Reconfiguring the Distorted…

Wangechi

When we last spoke I had wings where there were once shoulders; wings borne out of taking flight, soaring, and surfing the winds of itinerancy. My life has been fluid, like water, ebbing and flowing according to the calling of my heart. I obeyed and approached the fires that refined my passions. I have pricked my ears to listen, and I have prised my eyes open; I have been alert in order not to miss the divine appointments, and I have been abundantly rewarded, spirit and soul, with treasures that can never find expression here.

My ears have translated the sounds of all which call me from a place of passion, courage, hope and faith, without which all of this seems illusionary. The very palpable nature of the voices I hear root these otherwise ephemeral experiences. I have heard them. I have seen that which defies logic, that which goes beyond ones and zeros of this world; beyond rational. I have seen magic woven in my everyday existence. I have embraced what my eyes have seen without any doubt, and I have been abundantly nurtured.

My voice now strives to be heard, and I am called to the divine appointment of being an educator, a teacher, and an interlocutor. I heard and saw the calling with my third eye and ear – pricked, prised, sensitive, sensible and most sensuous. I am called to clear my throat chakra and speak in response to my passion. NOW. Poetry—the fluids that quench deserted thoughts; the echo that resounds generations past; the source of unbreakable resolve in my life—is calling me. It spoke through the heroic voice of former South African poet laureate Mazisi Kunene:

I possess a thousand thundering voices

With which I call you from the place of the sinking sun.

I call you form the shaking of branches

Where they dance with the tail of the wind.

You are the endless abundance

Singing with the lips of all generations.

You are like a trunk lush with branches in the lake

Whom the feller of woods felled in vain,

But sprouts with new buds in summer.

When it is loaded with fruit he comes again

And eats to saturation desiring to end its seasons;

But again and again the branches shoot forth with new seasons.

I am in a place of lack, of demoralisation, of defeat, and of hunger and thirst. I am in a place where those who speak to us from the place of the sinking sun are rapidly forgotten. The sun is sinking and setting upon us. We need its light. We need its warmth, its guidance, and its reassurance. I eat to saturation from the abundance left as our legacy.  With that abundance nurturing me as a teacher, educator, and interlocutor, I have accepted the calling and divine appointment to be possessed by those thousand thundering voices that I have heard, seen, and will now speak of.

My work in its entirety in is conversation with the endless abundance which sing with the lips of all generations: Keorapetse Kgositsile, Ilva McKay, Mongane Serote, Mazisi Kunene, Dennis Brutus, Barbara Masekela, Mandla Langa, James Matthew, and many others whose voices echo the politics of Solomon Mahlangu, Bantu Biko, Moses Kotane, Duma Nokwe. This is our history which has not found its rightful place in the post-94 curriculum, and which I have accepted the calling to take to the youth in ways whose nature can only be anointed. The forces of a truth whose time has come cannot be stopped.

I travelled the breadth of the United State of America unearthing and collecting—exhuming—to bring home, the work of our exiled fathers and mothers; the stench of their sweat and the haunting darkness of their blood which they spilled for us to take and respond to in our lifetimes. These voices call us and they must possess us. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to access these resources which I have now brought home, and urged to bring to you. This is a bountiful and anointed abundance, not a reckless one.

Without the clarity of our history we cannot have clarity of vision. However, we can never be defeated as a people, for like a trunk lush with branches in the lake, we will sprout with new buds in summer. No matter how big the sledgehammer it cannot orbit the sky. Our promise of abundance is surely coming. I am now putting forth this message. I want to teach poetry from exile to all youth who are willing to receive it. I call those in care of youth to share this with them; to invite me to share with them their beautiful history which will surely have them thinking differently about themselves. I call all educators and NGO directors to employ my services. For free; by divine appointment.

I am a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at the University of Cape Town, and have, in my ownership and potentially larger ownership of my people, endless books out-of-print and rare, footage of interviews I have conducted with prominent South African and American writers, multi-media resources, and 5 solid years of teaching experience from the University of Witswatersrand and UCT. I am the change I want to see in our teaching curriculums, and the time for it is NOW. Invite me for a chat on uhurumahlodi@gmail.com I await all of your response.

To heal, reconstruct, redefine, and reassert our greatness…

When I was in Oakland, California last year in October, I accepted the invitation to teach young students of the Oakland Art School. I was initially concerned by the age group as my teaching experience is with youth adults of 19 years old or older. However they were very receptive and responsive, fascinated by the histories of black South Africa and black America. This inspired me to engage with the youth from my own country, and open up channels for them to learn the extent of the struggle which our mothers and fathers found themselves broiled in.

When I was in Oakland, California last year in October, I accepted the invitation to teach young students of the Oakland Art School. I was initially concerned by the age group as my teaching experience is with young adults of 19 years old or older. However they were very receptive and responsive, fascinated by the histories and relationships of and between black South Africa and black America. This inspired me to engage with the youth from my own country, and open up channels for them to learn the extent of the struggle which our mothers and fathers found themselves embroiled in.

NOW

Run-Faster-ComradeI am a full stop

I stop when I’m full

Pregnant for birth

Brimming at the rim

Empty as fulfilling

Pulse of life thriving

The end and beginning

Full stop stops the fool

Who feels with eyes

And listens with fingers

Dis-ordained heart

In the wrong place

Feeling but denying

The cycle, the moment

The now that is endless

Living in the fullness

Of the full stop

Perpetually changing

The exact sameness

Immersed in nature

Bounty without taste

Is pleasure without feeling

Numbed by consistence

Sleepful awekeness

Motion, motion, motion

Cyclic—lucid, eluding

Eyes unperceptive

Enlightened third eye

Witness generation

Crystal clear

Hands up

Whose crystals are for sale?

Lacking clarity while conscious

Handing your treasures to swine

To be trampled

You’re not a tramp

You’re the ink on the stamp

That officiates your worth

The broken seal of light

The forgotten window seal

In the gutted bedroom

Of your bludgeoned soul

Keorapetse Kgositsile is a living legend and literary giant.
Did you know this song is based on his poem ‘Red Song’?
I am privileged to have/be chosen to record his legacy
I am awakened daily to the impact he has made here in the U.S.
His name energises people and make them open their hearts
The journey he has walked has culminated in the NOW
Past, present, and future all cyclic and coming together
I humbly bask in his wisdom and gyrate in the gyre

Harlem Code

Harlem

On Wednesday I received this auspicious invite to attend a jazz session, and although I was feeling rather tired and PMS-ed out I decided this is not an invite you turn down. So indeed I went to Harlem to witness this very special moment which gave me a feeling of being in a shebeen in Sophiatown, South Africa, right in the middle of the sonorous 50s; except it wasn’t young and boisterous journalists and photographers that populated the spot, but rather retired African American war veterans—stylish, very “Bra Timing from Phomolong”, and filled with charm. This was the invite:

Hey Rafikiz,

Tomorrow night I am going to the best Jazz joint- after St. Nicks of course (RIP) in Harlem, and I hereby request your presence.

This spot is not for the faint hearted. It is a legion hall – A Colonel post. There will be no pampering. The average age is 60+. There will be no one to hit on or hit on you. The drinks are cheap (served airplane style) and there is no cover. Come here only if you love music (JAZZ) and tales of war by African Americans vets. There is an honour code and members live by it, so do not worry about shit you shouldn’t be worrying about.

Once you get there you go directly to the basement. It is a cash only bar, with a basic menu of the day, so if it is chicken, it is just chicken nothing else. I suspect tomorrow will be fish. Collard greens or Peas are on the house and always on the menu.

Hope to see you there if not don’t beat yourself.

PS: This is a place close to my heart so do not mass invite people. If you have plans with other young things but are not sure where to go, DO NOT GO HERE or I will forever hate you. This invite is only for you and your significant other. I am not trying to popularize this spot.  They don’t need it. 

This place is special. There is something about witnessing an older black generation born and raised in the city of New York, on the streets of Harlem—our older generation of black folks in South Africa have grown under the Draconian apartheid laws, and hence almost always have a conservative and strict disposition. Of course there are exceptions, like Bra Timing from Phomolong, who represents the self-made, stylish, and culture-conscious, jazz-loving brother/father who fancies himself the quite the ladies man—not in a Casanova kinda way, but more like he is loved by women for his gentle nature and behaviour his mom can be proud of. Last night I saw him, in numbers, in his old age, still emanating that unfading coolness. I wrote this piece while listening to the jazz ensemble, and titled it ‘Harlem Code’, after realising that black America and black South Africa have so many similarities, links and ties, as I have just outlined above.

SophiatownCold brass

Warm hands

Life force articulates

Streaming riffs—

Jazzman blows

Balloon face

Sounds histories

Complex mysteries

Human flows

Intersect, ebb

Into shared futures

Riffing bridges

Reuniting siblings

Ocean carrying song

Rivers, blood

MiriamStreams notable

On cold brass

Warm hands

Life force circulates

Strums the strings

And streams of the heart

Rumble in jungles

Of thoughts and feeling

Jazzman bops the ‘b’

Flat minor

Major ensemble

Across borders

Cold brass

Warm hearts as one

The images displayed above are both from Sophiatown in the 1950s, whilst the opening image is a portrait of a young painter in Harlem – but they can very easily interchange. The cultures of both places are impeccably similar, as has been observed by most who have been residents of both ‘hoods’. Keorapetse Kgositsile points to this in one of his poems where he seamlessly transposes a tsotsi from the streets of Sophiatown to Lennox Avenue in Harlem. He can, with much ease, step from one continent to another, guided by those exact shared histories, not without their own complexities. The similarities have opened up a whole new area of studies in academia, within which I have found an intellectual home… Take a look at this striking image. Wonderfully framed and captured in Harlem, it addressed the same issues I always write about re black aesthetics. Look at the dolls, then look at the girls, in their formative years that will shape their consciousness on what is beautiful and what is ugly. We can place this on the verandah of any South African/African home and would be resonant.

Little black girls urgently need to see magic in the mirror. Magic and transcendence...

Little black girls urgently need to see magic in the mirror. Magic and transcendence…

This is the song ‘Bra Timing From Phomolong’ that I make reference to in this post. It is particularly vehicular…

While watching the oldies last night getting down, singing beautiful songs reminiscent of Miriam Makeba and Billy Holiday, I penned this short little piece:

Old is young

gran is child

end is beggining

back points to forth

destination is departure

and death is birth.

Six Piece Nuggets: Nugget #1

AbiodunOn Sunday I spent the day at revolutionary and Grammy nominated poet Abiodun Oyewole (pictured) of The Last Poets, talking about the Black Liberation Movement of the ‘60s, Black Consciousness, and poetry. I was there to interview him for my documentary on Keorapetse Kgositsile, whose poem ‘Towards a Walk in the Sun’ it was from which the collective got their name. He is a very generous man—every Sunday he opens his house to aspiring poets who come from everywhere in New York and the country to come share poetry with others, under his mentorship. For this occasion he cooks lots of food and provides drinks, fruits, and wisdom.

When I was interviewing him he spoke to me about his nuggets of wisdom which need to be shared with others. I was inspired by this, and though about my own nuggets, which are—whether wise or not—essentially my truth. The one thing that came up and which I wish to use as a springboard for my own truth to share with you is that, as Frantz Fanon formulates, every generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it. This postulation is gospel truth. There is no movement or generation without a cause, and there is no life without a collective vision.

I wish to share with you six nuggets of (my) truth, and to draw on the food metaphor, nuggets, to point to the first nugget I would like to commence with. This generations’ mission, as has never been of any other generation before us, is to stay alive. Staying alive from the number of social cancers that cripple our course to revolution of self and the collective community: AIDS, car accidents, cops shooting us down point blank, and historically trauma-induced violence in our societies. But more than this, and one cause of death I’d like to focus on, is the food we eat.

No generation before us has experienced such gluttonous excesses that cripple our blood systems and clogs our arteries. From this nugget I’d like to use the example of the lethal nuggets you buy from McDonalds or any fast food outlet which are essentially all kinds of shit and rubbish put together with meat glue. Yes, there’s meat glue in these factories, used to hold together the processed meat you feed your children (polony, viennas, nuggets), and which points to the larger crisis of food we are facing today. We need to be more conscious of what we put in our bodies, otherwise diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure, and strokes will get to us before any goddam cop’s bullet will.

Eating is the one thing we do daily, at times three or four times a day. To discover our mission against killing ourselves with the food we eat is to discover a divine mission; eating healthy is tantamount to self-love, self-respect, and treating self as a living god. Your body is a temple. You have one body which should serve in the larger progression of your dreams and passion, and when that body is diseased it only serves to slow you down, and rob your family and friends of the best you could be. More than all of this, it robs you of your inner treasures…

Continue to the next posts below to devour my six-piece-nuggets that are food to my soul, nourishing, elevating, and empowering.

This is the song where Common features The Last Poets, and was nominated for a Grammy

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.)

KK 2

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

My Brother’s Keeper

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Dearest brother

On your birthday: 1 July 2014

I should like to start off by quoting from one of my favourite pieces of fiction, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera: “The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful … Love begins with a metaphor”; and add to that words of wisdom which you imparted onto me: success is not success if it’s not in service of others. On your birthday today I wish to praise the eternal power you have in my poetic memory, coupled with your enduring integrity.

The power that lies in human interaction is a visceral kind of knowing. When two people interact they do so from individual histories whose axis run into the present, informing how they engage and present themselves to their interlocutors. It is a special kind of disposition for me to know that we have shared histories that perpetually cut through the tapestry of time, and perpetually finds entanglement and encounters in poetic memory. You have an enduring presence of love in my memoric archive. You have shaped everything I am, and continue to be a paragon of morality, values, principles, and integrity in my life.

Maya Angelou aptly asserted that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. I should like to deviate from her full assertion and profess that those who share their treasures with us, those who touch us with their rays of light, and those who make our lives beautiful by adding rich layers and vibrant textures to it—those people, such as yourself in my life—your words are never forgotten, your actions are a moral campus, and your presence in my poetic memory and life an unfolding metaphor of love.

You embody love, and are love; love in its purest form as devoid of judgement, measure, reason, ego, spite, and hierarchy. This would be the denotations of selflessness, and that’s what you have been in my life. I cannot speak of my own greatness without anchoring it in your patience, compassion, honour, and integrity. My successes are results of the sweat on your brow and your service. Your life is a motivation to me and others to live full lives of servitude as students of humility and discipline. On this day here, your birthday, I wish to say to you: you have touched my life in a magical way that can only inspire magical outcomes. I am well on my way, and my path shall forever entangle and encounter yours, in servitude and gratitude.

I wish to bestow all the bright stars in your constellation of greatness: may your path be forever illuminated by their sacred light.

Loving you now, and forever,

Your sister

XXXXXXX

Find out what my other favourite novels of all time are here:

https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/books-food-for-my-mind/

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Sojourner’s Mantra

Don’t steer too hardFrida K

Let the currents propel you forward

Surrender to the motion of the ocean

Be at peace with the journey

Have faith in the direction of the course

 

Hold the steering device lightly

Don’t grasp it with anxiety

Make your journey divine

Don’t obsess with the destination

Find peace when true north

Does not appear to you yet

 

Say with me: this here sojourn is of my making

From nothing I have designed this creation

My desired objective and purpose are my peace

I also have humility to surrender to the seas

I am content with learning from the journey

And being nurtured by the strength of my strides