I had an interesting conversation with a fellow artist on Monday. He is rather fortunate in the sense that he is able to just do art and use his skills as an DJ to produce and engineer music for other artists and thereby, make a living through his art.
This is not the case for me. My primary love is writing poetry, then only the other forms of literature, so in order to maintain this lavish ( not really) lifestyle of mine, I have a day job. Fortunately my job is a hub of producing literature and art, but to cut to the chase, I can’t leave my job and decide to just be a poet. I am not Shakespeare, there is no one commissioning me to write anything. Truth be told, I’ve only been paid once for a gig relating to poetry, and that was at the Design Indaba 2012, where through the help of Roxanne Blaise, I secured a gig where I typed my poetry on a monitor which was projected on the walls where a concert of various musical acts performed at Cape Town city hall.
I was not the focus,anyone could have done that job by getting a few poems and typing them, the advantage I had is that most of my poetry is committed to memory, so I suppose I was the shoe in, in this capitalist society, I was the one that was able to produce, produce produce.
Point is, when talking to said artist, I asked him, what am I doing wrong? Surely given that I’ve always had positive reception to what I’ve done, how is it that no funds are generated from my art? It’s obvious I suppose..who in heavens name do I think I am?! I am not famous (yet) , I do not have the elaborate curriculum vitae’s of the artists I mentioned in my previous post-
But as with anyone there is some self-regard and belief that I am good at what I do. I believe in what I have to say and I keep working at it in the hope of…..well, change, I suppose. Societal change, and perhaps also to play a hand in art appreciation in this city and over all this country ( very ambitious , I know).
As much as I am opposed to certain aspects of capitalism, the truth is ‘everybody’s got to make a living’. In 2009, during the Cape Town Book fair , I had the great luck of meeting and attending a workshop by Zena Edwards, a poet from the UK. She informed us that she was able to make a living solely off her poetry. Imagine! And although I’m not the biggest fan of American culture, you have to admit, somehow how they have done right by their artists.They have created the biggest industry for people who perform, act and entertain. People in arts are celebrated, and this gives a fresh perspective on the word celebrity, whose etymology stems from celebration.
I would not want us to be Hollywood, but structure, acknowledgement and celebration wouldn’t be the worst thing for South African artists.
Right, so now we are back into this investigation of what I was doing wrong, nothing I suppose, it actually comes down to what need to do right. Said artist, suggested documenting what I’ve done ( I suppose, this is part of what this blog is too), but he said ‘get someone to take pictures at your gigs, compile a list of what you’ve done and when the opportunity arises, bust out that packaging and you already have an advantage”.
Good idea, it’s in the marketing, you basically have to submit to being a commodity. My reaction was “bleh, do I really have to?”. He then he asked me “Roché if nobody ever pays you for a single poem or piece of writing, would you stop writing and performing?” and my answer was “No”. I love writing, I love performing, that’s the truth. Even if I’d only ever be the poet who is asked by family members and friends to write anything ( this has happened, I am the official wedding/21st/ 50th birthday/anniversary poet amoungst my family and friends), I would do it in a heartbeat, and hopefully forever.
When I started writing poetry it was just a means of expression.An outlet.I would have never thought of sharing or turning my poetry into a commodity. I am that girl who had a whole relationship where we communicated solely in poetry , and it was normal,just something we done to share our love.
At present , I know how powerful a tool poetry is and perhaps that is why I’d like to think that I can use it for the betterment of something.
So yes, this is not Hollywood or the UK or, or ,or. Point is if you’re doing art in Cape Town ( more so than Johannesburg), you better know why you’re doing it.What is the point of your art? You better think long and hard about what personal sustenance your art brings you, ‘cos honey child, this ain’t Hollywood. Know your cause , know what you stand for, try to embody it too, be the preacher-teacher you were always meant to be. Know what you’re fighting for. In my experience, Cape Town artists/spoken word poets are driven by love and change, if you want to be in any sort of game, that’s the game to choose-consciousness and change.
Blaq Pearl ( Cape Town, singer song writer , poet and performer) put’s it aptly in her song A peoples worth. Know it and breathe why you do what you do. That said, this is me being a shameless commodity, ‘cos it’s another gig without a dollar for me, but there is still a dream.
So, this Sunday at Ragazzi Live bar in Loop Street I’ll be performing at Jam that Session. Doors open at 2PM and the entry fee is R30. Show a sister a little love. Dankie!