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/

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

…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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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 🙂

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The student becomes the teacher. The interviewee becomes the interviewer

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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…

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

Common Sense Concert

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Ipeleng Aneb Kgositsile

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

My lens caught this wonderful child

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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…

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

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

Invest in a Beautiful Mind

Image

I want to start the year off by dishing some womanly advice to all that seek or are in relationships. Everybody has to have a purpose in life; everybody has to wake up to new challenges in some areas of our broad lives; everybody has to WORK! Work is virtuous in a sense that work gives you purpose, places you in social situations where you have to hold your own; helps you explore your limitations and strengths; and generally helps you keep up with current trends, discourses, opinions, and personalities. Work therefore adds various layers of complexities to who you are: it makes us opinionated, assertive, analytical, strong-headed, and knowledgeable.

I am disturbed by a number of women I know who are not doing anything with their lives; but interestingly enough I have noticed it is the same women I cannot have robust and analytical conversations with. Let us imagine you’re that woman in a relationship. We live in interesting times today. One cannot afford to have no opinion whatsoever about what goes on in Syria; about slavery, holocaust, colonisation; about those three and their representations in the arts; about human behaviour in general; and how the world being a global village has an impact on immigration laws. You cannot visit an art exhibition and have no opinion about it; you shouldn’t be quiet when people are discussing global problems and solutions; you should not be absent in the presence of diverse opinions. You should be able to hold your own.

ImageI’m only addressing women because I’m not a man. No man wants to have to find friends to engage with analytically, because the wife is a boring flat character. Similarly, I want to be able to discuss Django Unchained critically, early modernism in art, the direct effects of postmodernism in our daily lives, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), jazz as a counterculture to western classical music, ancient civilisation in the East and in Africa, and world politics, at home with my husband. I will be deeply saddened and consequently unhappy if he cannot keep up and be opinionated about my drawing parallels between 1920s Harlem in New York and 1950s Sophiatown in Johannesburg. I will not manage if he can’t apply a deep understanding of human psychology to our behaviour towards each other.

Our lives these days are dedicated, or should really be, dedicated to our passions. We should be brimming with excitement of a new day where we may continue in the work of yesterday. When we get home we should be able to talk about the work of yesterday, and have our partners rejuvenate us with their own perspectives of what we do, helping us to see our own passions with a different eye. And when they talk about their own journeys, we should have the cognitive skills to HEAR them in an analytical manner which can also help us understand our own struggles. We are not flat as humans. We are multidimensional, and need to explore the various fields of our socialisation and spirit. Work is not primarily about making money; work is about finding purpose, exploring our multiple layers, and sharpening our analytical skill that will help us take visceral stances on religion, politics, art, capitalism, history, culture, etc.

So I say to you now, my friend. Nobody is born smart or clever; we all have to apply our minds to absorb the plethora of knowledge that lies in books, museums, newspapers, history channels, religion, discovery channels, etc. 10 years ago I knew nothing, but I decided that I will immerse myself in the broad spectrum of the social sciences. Today I know something; but never enough. We all have to work! We all have to find purpose, and we all have to stand our own. It is so incredibly 1950s to have a trophy wife who nods at everything her husband says. Beauty is good and well, but is fleeting. When the rosy cheeks have given way to graceful ageing, you don’t want to be that insufferably boring and awkward oldie without a strong sense of self.

Let us elevate ourselves:

  • Read books … until the pages start turning themselves
  • ImageWatch documentaries that will help you understand other cultures … this is great for an anthropological understanding of the world
  • Visit the museum/art gallery and try to make sense of what the exhibitions are about
  • Watch foreign language films. Hollywood is keeping your mind numb
  • Watch a movie with a friend and discuss it critically
  • Go to theatre. You can’t go wrong with the arts. They encompass a broad field of knowledge
  • Read up on current affairs.
  • Watch law series and get informed about your legal system
  • Pick up a camera and take a few shots. Different eye, different world
  • Visualise knowledge, and put yourself in the picture!

I Grow – Eye Grow

Image

The sheer serendipity of this week has brought me here, in these wonderful midlands with cascading lush greens flowing into eternity. The spikes and dosages of the Kwa-Zulu landscape has serenaded and charmed me into submission. The greenery in all its opulence and various shades ignite fires of magic, and I am just open to it. There is no barrier between nature and myself. I have no skin. I have let go of control. I am disarmed, and I welcome whatever is coming next.

Yesterday I left the mysterious energy of Durban filled with jazz in the air and in the heart; to arrive in the mystic Drakensberg where indeed the hand of god is constantly at work. I am in ezwilini, in a haven atop mountain ranges, betwixt valleys of history and honour. I feel the currents of serendipity running through me as I lay in a gorgeous cottage nestled in dense green vegetation, feeling the warm skin and unending tender love from the eyes of the one who owns my heart.

It all started with being summoned to partake in a ceremony of the ancestors. One must always heed that call, so I packed my bags and left. In Durban I had the most amazing of connections with a soul so beautiful, generous, and wise. We fanned the embers of friendship to combust flames that hold promises of forever. Lusanda you are the one. I love you. (I have a handful of lovers as you might know). I live for these human connections that ebb and flow from contours of our hearts, effortlessly.

Mthatha. The intended destination where I shall witness a rites of passage like no other. 30 November was the date. I left Cape Town to be there today. The ceremony today was postponed to next weekend. That gave way to my coming to Drakensburg to bless our hearts with my lifelover—one responsible for the safekeeping of the roaring fires in my wild heart. Postponed. Thrown off. My head tells me you cannot make it to Mthatha next weekend. My heart is there, synchronised with the pulsating drum.

My sister Noemi from Mthatha/Berlin sent a message about shooting the ceremony—no budget, no means. She drew a list of things that would be needed: camera, SD cards, tripod, batteries, etc. Far call, but we are getting somewhere. As I was admiring the splendour of nature in Durban on Thursday, I found, believe it or not, a tripod waiting for me under a tree. It had seen many rainy nights, but it was a tripod o’right. I gave it a quick clean, and it’s as good as new, with no visible fault. Serendipity! The tripod lies in my bag here in the Drakensberg, waiting for command.

My head is not in the wrong place. Part of the reason it tells me I cannot possibly stay away from home another week is the impending deadline for my PhD chapter. I simply must work on that chapter on jazz this December, and time is of the essence. However, as we were flirting with the winds and oceanic vibes of Durban, a perfect stranger took us to the best bookstore I had ever seen in my life. The Africana and black diaspora section was so satisfying I left two hours later with ten books, most out of print. That road led me to a jazz session that affirmed everything. I’m sitting here now with reading material for my chapter, as I managed to find insightful books on jazz. Serendipity?

I’m going to stop there. The greenery of Kwa-Zulu has borne a new kind of life in me. Nature teaches me to let my guard down. The guard is down anyway precisely because of city living. One ought to be vigilant. I have shed my skin and am bare, open to the possibilities of magic and miracles. I see them in my everyday life and rejoice each time I experience them. I do not hold truth for the coming days, but I also do not harbour any reservations. I am trodding forth, with only light in my heart.

20131130-122642.jpg

20131130-122726.jpg

20131130-122718.jpg

20131130-122654.jpg

20131130-122800.jpg

20131130-122817.jpg

20131130-122735.jpg