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POETRY AFRICA 2004 (article first published : 2004-10-7)

Poetry moves beyond the page and onto the stage as the eighth Poetry Africa brings together a powerful contingent of poets and spoken word specialists within a festival format, making these talented wordsmiths accessible in the public arena. Poetry Africa, Festival of International Poets will take place in Durban from October 18 to 23. Organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (UKZN), the world-renowned festival boasts an impressive line-up of over 30 participants from 12 countries, with a diversity certain to suit the varied tastes of Durban audiences. The extensive week-long programme includes performances, readings and book-launches every evening at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, with a festival finale at the BAT Centre on rOctober 23. Day activities include seminars, workshops, poetry competitions, poetry in prison, open mic opportunities, and wide-reaching school visits.

Lending stature to Poetry Africa 2004 is eminent Irish poet, Richard Murphy. A student of C.S. Lewis, the highly acclaimed poet was born in 1927 and boasts an eventful and illustrious career, with associations with luminaries such as W.H Auden, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Conor Cruise O’ Brien, Robert Shaw and Peter O’Toole.

Notably, as this country commemorates ten years of democracy, Poetry Africa celebrates this milestone occasion by presenting a powerful array of South African voices whose ideas, attitudes, opinions and emotions characterize a diverse poetic expression of democracy. Heading the South African line-up is the charismatic Mzwakhe Mbuli. Popularly hailed as ‘The People’s Poet’, he has dominated performance poetry for many decades. Having recently served a prison sentence, Mzwakhe has just released a new album, Mbulism.

Following in the tradition of the spoken word in South Africa, are a number of exciting new voices. These include the hard-hitting Hymphatic Thabs who has established himself as a hot young contender on the hip-hop scene, and Tumi, better known as the lead vocalist of hip-hop outfit Tumi and the Volume, he reflects on the identity struggles of an African man of the hip-hop generation in a post-apartheid South Africa.

Challenging male dominance in this genre is the all-female group, Feela Sistah! Spoken Word Collective, made up of Lebogang Mashile, a favourite with festival goers last year, together with Myesha Jenkins, Napo Masheane and Ntsiki Mazwai. Inspired by a range of influences from jazz to hip-hop, from praise songs to modern literature, the group offers fresh insight for contemporary black women. The Sistahs provide an interesting foil to another collaborative group, the all male Botsotso Jesters of Allan Kolski Horwitz, Ike Mboneni Muila and Siphiwe Ka Ngwenya. Botsotso, known for their revolutionary approach to linguistic and cultural expression in South Africa, present an appealing mix of voices and tones. Ike Muila’s critically acclaimed book Gova (Botsotso Publishing) will be launched at Poetry Africa.

Adding substantial standing to the South African line–up is Karen Press, who has published seven collections of poetry. Her latest anthology The Little Museum of Working Life (UKZN Press) will be launched at the festival. Another South African of note is Dorian Haarhoff, a creative writing specialist who will also conduct a comprehensive workshop for aspirant poets.Adding substantial standing to the South African line–up is Karen Press, who has published seven collections of poetry. Her latest anthology The Little Museum of Working Life (UKZN Press) will be launched at the festival. Another South African of note is Dorian Haarhoff, a creative writing specialist who will alsoCloser to home, Durban rhythms are particularly strident this year. To highlight the explosion of Durban voices, the festival will open with a collaboration between the fresh talent of three young poets. Hip-hop and performance artists, Ewok and Quincy Fynn and the contemplative Bandile Gumbi, have made an exceptional impact on the local scene and together, they present a view of the youthful energy and skill that infuses local poetry. This trend is further reflected by a group from the highly successful poetry co-operative, Nowadayz Poets, represented in the innovative performance style of Mphutlane wa Bofelo, Khaya Maseko, Sphelele Mkhize and Mthobisi Mqadi. To this mix, is added the unquestionable talent of 2001 Ingrid Jonker Prize winner, Kobus Moolman, which confirms the strength and range of poetry In Durban. conduct a comprehensive workshop for aspirant poets.

Similarly, participants from Africa represent the flourishing growth of new voices on the continent. From Botswana comes Barolong Seboni, a poet and academic, newspaper columnist, and cultural activist. Also present will be renowned imbongi Albert Nyathi from Zimbabwe, who performed upon Nelson Mandela’s visit to Zimbabwe and led eulogies at the death of Zimbawean leader, Joshua Nkomo. Bringing vigour and flair to the festival is the flamboyant, Were Were Liking (Cameroon/Ivory Coast), a performer-poet and writer, whose work explores features of African oral traditions. Congolese-American poet, Omekongo wa Dibinga, performs in English, Swahili and French and presents an interesting exploration of what he calls ‘the best and worst of both African and African-American societies’.

Offering a unique and insightful voice from the USA, is poet, saxophonist, writer and composer, Joy Harjo. A member of the Muscogee/Creek Nation in Oklahoma, she is a professor at UCLA in American Indian Studies and also performs with her band. Leading Swiss poet, Christian Uetz, who has being hailed by the German critical media for creating what ‘Nietzsche really meant when he said that writers should be dancers with words’, promises a challenging experience. He will be accompanied by South African percussionist, Kholeho Tsukutlane Mosala.

Dutch poet and writer Christine Otten will be accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Jan Klug. In writing the story of the legendary group, The Last Poets, her work has been profoundly influenced by the spoken word genre. She is one of four poets co-ordinated by the Winternachten International Literature Festival in The Hague, who have a long-standing partnership with the Centre for Creative Arts festivals. The Winternachten package presents a powerful combination of poets, groundbreaking in their own territories. The enigmatic Sutardji Calzoum Bachri sets out, in his Poetic Credo, to ‘free words from the burden of meaning’ through his mantra poems. The strong feminist voice of Drisana Deborah Jack from Saint Martin is earning critical attention throughout the Caribbean and beyond, and Surinam poet Jit Narain, is highly respected for his efforts to revive the Sarnami language of his Indian ancestors.

Festival hosts who will present the evening shows will be poet-of-the-nation Zolani Mkiva, TV personality and comedian Soli Philander, poet and academic Pitika Ntuli, as well as Lebo Mashile and Tumi, who are of course themselves participants in this year’s festival. Music is an integral part of Poetry Africa performances this year and includes performances by Umgidi wama Nazaretha, Sazi Dlamini, TMB 24/7, the legendary Vusi Ximba, and, stirring the decks at the festival after-party, DJ Sox.

Visit www.cca.ukzn.ac.za for full programme of activities or contact the Centre for Creative Arts on 031 260 2506.

Principle funders of the Poetry Africa festival are the National Lottery Distribution Fund, Prince Claus Fund for Culture & Development, and the Arts & Culture Trust, with further support and sponsorship by HIVOS Cultuurfonds, Winternachten International Literature Festival (The Hague), Netherlands Culture Fund, Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature, City of Durban, Ethekwini Municipality, Pro-Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, French Institute of South Africa, Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, Adams Campus Booksellers, KwaMuhle Museum, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, Diakonia Centre, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Eagle Taxis and the University of KwaZulu-Natal Public Affairs & Corporate Communications Division.




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