The Golden Years

Decide

The last six weeks have been the most exciting, difficult, fulfilling, and overwhelming; on both my physical body and my mind. Spiritually it has been a time of growth, of validation, and of learning to be silent and listen to the flows and rhythms of the life I have crafted for myself. I arrived in New York with a master plan, a fancy high tech video camera, and a tripod, with plans to immerse myself in the cultures of Harlem, the sixties, and their attendant politics. The only problem? I didn’t know who or how to get in touch with the people I sought. But fortune favours the brave so I jumped on that plane and arrived in the New World, settled in immediately and got onto the mission: digging in the archives of the Schomburg centre for research in black cultures, and drawing up a list of who would benefit my research, and expressing that interest to the universe.

The memorial service of Nat Nakasa in Manhattan opened my heart and my sensibilities to just how painful exile was, how alienating and disconcerting it felt, perpetually, to be in this place called New York, with no hope of ever going back to your country which forced your exit and reinforced your banned status. Whilst at this memorial service not only my heart and mind were opened, but my eyes and vision too. It was at this auspicious event that I met my now-guardian mother in the U.S., Rashidah Ismaili, whom, upon hearing of my research which brought fond memories of special bonds shared with Keorapetse Kgositsile and the larger South African struggle, took me under her wing and blasted open all the locks that would lead me to the right people. She was my universe. She has been gifted to my enduring spirit, to guide my sail and be the wind I need to move forward.

After six weeks on the joyous and nerve-wrecking ride of my New York trip, I have finally amassed valuable information to start writing my book and thinking very clearly about a documentary (I am now a one woman show, interviewing and shooting the interviews at the same time, with much ease). As I now sit in Washington DC, only now, in retrospect, I finally appreciate what it means to be still and know that the universe is working. There is only so much you can plan, but further than that is out of your control. Listen and practice the act of vision instead of just looking, only then will the signs be revealed to you. I present to you in images the activities of my last six weeks in New York. Here’s to four more exhilarating weeks as I move from Washington DC to Chicago to San Francisco to L.A, and back to New York to fly out… The golden years are NOW! Always

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As much as work was central to my visit, it was great to meet interesting New Yorkers and form bonds with new people from very interesting backgrounds and passions… With Shanita and Koeksista

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Jeffrey Allen (centre) is a writer whose book launch it was at Quincy Troupe’s house. He’s hosting various writing boot camps and workshops in South Africa from February 2015

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With published authors Jeffrey Allen, Rachel Griffiths, and Mitchell Jackson (from left to right)

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It’s been a pleasure having many Harlem-dwellers open their homes to me. Most of them could easily be art galleries, libraries, or music stores. These artists’ houses are living testament of memory as a powerful tool. When you can access the materiality of where you come from then you become unshakable…

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This is downstairs of the same house pictured above

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When I moved to Brooklyn after housesitting in Manhattan, this retired cop – then stranger – started telling me stories of working in narcotics in the NYPD, and 6 hours later we were still there, with him retelling, countlessly, the horrors of September 11 2001 when he was on duty while his wife was giving birth.

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I also interviewed Jeff Allen for my interview since he has been working with Keorapetse Kgositsile on the continent.

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The day of Maya Angelou’s memorial service held in New York by family and friends. Pictured above is one of my favourite authors of all times, Toni Morrison, whom I’m shocked to see in a wheelchair. Her talk was inspirational.

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The Riverside Church where Maya Angelou’s memorial service was held

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Always job-jobbin’. This camera and tripod started killing my back then my guardian mother bought me this pulley

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Kurt has been collecting rare books for 25 years, and is sitting on treasure in his house. He has the entire African Writer’s Series collection, and collections of the most obscure publications coming out of the continent over the decolonisation period.

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This was an inspirational ceremony held at the Riverside Church. There was wonderful music, great orators who moved us with their speeches, and Angelou’s family who were full of mirth and great humour.

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I caught up on some laughter in Little Italy with friends from my world. Life is too beautiful. I am now staying with Rachel’s parents in DC. Rachel is on the right

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Quincy Troupe is an amazing all-round artist and ex-athlete. He is the biographer of Miles Davis amongst many of his achievements. Google this great legend. We had the most amazing interview

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Quincy’s house is a living archive. He has world-acclaimed painters’ works hanging on his walls, and first editions of many books one could only dream of

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Essence Magazine hosted an event for New York Fashion Week

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I’ve been enjoying capturing the human essence with my lens. I am captivated by the camera lens. There’s no turning back. In conversation with Quincy Troupe

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Amongst the tons of work in his house, this one moved em the most. The medium, textures, and timeless grandiosity of this piece haunts me.

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Quincy Troupe with his biography of Miles Davis. I can only hope to be half as good a biographer as he is. Then again, I have to dream bigger!!

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I saw these twins with my lens and could not ignore them

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Catching Saul Williams’ performance was ordained. It came at a time I needed to feel differently and be rejuvenated. I was half way through my stay in New York and was beginning to feel strong yearning for my home, my husband, my pillows, my tea and my olive oil. He’s a wordsmith

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This man’s presence captures all attention. He commands respect and does not fall short on delivering

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I had never heard of this Ghanaian high life-punk rock band called Osekre and The Happy Bastards. They sound like younger Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Paul Simon

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I’m also proud of this image. I managed to capture a moment and Osekre’s evident joy in what he does

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High life is somewhat continental. Any African can move to its rhythms, reminding me that we are connected by the power of sound. Even as he sang in his native Ghanaian language, I could follow and repeat

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I never used to get the hype around Saul earlier in my life, but now I am a believer

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I consulted with a leading researcher in my field of research, The Black Atlantic, and he, Brent Edwards, is working on a book on Jazz. Right up my alley

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It was a great pleasure to visit Columbia University, where Keroapetse Kgositsile received his Masters. This is Brent Edwards, a man whose work I constantly make reference to in my thesis

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Wonderfully-spirited women who helped me see the error of history’s ways in representing the fight for equality and freedom as a manly struggle. They reminded me of the role women played in the civil rights movement, and how gender politics are inherently part of struggle for basic human rights. From left is Barbara Killen-Rivera, my spiritual mother and guardian Rashidah Ismaili, and Amiri Baraka

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Sam Anderson is a well-rounded artist, educator, activist, and author of The Black Holocaust, amongst many others. In his interview he sounded like he was giving a sermon, and I just sat there basking in his light

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Amina Baraka is an activist and a pillar that rises. She is the widow of Amiri Baraka and mother of the mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka

I even managed to end up in the fashion pages of the New York magazine! Now that’s what I call researching in style:

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It is my beloved husband’s birthday: my dearest darling, the mover of my worlds and the true celebrity in my life – I am constantly reminded of your transcendental spirit because wherever I am I feel you, I see you, I hear you, and I am enveloped in the safety of your love. I have put this album together, your expression of true love, sacrifice, and undying support, for you on this birthday to hold a mirror to you and show you the person you have allowed me to become. This is the greatest gift you can ever give me: believing in me and validating my passions and higher calling. I wish to celebrate you in this way today, and am in awe everyday of the man you are. You are the nectar that makes my bouquet blossom. 

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Staying True to My Heart

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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…

Who We Be

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I’m inspired by this image as I am roaming the head space of various geniuses from the black diaspora, who defied the odds and humanised themselves when the world told them their cultures were not worthy, their languages were but a cacophony of indecipherable non-sense, their music was noise, and their progressive ideas were crazy.

Those are the crazy geniuses my life work is dedicate to: John Coltrane not giving a goddamn thang about rules and boundaries of the jazz world, blasting open the square they seek to stifle him in. Pharoah Sanders removing the cloak that straitjackets his soul with much ease; with Thembi: ‘Morning Prayer’, ‘Astral Travelling’, and ‘Red, Black & Green’.

Fela2How about that crazy motherfucker Fela Anikulapo Kuti, our black president? What kind of species of genius is that? The kind to shape Zeitgeist and propel the world forward; turning the country on its head and rocking the nation and continent with Nigerian funk … Meanwhile injecting black politics with home-brewed satire resounding in tunes he would belt out from  his unclothed chest.

That crazy, young, gifted, and black rebel Nina took to the arena and seduced white hegemony till they involuntarily leaped onto their feet and shook rigid waists to the sound of See-line woman and Mississipi Goddam … God dammit woman!! Where do you get that voice that ties all black experience together and make it one?

How about that indomitable lioness Aretha with her Harlem funk flexing the vocal chords until they shake chains off the ghettoes of America, Ghana, and South Africa; until you would find your hands in the air worshipping unchained spirits of those who have come, are here, and are still to come. Aretha of aesthetics, polishing the grime off the ghetto…

Robert Nesta Marley the naturally mystical dread scribe who moved the world with love that is one and ties all into one. We dub you father and master of the mystic and natural: you demonstrate that black art is black magic; magic is not ominous but miracles that spring out of jewels we were born with. Inside not outside – “don’t gain the world and lose your soul. Wisdom is better than silver or gold”.

There’s music in the air; we revere sound for it is omnipresent and transcendental. It moves with ease in leaps and bounds and will always tie experiences together. When Harlem was Sophiatown, and Masekela played Louis Armstrong’s trumpet we all heard it and continue to move closer to it. Our imaginations soar and we continue to shape sound that will change the world. And that’s not Crazy!!

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And to other vilified and celebrated crazy motherfuckers that changed the world: Prince, Billie Holiday, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendricks, James Brown, Miles Davis, B.B King, … too many to mention. Thanks for giving us the bravado to celebrate difference!

I leave you with this crazy motherfucker: