Imagine being in a room with the crème de la crème of Cape Town‘s art and poetry scene and not being aware of that! I’m sure that this was the experience of many of the students attending the ‘Arts Aweh!’ portion of Infecting the city 2013. ‘Arts Aweh!’, managed by Malika Ndlovu, provided performing art workshops for 500 grade 10–12 learner’s from diverse schools across Cape Town through a facilitated experience of the Festival. These workshops were led by : Winslow Schalkwyk, Mbali Vilikazi, Jill Levenberg, Roxanne Blaise, Tshego Khutsoane, Quintin Jitsvinger Goliath, Primrose Mrwebi and Khadija Tracey Heeger .
A story of my experience in relation to most of them has been formed, and I thought it necessary to share why these artists being captured altogether the above image is definitely to be noted.
I met Winslow when I was 16 years old, at church. I was in the same confirmation class as his brother and the then priest asked him to facilitate some group building sessions for the confirmants. Imagine my surprise four years later , Winslow and I were doing the same course at University ! Upon getting to know Winslow, I thought he was eccentric and larger than life. We soon became good friends .I then found out that he performed poetry and had been doing so for a while. I actually had no idea what this “performing poetry” entailed, but it piqued my interest and one evening I decided to see a show of his.
I was completely shell-shocked after I had witnessed his performance. He was a powerhouse on stage and more so, the content of his work moves one. Winslow uses words and sounds to address the social state of our land. Additionally there is a spiritual element permeating his work and it is impossible to remain a passive spectator when he is on stage. You are engaged , you feel his words spill over you and penetrate you. You feel as if you’re caught in the piece of history in the making, that is Winslow. After the show he asked me what I thought, and in all honesty, I battled to speak. I could not believe that I had been around him all this time and that only then I was exposed to the height of his greatness. Winslow Schalkwyk taught me to become a groupie and he is the reason I was intimidated and respected anyone that wrote and performed their poetry.
After my initial shock, I built up the courage to tell Winslow that I wrote poetry myself. I told him not to judge it too harshly, they were all love poems that I had written since 16 and I had never really let anyone read it except for the people it was meant for. He glanced over a few an told me I should perform it. I thought he was crazy, I could never do what I witnessed him do, but he persisted and eventually I complied .
My first performance took place at UWC’s Ithuba arts festival in May 2008 alongside Winslow. Being on stage was daunting, but so exhilarating, the audience seemed to like what I had to say and I was immediately addicted to the feeling of sharing my writing. Fast forward to 2012 and I find myself at an event where I’m honoured to share the same stage as this magnificently talented poet who gave me my start. Even until this day, I still battle to speak to him after his shows, even if we have performed at the same event. See Winslow at TEDx Cape Town 2012. Winslow’s show Freedom Dialogue also featured at The Grahamstown National Arts Festival (2012).
Since I had been bitten by the poetry bug, a friend and I decided to attend the 2008 Spier Poetry Exchange. It was there that I first encountered the phenomenon that is Khadija Tracey Heeger. Khadija had a show called Stone words and it was more than just poetry. This was theatre- complete with a set, musicians and amidst it all a woman who exuded mounds of energy. The show also toured to The Grahamstown National Arts Festival (2009).
Khadija presented awe-inspiring poetry and she is completely fearless in her writing and also willing to tread where many are afraid to. She is a change agent and her writing is seated in the historical and social realities of South Africa which many so easily neglect. She is the voice that reminds one to not forget what people of colour have endured in this land. After her performance I turned to my friend and said “I want to do that someday”.
Then in March 2009 I entered a poetry competition for Africa Day. Low and behold, along with Winslow, Khadija was one of the judges of the competition. Again, as with Winslow I was unable to speak. Here she was, a woman I had idolized for so long, in the flesh. Eventually I had to get over my groupie ways because Khadija facilitated the group that I was part of. She overflows with knowledge and this may be a testament to her great teaching skills, but I managed to place 2nd in that competition. Meeting her was a real highlight for me.
There is something regal about Primrose. She is so composed and somehow exudes royalty. She seems to have a serious demeanor, but it quickly becomes apparent that she feels everything intensely. Coincidentally, Primrose was also one of the judges for the Africa Day competition. At the end of the competition she bestowed the entrants of the competition the grace of hearing her poetry.
Primrose’s style is much like my impression of her. She is poised, direct and emotes her poetry with strength. Her writing is liquid and flows from her with ease. Last year she judged another competition I entered and when she offered advice to the entrants, it spoke to her years of experience of her craft. I bumped into Primrose about three weeks ago at the Baxter theatre after I performed at gig called Love Psalms. She was in the audience and could not verbalize enough just how much poetry moved her. “Poetry can change things, poetry can move mountains, poetry, poetry poetry!” is what she said.
I first saw Malika perform at Off the Wall. There is a nurturing quality about Malika, to me she is the matriarch of the spoken word industry in South Africa. Malika’s voice is completely entrancing. You can’t help but be transfixed when she speaks. Her poetry is concise and it retains a meditative quality.
She is a playwright, author and performer who uses her art as a means to ignite healing. The next time I saw Malika share has passion, was during the 2009 Cape Town Book fair where she read from her book titled Invisible earthquake. Her book is written in such lyrical prose that when read by her , it irrefutable relates as poetry .
In 2011 I entered the DFL Lover+ Another National Poetry competition when I went for the auditions it was hard for me not to faint. I was doing poetry in front of Malika Ndlovu. More so I managed to make it pass the first round and as luck would have it Malika accompanied the top three contestants to Johannesburg , so imagine my internal glee by just being able to be in her presence. Wisdom just permeates from her an there is actually an aura of calm which radiates from her. She lives her art.
Mbali Vilakazi is ethereal. She moves like an angel and similar to Primrose she emanates something majestic. Mbali is a story-teller. When she speaks she evokes the image of having a tribe sit around a fire , just listening to ancient wisdom.
Winslow ran a series of poetry workshops called ‘Water, cycles and cyphers’ which culminated in an anthology of the participants work and ultimately a performance by the participants at Obz Café. My good friend let me perform a poem at his event and thereafter, he and Mbali lit up the stage. She provided vocal accompaniment to Winslow that evening and despite not reciting a poem, Mbali still maintained a strong stage presence.
Mbali was also a judge in the DFL Lover+ Another National Poetry competition. As if it wasn’t enough that Malika was a judge, there was Mbali, I’m really surprised that I never fainted that day. The top 3 participants worked very closely with Mbali and if you ever encounter Mbali, don’t be fooled by her stature. Internally there resides a force to be reckoned with. She pushed us in those workshops and knew exactly how to highlight our strengths and fine tune our limitations. She managed to coach me to the point where I delved into the meaning of my poem so much that it moved me to tears.
Since then, I’ve shared the stage with Mbali at two separate events at 100 Thousand Poets For Change – Badilisha Poetry and another initiative of Winslow’s named the Free flow sessions. Even backstage after my performance Mbali offered advice, I had announced to the audience that I was performing my last poem and she advised that it was better to keep them in suspense and hold their attention by foregoing that information. ‘Nobody teaches you these techniques’, she said, “these are things you just pick up as you go along”, luckily for me, in that moment I did have someone to teach me that technique.
I met Roxanne during the 2011 DFL competition. She obtained first place in the regional competition and what was remarkable was, that it was the first poem she had ever written.
Roxanne is fore mostly an actress. She has appeared in many stage productions and was also a cast member of Malika’s play titled Sister Breyani. Needless to say Roxanne is out-of-this-world on stage. She emotes so powerfully that I had to fight back the tears every time she recited her poem. She is just that good.
Unfortunately Roxanne had to perform in a play and was unable to go to Johannesburg to compete in the nationals where I’m sure she would have knocked everyone’s socks of there as well.
Roxanne is currently performing at the KKNK (2013) in a play called Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey.
I was asked to recite Maya Angelou’s “In and out of time” at a friend’s wedding and as fate would have it, Quintin was seated at the same table as me. When I saw him I said “you look so familiar” and he smiled knowingly, but offered nothing else. It was bothering me and after telling almost everyone around the table that he looked familiar, it was revealed that he was the Afrikaans rapper named Jitsvinger. Then it all clicked. Amoung other things Jits was a contributing cast member and performer of the critically acclaimed theatre production called Afrikaaps, a play which explores the multiculturalism of Afrikaans as spoken in Cape Town. Jitsvinger , along with Jethro Louw also performed at the wedding and they were amazing.
The next time I saw Jits perform was when he collaborated alongside Gary Arscenic in an event dubbed Jitsenic. The performance was crazy, while Jits rapped , Gary played accompanying beats. Jitsvinger’s location within the performance /rap/spoken word scene is quite similar to Adam Small‘s within literature. He has made rapping in Afrikaans so cool by incorporating musical accompaniment and colloquialisms that are spoken by many of Cape Towns ‘coloured’ community everyday. During the show he stopped and asked ” Is daar ‘n poet in die company” ( Is there a poet in the company) and of course I could not deny myself so I raised my hand and he called me forward. ” Okay, jy doen net jou ding en dan sal ek en Arscenic net saam speel” ( You do your thing and then Arscenic and I will accompany you). I started reciting my poem and like magic these two artists filled it out with the guitar and beats, it was completely impromptu, but it sounded like it been rehearsed for ages. Now that is artistry!
Jitsvinger was also a judge at the DLF Lover+ Another 2012 competition.
Behind the lens of this picture sits Toni Stuart who was the Logistics Coordinator for ‘Arts Aweh! 2013’. Toni is remarkable in the sense that she is not only writer, performer, events coordinator, a teacher, but also an activist. Toni uses her art to get behind causes she believes in and though her nature is reserved there is a definite fire of passion burning inside her.
I had heard about Toni long before meeting her. We met at the Cape Town book fair (2012) at a designated section called the Poetry Café . I was there promoting an anthology I had been published in titled This is My Land.
Toni also shared her poetry at the event. Toni knows how to write poetry. Her writing is of the best I’ve ever encountered. Her use of structure, form and all the other poetic devices are on point and is deeply entrenched in traditional forms of poetry. She managed to relate the most beautiful moments through her poetry.
Somehow after that the universe decided that I should see Toni everywhere! She was the coordinator for 2012’s DFL competition and I entered again , not in the hope of winning, but just to share a poem I needed to release. A snowball of events occurred after the competition and this meant constant contact.
Toni is also a cofounder , alongside Nicole le Roux, of a youth community initiative called I Am Somebody.
Toni is a doer and if things need to done in poetry, art or activism, she is definitely the one to call.
I have yet to meet Jill Levenberg and Tshego Khutsoane, but as life and art will have it, nothing is impossible.