By Own Correspondent – Poets from around South Africa, Africa and the world will descend on Durban for an exhilarating rollercoaster of words, rhythms and ideas at the 14th Poetry Africa international poetry festival, which takes place from 4 to 9 October. Organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), and with principal support from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Poetry Africa’s exciting week-long programme is preceded by a three-stop Poetry Africa tour to Cape Town, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Over twenty poets from twelve different countries will feature in the main Durban programme and the full lineup will each present an introductory poem on The Opening Night of the festival (4 October, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre), providing an ideal précis of the diverse voices the public can expect during the rest of the week. The week will thereafter feature 5 poets every evening, through to 8 October, before the rousing Festival Finale at the BAT Centre on 9 October. Each evening at the Sneddon Theatre will begin with curtain-raising performances by poets representing the various active Durban poetry circles. Another unique aspect of this year’s festival is the residency of Concord Nkabinde and Erik Paliani. Nkabinde, an acclaimed bass guitarist who has performed with the likes of Johnny Clegg, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ray Phiri, Phil Manzaniera, Zim Ngqawana, Darius Brubeck, Deepak Ram and many others, will collaborate with Malawian producer, musician and singer-songwriter Erik Paliani in nightly musical curtain-raisers. Nkabinde and Paliani’s passion for collaboration provides the perfect metaphor for the cross-cultural artistic meetings that Poetry Africa seeks to stimulate.
The broad selection of poetic voices, forms, and cultures at the festival includes the vivid verse of Frank Chipasula (Malawi). Apart from poetry, the BBC Poetry Prize winning and twice Pushcart Prize-nominated Chipasula is also a widely-respected writer, academic and editor. The African lineup also includes Kenyan Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, a poet whose intelligence and subtlety is abundantly evident in her first book of poems Blue Mothertongue, a collection which examines notions of home, loss and healing. Returning to Poetry Africa after an absence of six years is poet and academic Barolong Seboni (Botswana), whose astute grasp of history and its meaning, is spread over numerous acclaimed collections. Charlotte Hill O’Neal, better known as Mama C, is an American-born visual artist, musician and poet, who was a member of the Black Panther Movement before relocating to Tanzania in 1972. Her collection Warrior Woman of Peace was launched in 2008 and her fourth album of poetry and music is forthcoming. Both in his words and music the captivating voice of internationally celebrated Souleymane Diamanka (Senegal/France) offers an expressive cultural bridge between his French home and his Fulani ancestry.
The strong South African presence this year includes established luminaries and exciting new voices. Pitika Ntuli combines a vast store of African mythology and history, a keen awareness of the contemporary and an astonishing ability to improvise in his evocative poetry. Storytelling and myth also figure large in the verse of Durban icon Gcina Mhlophe. Lebo Mashile, arguably the best-known contemporary South African poet, brings to the Poetry Africa stage her candid and richly weaved words. The award-winning poet and playwright Kobus Moolman will present poems from his new collection Light and After as well sneak peeks at his next collection. Light and After (Deep South), a sparse and bravely honest work will be launched at the festival. Other launches include: Piece Work (Modjaji Books) by Ingrid Andersen and Scent of Footprints (Unisa Press) by Pitika Ntuli, Xaba.
Poetry Africa welcomes back the 2005 DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry winner Gabeba Baderoon, the author of three collections of complex and intensely lyrical poetry. The Afrikaans-language poet Ronelda Kamfer’s entry into South African literature has been memorably described by poet Charl Pierre Naude “like a Guy Fawkes’ rocket at Pentecost”. Kamfer’s remarkable ability to artfully filter the political and social through a personal lens marks her as a young poet to watch. Natalia Molebatsi combines spoken word and singing in an intoxicating cocktail that touches base with genres such as jazz, dub, hip hop and reggae. Well-known Durban poet Busiswa Gqulu, like Molebatsi, combines poetry, song and performance to startling effect. Another well-respected Durban poet, Marí Peté, explores dreamscapes, everyday experiences, and the thin membrane between these states of
being in her poetry.
The international presence at Poetry Africa is particularly strong this year. Celebrated poet, author, radio host, actor and social critic Mutabaruka was the first well-publicized voice in the new wave of Jamaican poets making themselves heard in the early 1970s. He has recorded numerous poetry albums which have helped forge the unique genre of music commonly referred to as dub poetry. As an actor, Mutabaruka has starred in Haile Gerima’s award-winning Sankofa (1993).
In honour of activist and poet Dennis Brutus (1924 -2009) Poetry Africa introduces the Letters to Dennis segment featuring a poet of high excellence who reflects Dennis’s passion for human rights and integrity. The Letters to Dennis references the famous poem Letters to Martha, written while Dennis was in prison. The Letters to Dennis poet for 2010 is Ghassan Zaqtan of Palestine. At one time the editor of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s newspaper, Ghassan Zaqtan is one of Palestine’s most respected poets and his urgent yet paradoxically gentle and contemplative poetry abounds with luminous imagery.
Jayne Fenton Keane (Australia) is a highly awarded and respected poet whose blend of poetry-song cycles, spoken word-music fusions and shamanic performances have challenged and inspired audiences and critics around the world. Poet, writer-activist and translator Meena Kandasamy (India) uses writing, translation and activism to confront her womanness, her Dalitness and her Tamilness – three categories of belonging that continue to enshrine a history of resistance to oppression. Jorge Palma (Uruguay) is a poet and storyteller whose sensitive and elegant poetry is most concerned with addressing and dissecting the human condition, while Italian Claudio Pozzani is poet and musician whose work has been translated into more than ten languages.
Saturday, 9 October sees a full day of activities at the BAT Centre, with poetry workshops, open mic opportunities, the Durban SlamJam all culminating in the Festival Finale on Saturday night which includes a performance by the Imperial Tiger Orchestra, a Geneva-based band that performs songs from the Golden Age of Ethiopian modern music (1969 – 1978). Although this six-piece orchestra’s repertoire consists primarily of revamped and reworked Ethiopian music, they are not to be mistaken for a covers band. Instead the Imperial Tigers explore uncharted territory in this form, playing with textures and dynamics, adding distortions and noise to complete beautiful new pieces based on the Ethiopian originals.
Apart from the evening performances at the Sneddon and the BAT, a packed daily programme utilizing the expertise of festival participants includes performances, seminars, workshops, a prison programme, poetry competitions, and school visits all aimed at inspiring heightened interest in poetry.
Poetry Africa on Tour
Poetry Africa on Tour is an effort to celebrate poetry with ever-wider constituencies and to stimulate meaningful cultural exchange between artists, audiences and countries. With the support of the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), Mimeta and Pro-Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, the 2010 tour kicks off at the Cape Town ICC on Sunday 26th September, featuring Frank Chipasula, Mama C, Lebo Mashile, Gcina Mhlophe, Mutabaruka, Barolong Seboni, Pitika Ntuli, includes musicians Concord Nkabinde and Eric Palliani and Ewok (South Africa). With the exception of Mhlophe and Ewok, and with the addition of Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, the tour continues with shows at Manneberg and Book Café in Harare on 28th and 29th, before being part of the Blantyre Arts Festival in Malawi on 1st October. In each of the centres the tour will also showcase local poets, and incorporate workshops, discussions and engagements with artists and cultural activists.
Organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the 14th Poetry Africa festival is supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), HIVOS (Humanist Institute for Development Co-operation), City of Durban, Arts and Culture Trust, Pro Helvetia Arts Councit of Switzerland, Mimeta and the French Institute of South Africa.