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

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

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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

Freedom, Not At The Cost Of Others!

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America is a great country, there’s no doubt about that. There’s abundance here, and the feeling of ‘Coming to America’ has not escaped me in my everyday move. Things are advanced—I tried to watch TV the other day, and just gave up on the idea: everything has become smart—smart phone, smart car, smart TV, smart house… But this is at the cost of some of America’s citizens, the rest of the world, and most importantly, our precious earth. I see abundance in the big cities I’m visiting. I am currently sitting at the historical site of Washington DC, between Capitol Hill and the Washington Memorial, and what I see is tourists of course, but also Americans jogging, doing yoga on the capital’s sprawling lawns, and generally living life with reckless abandon. Instead of having feelings of splendour wash over me, I am filled with contempt for the cost at which this ‘paragon of freedom and equality’ comes.

I was so very happy when South Africa introduced the law that plastic bags at supermarkets would be for sale, for a small amount. No matter the amount, people have taken to brining their shopping bags to pick up their groceries. I have no idea—and it escapes me constantly—why in the U.S. they would still give you plastic bags for free, and even double them for even the smallest package. This is one of the most dangerous material to the earth—it is not biodegradable—and to the animals who could eat it, suffocate on it, or get trapped in its handles (think of herbivores accidentally eating plastic; or the ecology of the ocean with plastic in it). I truly am dismayed by the free plastic bags in supermarket, in 2014, in, of all places, the U.S. of A.

It’s not only plastic bags; when you buy a sandwich or these overrated bagels, they come wrapped in foil. Foil?! Of all the material you can use you choose foil. It is even more dangerous than plastic, and mind you most people don’t even reuse it. In our house when we rarely use foil we reuse it until it is in tatters. It is that kind of material. This is also in recognising that it is one of the most toxic material to the earth. While at it, all the fast food joints, from the lower scale McDonalds/KFC/Burger King to the upscale healthy food outlets like Wholefoods/Trader’s Joe dispense unreasonable amounts of serviettes/napkins—no one would use those in one sitting. For most people, instead of returning them or receiving half of the batch dispensed to them for their one salad, they throw them in the bin?! It’s truly unbelievable!

Wangechi_Mutu_1295815950_0I see some of my more health conscious and green friends use jars and bottle jugs as glasses in their homes. I would absolutely do that at the rate everything is bottled in the supermarkets here. We ordered Mexican food and chocolate mousse, and the latter came in a glass bottle with a tin lid; like one of those valuable Consol bottles with metallic ring lids that our mothers kept and reused for decades. I imagine people eat their dessert and throw these away. Such waste! It is at this point that I wish to talk about African people and recycling. As our friend from TV once proclaimed: we’ve been having it! We are not hearing of reusing our plastic bags and bottle jars just today; in fact that was the order of life. These days we make it seems like recycling is for the educated elite with capacity to think critically of the consequences of their consumption to the planet. No ways man, recycling is not a luxury but a necessity. And boy did we know about necessity growing up under apartheid and colonialism.

When I grew up we used plastic bags from supermarkets to carry books to school. They suited and lived up to that function, and when they were worn out my grandmother would collect them and crochet plastic carpets for the house or veranda. In the village I grew up in you would be hard-pressed to find plastic littered on the ground. It was a commodity with many uses, and if found, could be utilised. I remember we used to buy homemade juice and mashwangshwangs—chillies or barbeque flavoured Nik Naks knock-offs—on our way back from school to enjoy on the long road home. The woman who sold these from her house would give you discount if you brought your own plastic or container to put juice or mashwangshwang. This meant if you saw these lying around your neighbourhood, you would pick them up and save them for later. I suppose this explain my high intolerance to littering even today.

We would reuse the tin that all tinned stuff—baked bins, pilchards, cling peaches, cream, condensed milk, etc—came packaged in. We would take the tin and vigorously frisk it over a brick until the tin is hot. This way the rim on top would be released neatly without leaving any sharpness on the top, making it a metal cup. We would then use this tin as storage for toothbrushes, crayons, and other small miscellaneous things around the house. We would also use it to scoop rice, sugar, or mealie-mealie. Tins of refreshments, like soda, would be used to adorn our wire cars as colourful wheels carefully constructed and linked to the steering wheel, turning and swerving with scientific precision.

The parts of America I have been to are living in abundance. A very reckless one that is costing the rest of the world, some of its citizens, and unfortunately the earth. How much does it take to meet the demands of every fast food restaurant’s serviettes, glass jars, plastic bags, foil, and containers for the ever growing pre-packaged foods? How much does it take to fuel the cars of those who have given up on the idea of walking anywhere because they are exercising their right to live their ‘best’ life in the best country in the world? How best is a country when it’s not conscious of its dying members who are hidden from the family album which America displays to the rest of the world? How good is the country when its perceived strength is at the cost of other civilisations bombed for their resources so that Americans can own toilets that flush themselves, subway stations that are lit 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wifi on public transport, and mary-go-rounds that go round and round even when there’s only one person on their seat?

I’m now talking carbon footprint per person here, in New York, and everywhere in this country. I am appalled by the ratio of excess to consciousness. In the chase to make more money so we can afford bigger, shinier things, and holidays on ‘unspoilt’ islands we tend to forget that we only have one earth, and we will most certainly lose against nature no matter our wits or courage. I’m not saying countries should not have wifi in their public transport for example. I am saying the infrastructure can serve its people, but without knowledge these people will abuse instead of use those resources. America needs more education on consciously thinking of the planet. It needs to humble itself before nature and curb the power mongering. At this rate the infrastructure promises to collapse because the supply cannot meet the demand. What happens next? Another country with oil gets invaded…

I found this image fitting for my experience in the American supermarkets: there's just way too much colour, and my grandmother can't recognise anything on those shelves. Everything promises convenience,; ready in five minutes; just add water; or the best 'tastes just like the real thing'. Um, why not give me the real thing then?

I found this image fitting for my experience in American supermarkets: there’s just way too much colour, and my grandmother can’t recognise anything on those shelves. Everything promises convenience: ready in five minutes; just add water; or the best – ‘tastes just like the real thing’. Um, why not give me the real thing then?

Wangechi end

I got put onto this Brooklyn-based artist from Kenya, Wangechi Mutu, and I am absolutely taken by her art. The opening, middle, and this last piece in this post are by her. Do google her and check more of her work out. I also used her work in the third post down from this one – ‘The Pillars That Rise’.

The Golden Years

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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:

http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/08/face-chains-and-wild-prints-at-the-afropunk-fest/slideshow/2014/08/25/afropunk/afropunk-18/

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. 

Audacity for Obesity

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New York is empowering. It is a huge landscape of history, culture, and opportunity for me in particular, and I have hit the ground running. My first impression of the city itself was a sense of familiarity and belonging. There is something about New York that reminds me of Johannesburg, and in fact I am going to sustain this comparison in this post.

Imagine a Johannesburg with a functional centre, where all the big corporations, media houses, advertising agencies, chain supermarkets, food franchises, squares, and fashion houses are all situated in the centre of Johannesburg. That would make for a rather large centre; and that is exactly what New York feels like. Everyone on their way to everywhere.

Imagine that Johannesburg was linked by a massive network of underground trains and taxis on the surface of the city; that the massive magnitude of its size was not at all intimidating because its infrastructure was so well-laid out, and that the streets were numbers instead of names so that the higher the numbers went, the more North the geography of the city is. That would at once solve our street names trauma that celebrates apartheid architects.

I arrived in New York on a Friday, and was immediately flushed by jet lag. I left Amsterdam on Friday morning at 9am, flew for 8 hours and arrived at 11am, same Friday morning. This was the first time I felt like my soul and body were in separate places. I had to patiently wait to feel whole again. However, I wasn’t that disconnected to miss the overt excess of this city/country. In fact I was traumatised by it.

Everyone in New York is lugging a massive container from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Doughnut, etc., and I’m talking massive tanks, filled with either colourful neon fluids, or creamy beverages that look like a heart attack in a jug. And everyone is casually drinking from it as if dehydration is a pandemic in the city. I’m all for hydrating but I’m vehemently against doing so with a neon-coloured drink. Point to me a fruit or vegetable of that colour…

Cons ConsumptEverything is big and colourful in New York. Again, excess. Every food chain promises a bigger, super-sized burger/drink/doughnut/muffin—and this reminds me of South Africa. We also have the problem of excess there; my husband is always amused by the restaurant portions of servings on plates that ultimately look like trays filled to the brim with massive steaks, full chickens or burgers, and overflowing fries whose size outdo any real life potato.

The Surf ‘n Turf era, I wish to call it. Surf ‘n Turf is a combo with meat and fish, and it is just a senseless concept. Can you just be sensible enough to choose between calamari or chicken, ribs or prawns? You can’t have both on the plate. Well apparently you can, with chips (and a slice of tomato), and you can wash it down with a complimentary litre of beer or one of those jugs of neon-coloured drinks. Two words: cardiac arrest!!

Anywho, as traumatised as I am by ludicrous eating habits, the culture of consumption is not new to me as I’ve already mentioned. Living in South Africa today—this is appropriate in sustaining the parallels between Johannesburg and New York—means you can witness the mall-food-court culture where eating fast foods in obscene amounts may point to affluence and status. But how foolish are we to think that our wealth can contradict our health?

We are going to die. And we have already started dying of diabetes and fat-related, cholesterol induced diseases. Don’t get me wrong, there’s people making healthy food choices in both Johannesburg and New York but I’m not talking about them right now. I’m talking about those who do not find value in exercise and conscious eating. Those whose only exercise is handling these enormous burgers from plate to mouth. With their kids! Sheer repulsion!

I’ve been very outspoken on the responsibility we have as parents to protect our children’s from this. Let me not mince my words here: feeding your children the wrong foods and having obese children is a direct infringement of their rights to a healthy and happy life. Full stop. This should be frowned upon and in fact punishable by law. Children suffer the most in this vile culture of conspicuous consumption. Let’s take responsibility.

Needless to say I have been traumatised by the monstrous culture of consumption here so much so that I have resolved to cooking all my meals and exercising even more vigilance in eating any kind of flesh. I am cooking my own food and avoiding any kind of prepared shop food, no matter how new and exciting it might look to my fresh eyes. I have a legacy to build here, and I do not wish to leave it half done.

Our food can kill us or make us stronger, and I choose life…

I like what this painting represents in the larger scheme of things. As I'm sure they would agree in Brazil, the fat cats who gained from the FIFA world cup have kept all the meat and let the gravy trickle to a select few in the face of poverty and hunger. Conspicuous consumption... with no shame

I like what this painting represents in the larger scheme of things. As I’m sure they would agree in Brazil, the fat cats who gained from the FIFA world cup have kept all the meat and let the gravy trickle to a select few in the face of poverty and hunger. Conspicuous consumption… with no shame. But lest we worry, these fat cats are killing themselves with the food they eat so ravenously. Your wealth cannot contradict your health.

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…

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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…

Wanderlust…

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I fancy myself a world traveller, even though my list of countries visited is not as impressive as my husband’s. We have travelled quite a bit together, although we always have to steal time out of our busy schedules, and hence not doing it as much as we would love to. It doesn’t help either that we have two homes on two hemisphere, which makes travelling for other purposes sans to move homes quite impossible. It’s May now, and we have contagious wanderlust. Our tickets are bought to Europe, and we are preparing to migrate north.

According to this Trip Advisor travel website, these are the top 25 cities one should visit in one’s lifetime. Here’s the list from 25:

  • San Francisco, U.S.A
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Chicago, U.S.A
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Florence, Italy
  • New York City, U.S.A
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Shanghai, China
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Paris, France
  • Marrakech, Morocco
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Beijing, China
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Rome, Italy
  • Istanbul, Turkey

    My Cape Town

    My Cape Town

Yesterday I found out that the university where I am teaching and doing my PhD is ranked Number 1 in Africa; and now I also find out that I am living in one of the top 25 cities in the world: Cape Town. There are many jewels of nature here, and the wonderful people of and from Cape Town make this city what it is. I am privileged to be living here, in the cultural hub of Africa. I am surprised Amsterdam did not make it on this list because it is also an amazing progressive European city with a vibrant art scene, and much more of a relaxed city (with a healthy economy) out of the other EU cities.

Out of these 25 cities, I am proud to find out I have been to 12, and have my tickets booked for August to 2 more of those cities. I’ve been fortunate enough to choose travel over any material possessions from very early on. My first time out of the country was on a trip to Addis Ababa. I had won the trip; it was my first time on a plane, and I was 18. Yes, I did not grow up travelling out of the country like most of the people I’ve met. I come from a humble home where we enjoyed picnics on the countryside under the Draconian apartheid laws. I think that is where the wanderlust itch started.

So out of the 25 cities listed here, I have been to Lisbon (Portugal), Bangkok (Thailand), I live in Cape Town, Barcelona (Spain), Florence (Italy), Berlin (Germany), Paris (France), Marrakech (Morocco), Prague (Czech Republic), London (UK), Rome (Italy), and Istanbul (Turkey). As I was reading through these cities, wonderful memories started flooding…

My husband proposed in Lisbon, Portugal, after a great week in which, unbeknownst to me, there was a ring burning in his pocket. We are both foodies, so we had a list of wonderful restaurants of Lisbon, and our trip was entirely food-inspired. We even visited a restaurant owned by my favourite actor, John Malkovich. I also have the same memories of Barcelona, still one of my favourite cities I’ve been to. I’ve been there twice: the first time was a food trip with my husband, before we were married; and the second time I went to a world festival called Sonar, with three wonderful friends.

I went to Bangkok with my brother, Romeo, and younger sister, Jessica. I was very young (19), and we had just visited Hong Kong before we went to Bangkok. My regret is that I was not a foodie back then, so I didn’t get thoroughly immersed in the food culture; instead we were finding ourselves at a loss when it came to meal times. Reinier and I have wild dreams of touring Asia on a food pilgrimage, where we will try everything from the duck beaks, to pig’s kidneys. We have been to the surprisingly number one city, Istanbul, together on a, you guessed right, food trip, and it really is a unique city that merges the East and the West (it’s thought to be in both Europe and Middle East).

I travelled Europe with my siblings in 2008, and together we went to London, Rome, Florence, Paris, and other cities like le-train-bleu-andrew-fareMonaco, Cannes, Vienna, Munich, Antwerp, etc. We spent 2009 New Year’s in Prague at a public square where a Madonna impersonator was performing 🙂 A city that struck me in its opulence was Paris. I have been there twice, and one of my favourite restaurants in the world, Le Train Bleu, is housed there. It’s like eating in the Sistine chapel (see image on the right).

And last, but definitely not least, Berlin. I love love love that city. Unlike Paris, young people live in the city of Berlin; and unlike Amsterdam, the city space is owned by its residents, not tourists. Just like my other favourite Barcelona, Berlin is very affordable and eating and drinking out is a culture for everyone. It is not an anomaly to go to a nightclub (with the best DJs in the world) on Friday and buy a ticket for three nights. The party doesn’t stop. The DJs play all hours of the night and day till Monday morning! That’s my kinda city… Read here about my Berlin trip.

All I have to say about Marrakech is that I am going again. And again, and again. That city is wealthy, and is an inspiring African city where everybody is involved in production. In South Africa we only consume and not produce, hence the high levels of debt. Marrakech is rich with natural resources, so they make everything from leather products, jewellery, oils, textile, spices, and many other things (like hashish—I heard 🙂 It should be number one on that list, according to me. Read here about our Morocco pilgrimage. There’s also Part Two.

I’m excited that my ticket to New York is booked for August, and I will spend three months there, during which time I will visit Washington DC and San Francisco. It is all for work, but my work is so very exciting. I will continue with research for my beautifully unfolding project, by interviewing Keorapetse Kgositsile’s children, one of which is called Thebe, whom to my surprise I found out from a friend that he is a member of Odd Future called Earl Sweatshirt. So the adventure continues…

Please share with me where you have been dear reader/traveller.

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Who We Be

Nina

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: