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POETRY AFRICA (article first published : 2006-09-12)

Some 30 poets from 13 countries will descend on Johannesburg and Durban for a groundbreaking experience of words and rhythms at the 10th Poetry Africa international poetry festival in early October. Hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (UKZN), the festival celebrates its tenth edition with a one-off special event at Museum Africa in Johannesburg on October 7, preceding the Durban activities which take place from October 9 to 14. The extensive Durban programme includes performances, readings and book-launches every evening at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, with a Festival Finale at the BAT Centre on October 14.

The festival showcases a diversity of poetic styles that bring together the traditional and the cutting edge. Poetry Africa’s commitment to local poetry this year sees a remarkable gathering of stalwart South African talent including a welcome return to this country of the poet-artist-activist Lefifi Tladi, the poetic side of actor, writer and columnist John Matshikiza, and the exciting re-emergence of respected Black Consciousness-era poet Mafika Gwala.

Complementing this array of experience is Lebogang Mashile, whose impassioned poetry and cultural activism has earned her iconic stature in recent years, the award-winning Finuala Dowling, the resonant maturity of Makhosazana Xaba and Rustum Kozain, the understated lucidity of Mzi Mahola, and Sally-Ann Murray’s intricate exploration of the uneven spaces that constitute Durban identity - all of whom have recently published new work.

A special focus on indigenous poetry is this year generated through two festival components. In partnership with the Mazisi Kunene Foundation, Poetry Africa will launch a pilot project in which young poets visit schools across Durban to highlight the life and work of the late Mazisi Kunene, the prolific isiZulu writer who last year was given the distinction of being appointed the first Poet Laureate of South Africa. The Izimbongi ZaseMzansi initiative brings together praise-poets from different cultures on a shared platform. Under the co-ordination of the experienced imbongi Zolani Mkiva, the project will see Jessica Mbangeni (Xhosa), Mandisa Philaliwe (Tswana), Botsotso Mahlaba (Zulu), and Joe Ntloane (Sotho) visiting schools to perform and discuss the roles of praise-poets in our societies.

Representation from the African continent includes Eduardo White from Mozambique, Alhaji Papa Susso, a master kora player descended from a long line of griots in The Gambia, Kama Kamanda, a prolific poet of rich language and metaphor from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Perpetual Eziefule-Emenekwum from Nigeria, a young performer who merges music and dance with her poetry. A strong three-part Zimbabwean presence includes the seasoned poetry of Julius Chingono, the poetic comedy duo The Guests, whose performances incorporate painting and drama, and special participation by the renowned music maestro Oliver Mtukudzi, who will perform solo both in Johannesburg and Durban.

Music is infused throughout the festival and apart from Mtukudzi, Papa Susso and Perpetual, there is Ronald Snijders, the Suriname-Caribbean jazz flautist who will play with Durban artists such as Darius Brubeck, Philani Ngidi, Neil Gonsalves and Paki Peleola. Henry Bowers and his Swedish hiphop trio add a cool far-north flavour, while Def P, known as the godfather of Nederhop, provides insight into Dutch rap.

Slam champion Bowers is pitted against Durban poets Lexikon, Mputlane Wa Bofelo, and Ewok in the SlamJam sessions, which take place both in Johannesburg and Durban. The slam format will be given a decidedly African twist through the inclusion of Johannesburg-based imbongi Jessica Mbangeni.

This celebratory edition of Poetry Africa sees the return of UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah, whose sharp-edged lyrical prowess wowed local audiences in previous festival performances. Out of the West Bank of Palestine comes Ghassan Zaqtan, a former editor of Bayader, the literary magazine of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), whose poetry abounds with luminous imagery and current concerns.

Poetry Africa renews its cooperation with the Dutch literary festival, Winternachten, and a quintet of accomplished performers will appear at the festival under the auspices of this partnership. They include Ronald Snijders (Suriname) who has played and recorded with South African musicians and Def P (The Netherlands) from edgy rap outfit Osdorp Posse, as well as the contemplative and mystical Shrinivási (Suriname),Tan Lioe Ie (Bali, Indonesia), whose poetry is thematically centred on love and human existence, and Gibi Bacilio (Curacao) whose activist poetry has a strong focus around anti-colonialism and corruption.

The jam-packed Museum Africa event in Johannesburg on October 7 also includes Gcina Mhlophe accompanied by Pops Mahommed and Bheki Khosa, maskandi Shiyani Ngcobo, and poetry contributions from Keorapetse Kgositsile, Dennis Brutus, Lisa Combrinck, Lesego Rampolokeng, Pitika Ntuli, !Bushwomen, Kojo Baffoe and others.

Poetry Africa is not just about the beauty of words, it is also about the message, a reflection of the world around us. Celebrating the diversity of culture, the festival creates a platform for participants from a diverse range of countries to provide poetic insight into their unique worlds and circumstances. The packed schedule of day activities includes seminars, workshops, poetry in prison, open mic opportunities and school visits aimed at inspiring public interest in poetry. Phone 031-2602506 for more information. The full programme, plus participant biographies and photos, is available on www.cca.ukzn.ac.za

Organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the 10th Poetry Africa is funded principally by the Department of Arts and Culture, with support from Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), Stichting Doen, Winternachten, Royal Netherlands Embassy, French Institute of South Africa, African Synergy Book Café, Pro-Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, and the City of Durban.




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