Debrief After A Literary Pilgrimage

How do I start a gratitude piece for all the bountiful harvest that I have partaken in? That is the question that has been pushing me closer and closer to debriefing from a truly magnificent and perfect-in-every-form-ten-week-whirlwind of an American rendezvous. Well, as the trip fully and without any compromise demonstrated to me, perhaps I should start by thanking myself for the sheer tenacity, determination, courage, faith, and pure passion that has driven me to be still and hear, and be fully awake to see the signs as they presented themselves to me; to have trusted my perception instead of doubt it; to have shunned any inkling of doubt or fear; and to have honoured my own voice that has consequentially led me to my own truth.

I feel validated in my beliefs, gratified by my journey, closer to my relentless vision, and inspired to be extraordinary. I have seen in clear daylight the intensity of my own power; the unparalleled spark of possibility lying, dormant, seeking engagement with those driven by pure intentions to be creators in their own worlds; the spontaneous combustion between possibility and determination, initiative and faith, knowledge of self and passion; and the sheer magic that can be woven and witnessed in one whose higher self is in direct alignment with self. I am now possessed by a thousand thundering voices that speak with me, and through me. Where I once had shoulders I now have wings…

I am now more certain that ever that we are one with all living entities; the earth and its magnificent solar systems (this is no joke; the full moons and mercury in retrograde had me in full grips, begging for ‘normality’), the animals, plants, and human beings all form a cosmic and holistic part of who we are. I only exist because of all those living things. And there is no living without the dead—the persistent balance and harmony of life—so I have tasted the sweetest connections of them all; being awake in more worlds than this physical one; hearing, seeing, and feeling the intensity of the moment; but most importantly, trusting the moment and taking notes that I consequently use as a blueprint of my vision and dreams. Let no one succeed in convincing you your physical body is all you are!

I have grown spiritually, emotionally, mentally, intellectually, and cosmically on the literary pilgrimage I took from Amsterdam to New York, to Washington DC, to Chicago, to San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley, to Los Angeles; following and being followed by the footstep of a sage whose guiding hand, embrace, and mentorship—felt, heard and seen without his physicality—has led me to treasures of my own soul, of the larger cosmic world of our people, of the South African literary landscape, and of the broader black diaspora. The magnitude of the alchemy on this trip is to be fully experienced in the forthcoming months of writing this dissertation, this book, and producing this documentary. I have grown creatively too. I am decidedly embroiled in the cosmic world of the arts, where being a writer has so seamlessly and without any fear or favour led me to being a filmmaker: an art form that I have enormous respect for.

I trust myself more than ever. I am not the chosen one, but I chose myself to be the one for this task. Perhaps I should rephrase and say InI (I and eye—third eye perception and reception. I’ve explained this in detail here https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/ini-self-n-divine-self/ ) chose myself; perceived of self as capable, and received the ordained calling as my own. As the wisdom of the elders does state clearly, we exist in duality, like any product of nature and life—the yin and the yan, the body and the life force, the physical and the metaphysical—must be in unison. My life force and metaphysical self, the other ‘I’ in InI, are now lounging languidly with my physical self, at one, in perfect harmony, pregnant with larger-than-my-physical-body possibilities. My voice is stronger than ten weeks ago, and my resolve is only perfectly demonstrated by the image of being possessed by a thousand thundering voices. I move because I am moved…

What follows is a continuation of a photo essay that started here

https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/the-golden-years/

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I travelled to Washington DC to interview poet, legendary jazz critic and literary historian A.B. Spellman, who was warm and happy to walk down memory lane with me

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Karen Spellman was an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which Keorapetse Kgositsile joined seamlessly when he arrived in the States

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I went to meet my mentor, Professor James Miller, at the George Washington University. He was the first person who ever introduced the term ‘Black Atlantic’ to me at Wits in my Honours year, and I have been dreaming about conducting research in this field since he ran a fascinating course mapping the similarities in black South African and black American cultures in the 20th century

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Fall/Autumn is pumpkin season and America has quite a family of them I tell you. All shapes, colours, textures, sizes, and flavours…

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…but what do you do with so much pumpkins? Well, they have all kinds of pumpkin yumminess like pumpkin chai tea/coffee, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin pie, pumpkin waffles, etc. Pumpkin chai tea with hot milk really moved me to tears

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Of course while I was in town I thought I’d pop in and have tea with my girl Mitchelle, but the security guards had something else on their minds. They’ve since been fired 🙂

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Maybe something major was happening at Mitchelle’s house! I mean snipers on top of her house?? Really??

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The area between Capitol Hill and Lincoln Memorial gave way to an area of feeling deep in my heart. I was filled with all kinds of conflicting emotions from disgust to triumph

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I really really love how artists engage with the city, especially at the Washington Square in New York. It is a beautiful square with all kinds of artists, and they are well-respected if the tipping is anything to go by

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The student becomes the teacher. The interviewee becomes the interviewer

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On my last night in NYC I managed to score tickets to a Talib Kweli performance. What an amazing experience to hear him, feel him, and be entertained by him in his native New York…

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Kweli is a lyricist extraordinaire, and I was pleased that the sound at the legendary Blue Notes did justice to his flow

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I have been to quite a lot of jazz performances and festivals, but never have I seen a trumpeter display such barbaric devotion to his instrument – breaking all the rules

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I arrived in Chicago on the 20th September, and the next day I prepped to dance away at this dream line up. The special guest was Kanye West, and I have to admit that I absolutely enjoyed his performance despite my better judgement of the man

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In Chicago I managed to link up with my brother Ignatius from Polokwane. It was great to speak Sepedi in Chicago and crack ourselves over the mundane and magical

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Sterling Plumpp – the man who made almost everything worthwhile. He led me in the right direction and guided me gently into the very dense jungle that is the political and cultural life of Keorapetse Kgositsile. I am forever indebted to him

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During this interview with Keorapetse Kgositsile’s daughter, Ipeleng Aneb Kgositsile, we were visited by fireflies, hummingbirds, and butterflies. It was beyond magical. In that hot Oakland weather I was suffering (with pleasure) from chills

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The way I loved the bay area – San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley – was truly special. It will forever remain my dream destination and crush address

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Don’t even ask! Okay, I’ll tell you. I went into a shop, looked around, and next thing I know there was an impromptu photoshoot and wine #hides

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The beauty of the bay area. It reminded me of Cape Town with all its beautiful hills and mountains, winelands, botanical gardens, and laid back culture

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I missed this documentary to celebrate 20 years of Illmatic the album, and as I was minding my own business buying books I came across this poster and immediately heeded the calling

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Ipeleng Aneb Kgositsile

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We caught Fourplay at the legendary Yoshi’s Jazz Bar in Oakland; one of the most reputable jazz bars in the world. The owner, Yoshi, is a Japanese beauty of soul and spirit whom I’ve been fortunate enough to spend an intense afternoon with.

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The saxophonist and trombonist are from Oakland School of Arts, a public school where I have had the pleasure of teaching a literature lesson on Kgositsile. 51 Oakland, an NGO ran by Jason Hoffman and Yoshi, helps with putting arts and music back in public schools. These are the results of their work. These public school learners are playing with a legendary Latino band

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I felt the power of this NGO’s work. This youngster from a public school displayed so much skill on the trombone, and all the applause certainly gave him positive self esteem and motivation

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My lens caught this wonderful child

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Universe please conspire!! I need to live here, even if it is for a two year fellowship, or even better, getting a post at the Berkeley campus of the University of California…

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This is the NGO in discussion, 51 Oakland, and one of the co-founders Jason Hoffman. I met Jason through Ipeleng, and he was jsut so generous and kind enough to host me at his house during my stay in the bay area. There was something magical in our interaction, which has led me to my own treasures

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I helped out at the event where the students were playing; selling T-shirts and garnering support for the organisation. This has moved me to decidedly be more involved in the caring for others and making a difference in the less fortunate’s lives. A challenge I take on keenly

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Nothing But The Truth

van goghTruth is power. Truth is power precisely because truth cannot be disputed. You cannot wage a war against someone’s truth. Truth is a place of solace, of forthrightness, and conviction. To tell your truth is to stand firm in a sacred place of non compromise. To articulate your own truth is to exert your entire self in total humanity that lacks any holes or discrepancies. Truth is a practice in honour and self-love; it is a total regard and exaltation of self in the face of potential malfunction.

Lies are malfunction. Perhaps I should say not telling your truth leads to malfunction as lies are not exactly the opposite of truth. Lies are to be avoided altogether. Lies can be dissected and exposed for the malady they always posit. They are structured by impure intentions and only (mal)function to dim your light. They weigh heavily on a place of sanctity and self-worth in you so much that they can paralyse your inherent strength and lead to malfunction. Therefore lies are profane and vile, and can defile your soul.

Truth is liberating. There is no threat in truth, there is only truth. Truth casts a better light on self, and brings forth wayward solutions and enlightenment. Truth is a place where the thread that ties us together as humans takes roots. To tell your truth with conviction is to honour the divine in you and the divine in the recipient of your truth. In your particular resolve to be propelled by truth you are moved closer to your higher self, to a place of godliness achieved through purifying your temple in the baptism of truth.

Everyday encounters with others are not to be taken for granted. We open in ourselves doors that have potential to free others from their long-forgotten entrances to themselves. The access to self can be barred by the lies we tell since those lies distance ourselves from a place of truth where our true selves reside. There is no value in entering relationships built on lies for the only outcome is malfunction. You cannot hold someone who lies to themselves and to you accountable for a truth that emerges—as it surely will always surface—if you consciously entered into that contract based on lies. There was never anything truthful, pure, sacred, or honourable to begin with.

Be responsible for the energy you bring to others’ lives, and through that sensibility you will detect any malfunction that comes your way. Truth starts with self and is sustained through discipline, self-worth and self-respect. These are the pillars of self: knowledge of self and determination. One should wage a war with self in order to define their truth. Through discipline and determination you may carve your voice and distinguish it; without any resolve you can only extinguish your truth. When your truth is extinguished you get trapped in a perpetual lie and forsake your agency and simultaneously your right to be respected and loved—by self and others. Through concerted effort to omit your truth you are like s/he who sows seeds in the wrong season.

Let your truth heal you, empower you, and endow upon you an unmistaken voice of honour and wayward resolve…

While you’re at it, wash your ears with mama’s truth:          

I’m an Artist

Frida Khalo

For the longest of time I had difficulty accepting that the label ‘writer’ could ever apply to me. What with all the worlds people such as Sello Duiker, Chimamanda Adichie, and Biyi Bandele have opened up for me. Worlds that I had a deep desire to immerse myself in, and have a drink with the characters as they share with me their deeper philosophies. Worlds of one individual’s creation, creating something out of nothing. Worlds that travel and open in their readers forgotten layers. Worlds that have been created in response to a buzz, an image, a sound, a smell, a touch, an outstanding sensuality, sensibility, and obedience. Worlds created out of sheer raw creativity.

I don’t struggle with using the label ‘artist’ to signify who I am. Being an artist is a sacred state of mind and state of being. I often hear writers talk about how they can only write when they are going through difficulty, and I can relate. When there is an immense depth of feeling, that is, when you delve into the darker corners of who you are, when darkness seems to threaten the lightness of your soul, you are called upon to explore that slice of life, for being a writer is exactly that: you cannot function without the lucidity of events, characters, context, and position. Every depth of feeling must be afforded a deep plunge, an acknowledgement, and articulation.

When you explore a depth of feeling, a most primal and raw emotion, it comes unaccompanied by language or reason; it is as it is, like a dream it presents itself as nonlinear and delineated from worldly order of events. It is an image a writer must trust and obey. Obedience is forsaking the ego and accessing a child-like state in the face of exploring that depth of feeling. This is how you can (re)create a world from a prelingual state—a piece of music can give way to the first words; an image, a painting, photograph, or poster can lend its grammars to your world; the silent beauty of nature can envelop you with sensuality that overwhelms you with vocabularies of creation.

However you must not only hear but listen. You must not only see but practice vision. Summon the third eye. You must employ the third eye to extrapolate from everyday life the nuances of what we have deemed normative. You must, in a most unassuming way, position yourself as a diviner—prick your ear to listen to the raw sounds that will respond to your raw feeling, align yourself with worlds that can burst open and broaden your own, and prise your heart open to levels of fluidity, constant motion and evolutions. Nature abhors stasis, as does art.

You must immerse yourself in art in order to be a creator of worlds. You must be sensitive and sensible to the pulse of creation. You must surrender to the rawness of drums, paint, light, saxophone, words, movement, clay, performance, marble, wood, charcoal, voice, feathers, and so forth; keeping in mind that for anything of value to come out, you must deplete and deconstruct. You must free these commodities from their conventional use and create a world for them to find another use that responds to your depth of feeling. The same goes for self. You must strip yourself to the most bare as to invite the royal robe of creativity to enshroud your naked senses. You must create!

My name is Uhuru, and I am a creator. I create art using wor(l)ds borne out of images, sounds, nature, movement, performance, piano, feelings, smells, motion, tastes, water, alphabets, light, … In this video below, Chimamanda invite us to create worlds of our own making, multi-dimensional worlds that are not as flat as the conventional everyday life depict. There are so many layers to who we are, and we must endeavour to plunge into those layers to recreate satisfactory images of who we are. If you don’t write your own story, someone else will draw misconceived conclusions about who you are. Writing your story can happen in various ways. Find your medium. Find a fitting interface between you and who you are. Create your world, create yourself.

Staying True to My Heart

NYC_Panorama_edit2

Greetings from Amsterdam on this fantastic sunny day. I’m in a fabulous mood. First I must apologise for being so quiet over the last week. I have been brewing something exciting for the past three months, and last week it reached its execution period, where I had to wait until this morning to find out if the plan is green-lighted. So without wasting any time, here it goes: I’m going to be living in the United States for three months from the 1st of August!! These are most fulfilling and exciting news to me and my work. It has been a trying time for me emotionally, so a quest into the unknown is the exact literal, literary and symbolic journey I need.

I can confidently and safely tell you now that my PhD research on South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile has been approved by my department of literature at the University of Cape Town to take the form of a literary biography. For my own creative exploration and indulgence, I am also shooting a documentary that will accompany the final book project. He lived in New York for 15 years between 1960 and 1975, and I am going to live in New York for 2 months from the 1st August to chart his literary journey, interview his contemporaries—I’m looking for one particular Pharoah Sanders; universe please align—and talk to members of his family and friends in the 3rd month.

New York SubwayThis work is at the very centre of my heart, and anchors me day and night when all seems to be destabilised. Planning for this trip has been a most sacred journey as everything I have sought has been met with a resounding YES! everyone I have spoken to has been so open-minded as to see the value of this project, and even though I have never been to the U.S., I have seen New York, Chicago, San Francisco—places I will visit over the 3 months there—with my third eye. The kindness and generosity of my American interlocutors has left me feeling at ease about entering this new phase of my research and life journey.

I believe in more work and less talk, I believe in letting my work speak for itself, and I believe that plans for great work are like an intricate process of birth. I will only speak about the birth once the baby is strong, stealthy, and able to take their position in the world. So for now I’m content to share these plans with you. There are very exciting things and people I’m meeting with, but I would not want to talk about them before I have in fact met with them and engaged with their wonderful minds. Work first, then enjoyment of its fruits later. The power of the mind will now function to create something out of nothing, and this will find its time to be shared here.

As you might or might not know, whilst interviewing Kgositsile and his contemporaries—I’ve thus far interviewed Mongane Serote, Lefifi Tladi, Muxe Nkondo, Tsitsi Jaji, Stephane Roboolin—I have been shooting a documentary. This has been a true blessing in my life, and I’d like to thank my best friend Mafadi Mpuru who has been so generous as to donate a full professional television crew for these purposes. I will continue with the work of shooting a documentary in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, and once again this is made possible by the generous spirit of a friend who owns an Amsterdam production rental company.

So those are my news. New York here I come in 15 days. I received my visa this morning, for a whopping 10 years!! The Americans are generous for such a paranoid country. Well good for me because this will be my first time there, but certainly not my last. This is my life work, and I will continue to invest my time here in (re)writing our beautiful literary history. If I don’t thank my husband for his gentleness and generosity then I will be doing a great injustice unto self first. Reinier has been, and continues to be a rock. All his connections are making this come true, and without him I would be found wanting. My family’s support has let me know: a pride of lions without a leader can be defeated by a limping buffalo (directly translated from Sepedi proverb).

I will say, last but not least, when you do what you love a world of possibilities opens up and the essential things of your heart’s desire become attainable. If your dreams do not scare you it means you have not fully explored your true potential and thrust. Nothing of value can come out of comfort; we must leave, as we have left our parents’ house, that which makes our growth graph stagnant, and pursue that which makes our hearts race, guided by faith, courage, hope, and passion. There is no greater fulfilment than to create something from nothing, to live with a clear vision that propels you forward in your everyday life. Productivity equals growth, and vision equals purpose. Without productivity, vision, and purpose, our growth is stifled…

KK

Our very first meeting in 2012. I was not nervous. But I spoke a lot, which probably means I was nervous 🙂

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Ntate Lefifi Tladi has been most inspiring to engage with. He was part of Medu Arts Ensemble in the 1980s in Botswana, together with Keorapetse Kgositsile, Thami Mnyele, and Dumile Feni. His house is a living and breathing music, literary, and visual arts library. He is a writer, musician, visual artist (he made a Sistine chapel-like ceiling in his house), and performer.

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Prof. Muxe Nkondo lifted the veil off this whole research. He is a literary scholar par excellence, and helped me reveal the core intentions of this study. I am forever indebted to him.

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Ntate Mongane Serote is a living literary legend. He is also the CEO of both Jo’burg theatre and Freedom Park. He was Keorapetse Kgositsile’s student of Creative Writing in the U.S. in the early 1970s, and they lived together like gypsies, travelling to jazz concerts all over the country (U.S.)

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This man is full of humility and brilliance. Dynamites do indeed come in small packages…

Awakenings

Personal development

Here’s why I think everybody who aspires to personal development should have a passion that drives them and provides them with a safe space to explore their higher being—what society has called a ‘hobby’. A passion, or hobby, is a good space to explore your strengths and exercise full control of your agency. It is an elementary and fundamental space that engenders knowledge of self, self-determination, and creativity. It is a space of your own making whose depth, layers, and textures you get to decide. It is a sacred space that promises a mining of personal treasures.

Here’s where we get it wrong: we try to control spaces that are not of our own making. We are propelled by a false sense of self-importance and worth that has us believing we know. This is the predisposition of humans living in the 21st century urban space—information overload and saturated sensuality has us thinking we are in control and that we are equipped with the tools to drive our own life-locomotives. The truth is ‘knowing’ is an illusion and is quite medieval. Once we surrender to the motion of life we are opening ourselves to be perpetually replenished by the rivers of eternal knowledge.

Once we give away our personal agency and power to create through our individual passions and hobbies, and falsely try to control an outward sphere, we will always fail. The world is not our space of control, our individual worlds are. Individually we inhibit worlds that are entirely of our construct and design. But we are quick to neglect our abilities and personal agencies to construct and configure those worlds to our individual needs; taking those intricate needs and imposing them on an outside world whose magnitude elude us.

We cannot control anything or anyone beside our own worlds and ourselves. This becomes evident when we experience grief—heartbreak, loss, trauma, etc—and we are so fixated with knowing, whilst grief demands that you surrender. When we surrender to grief—it is counterintuitive for animals to surrender, but the ego has no place in raw inundated primal feelings—we must always find refuge in a world we can exercise a certain control over: that’s where your passion/hobby comes in! It is at this time that the world of your own making nourishes you and waters your roots; strengthening you. That passion, during this time, is the difference between sanity and insanity, harmony and destruction.

What could your passion be? In my experience, my passion drives me, as opposed to me driving it. It is a world where my third eye, higher being, and full sensuality are in synergy with one another. It is a charged space of inspiration promising creation—something always gets created in my world of passions: cooking and writing. Passion is seated in the heart; it is submerged in my life force, in my arteries, and in my seat of love. It is a place of possibility, of joy, and of growth. It is a site of self-determination and personal development.

Been jamming to this track in gym today. Conceive, believe, and achieve…

Bury Me at The Marketplace

Sharing narratives

I am inspired by travelling narratives, by moving stories, and by forms that take root from a place of communal sharing than individual enjoyment. I am a student in the literatures, and have found that novels and other books constantly require retraction from community—in that you would have to go sit lonesome on a bench or in your room quietly to read—perhaps making this a core reason why most people, in my country (?), don’t read. In most of our cultures, the art of storytelling is communal, inclusive, and accessible.

I am inspired by narratives that boast their own dialects, that burst with local intonations, and by stories that move with the rhythms of their music. The English literature departments in postcolonial Africa are a point of contention—the term ‘English’ points not only to a language, but to a culture and geographical space. Most of my people would not take easily to a novel that opens with a scene on the banks of the Thames River… This is why my academic research thus far has solely focused on literatures that speak of our own landscapes, cultures, languages, and traditions.

I am moved by the idea of travelling narratives, of newly packaged forms and styles that are accessible to all that traverse its landscapes. Literature has mostly been an elitist art form, perhaps the most inclusive and aristocratic, mostly enjoyed in closed halls of high brow entertainment. I am excited by the notion of breaking down those barriers and setting stories free; liberating narratives to reach spaces previously unthought-of. I find worth in depleting the traditional literary form; tradition is a dying hallmark of culture. Culture is fluid and malleable in the 21st century.

I am happy to reveal that I am officially shooting a documentary on South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile’s lifework. I am not satisfied with investing energy and time with researching his work and sealing it in libraries of the ivory tower. His story is one that must be released from the exact traditions which he sought to be liberated from. His story must be packaged to move in unsuspected places. It must be, like his very life, a travelling narrative. It must move to the rhythms of his Setswana, his jazz, his mbaqanga, and dance freely to the baseline of Johnny Dyani the maestro (they collaborated in 1977 at FESTAC, Nigeria).

Narratives of our own people should be liberated from the high pillars of air-conditioned libraries; stories must be accessible and inclusive, as opposed to Exclusive (Books) to all whose character and cultures it speaks of; literary forms must find their ways into taxis, street corners, chisa nyamas, parties, and general meeting points. Storytelling is dependent on an audience, and on a communal appreciation from various positioned listeners. Let us fervently take up the challenge to evolve our various art forms for the benefit of those whom they are intended to speak, mostly of, but also to.

Sharing stories

Silence is Tantamount to Death

SilenceThere is no one universal truth. Find your own truth. Shape and hone the voice that speaks to your divine existence. Define your truth to signify the corners and crevices of your being. Speak your truth. Shape happiness in a cast that fits your mould. Define your own standards of beauty. Find the niche where your voice may be amplified. Be outspoken. Tear down the walls of silence. Tell your story. Repudiate his-tory. His-story is not your story. Your story is an individual story. It speaks of rivers that replenished whole tribes. Your story is a central story. It is not a story of darkness. It is a place of light and freedom. Let your story nourish your state of desolation; let it unshackle your mind and liberate you; let your story be heard and echo through the pages of time. Let your body be testament to greatness, and your voice poetic license to mould your truth, hone your truth, and release your truth from the prison of time. Let your story be the pillar of your castle. Let it buttress your soul. Let it enshroud you with celestial light. Speak now, and find fortitude in your voice. Partake in the story of creation. In the beginning was the word, but the word became manifest through sound… Use your story to dismantle universal truths and sound your own truth. Be the creative your creator created. Create with the bare necessities. Create with your story!