My World Images festival in 2010 and that was a dream come true. Really.

Does poetry pay the bills?

Not as regular as it should. When it can it does but that is so rare…

You’ve been working with Martin Stimming and other big name dance music producers. How did it come about?

I get the Martin Stimming question all the time actually, every one seems to be curious about that. His mom knew my mom. Electronic music is a very strange place. It’s all about the beats, the synths. In the past, there have been a few vocalists in the industry, great ones in fact, and I guess I am just trying to be one of those with my idiosyncratic brand of poetry. My usual manner of working on a feature or a collabo is to present them with a poem, or a vocal. (This is how it happens most of the time). After that they will work and build a song around the poetry. It’s magical. Doing it this way is best for me. I find that generally the songs sound like two layers, the beat and then the vocal. When I send the poem in first, the producer builds the beats into the poem, it sounds more like a whole project, like one complete thing. My greatest songs have been made in this fashion and I would like to stick to this process of making music for as long as I can. Some producers can merge the two really well though, I don’t want to take anything away from those who can.

How has your reception been in the countries you’re touring in?

I will be honest and say, fantastic. I was worried that people would not relate with the thoughts of a South African or some of the ways I conjure up these poems, but the feedback has been great. The music is greatly supported and has a strong following. The festivals I have performed at have been outrageous. I have been given support by some big names in the industry and made my way onto plenty charts worldwide, so beyond our shores, people are liking my work. It’s funny, they say I have an amazing voice as well so its not just the poetry I am selling anymore, which is good thing as well I guess.

And here at home, how’s that going?

South Africa, poetry-wise, a great place to be. Especially Johannesburg, which I feel is the benchmark right now, for any poet. The standard here is so high and I am glad that I have a great following. The reception to my poetry is far greater here I think for obvious reasons too. Sadly the house music market is very different. Some of the artists I have worked with are unheard of at home. The tastes are very different. Only are a handful of people really listen and follow the international and South African deep house scene. It’s slow. I get airplay every now and then, the odd DJ mix. I am very grateful to those who are support my music and I also understand that South Africa is a tough market. There is no use in whining if I don’t have the same following as L’vovo or Black Coffee. The trick here is that making this specific genre of music makes me really happy, It’s what I love to do.

Is the music and poetry collaboration something you really want to do, or is just out of necessity, y’know, so you can feed yourself?

A while ago I sat down and thought about what I was going to do with poetry, you know outside of the stage and I really had no idea. I thought of hooking up with a band, but how different would that make me from a Tumi and the Volume type; or putting my work on beats, but that would also make me similar to a lot of other rappers and poets out there, you know. My love for electronic music solved this problem for me. Here I had a relatively uncharted territory to explore. What I was offering would be new anywhere, so I just went with it. It got easier after I met Stimming. He gave me my first break and the first time we had a go at it, our track was a global hit and is still being played the world over. So I realized that this is where I want, and need, to be.

Lazarus Mathebula

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