06 October 2013. Last night I slow danced with the stars, and they were shining so bright, they reflected the state of my heart. Without a doubt they took my breath away! But I was breathing fine. I danced in harmony to this magical symphony by one of the most gifted lovers I have had the pleasure and opportunity to listen to. Mr John Legend. From his latest album: Love in the Future.
This piece – oh it filled me so – with love – as if his fingers on the piano were playing the chords of my heart. Healing me chord, by chord, by chord. It’s so beautiful.
I would like to dedicate this song to you, dear reader, as you embark on or continue on this mystical, magical journey towards to self love.
This love, for me, is universal – beyond gender, ethnicity, race, class, age, and status. It is all the love we can express, give, show, to love everything and everyone, it is unconditional true love. It’s all the love you’ve ever known, yearned for, lost.
It’s agape love. Mr Legend does a wonderful job of expressing it this track.
PS: If I ever become a part of a couple I hope this will be the track of our journey towards love together too. I am (still) a hopeful romantic. 😉
It was a beautiful conclusion to International Women’s day( Friday 08 March 2013) in Johannesburg South Africa. Women as young as four years old to about 80 gathered together in their most regal outfits to watch as one of their own prepared to take flight. Like proud mother hens, their wings fluttered protectively over poet and writer Akona Metu – as she stepped out to the world to reveal the garden of her heart etched in her debut poetry book “A gift of a thousand words”. It was an atmosphere that brought to life Simphiwe Dana’s debut hit song “Nidredi” lyrics to life. The song opens with a call so hypnotic one can’t help but want to fly as her voice delivers the words “Ndiredi Ukundiza Ndiph’umoya” which in English translates to a less poetic “I’m ready to fly give me some air”.
The setting was even more special. The venue: the Kippies International Jazz club in Newtown, Johannesburg – a historically significant, center for resistant art(music) in South Africa. The building now part of the country’s increasing cultural heritage sites has been refurbished into a smaller more intimate venue – a structure not far removed from a traditional African hut or rondavel. Clean high walls stand reminiscent of a sacred space; a church, an ashram perhaps even a synagogue. A heavy wooden grand piano stands grounded at the corner on one side of the room, as if waiting for a master pianist to come play.
Delicate lanterns made out of lace paper hung above the high ceilings created a lightness of being in some kind of a fairly- tale. The shiny glass doors to the north, west and south of the building gave the space a larger than life atmosphere as well as a feeling of being in a transient place – a pit stop on the amazing race of life.
Soweto performance poet “Mak” Manaka, who was both guest poet and master of ceremonies, was not blind to the significance of the moment. He too, now a power house of performance poetry in the country launched his first book of poetry (If Only; 2002). when Kippies was Kippies Jazz Club.
“He accuses me of being too kind” Those were the first words Akona Metu “hostess with the mostess ” at the Afrikaan Freedom Station – a new venue for all artists young and old from painters, writers, singers and musicians to showcase their work, experiment and support each other’s talent in old Sophia town Johannesburg. On sitting down with her (it was not a scheduled interview) she allowed herself a moment of giddy nervousness. “ It’s like standing in the middle of a busy street naked, and no one wants to sleep with you” she said of the impending book launch. Of the book itself she said “Oh it was something that was long overdue, it just had to be done”
I have always been a writer she says, but I never thought I was any good until I got to university where I was exposed to lecturers who were also authors and had published books. When they said my writing was good I decided to run with it. It allowed me to free myself and my writing from the hazards of comparing it to other more accomplished writers. For the first time I did not restrict my writing to emulate any set formula or style. I just allowed my voice to come through as it pleased. “I stopped putting restrictions on myself” she confessed as if to herself while attending to her four-year old nieces’ intimate confessions of her own.
However Metu , 27, is not new to the world of publishing. She has published articles and short stories in the new Drum Magazine. In fact Akona was first published during high school, revealed her two older sisters who sang her praises during the book launch. That was the first time the Metu family realized that she had a gift. She wrote a high school essay following a school trip to one of the eastern capes correctional facilities – the essay received the highest praise in her class later spreading from the schools assembly to the community’s local paper.
A gift of a thousand words is a collection of poems she wrote before and during her two-year stay in Korea where she worked as an English teacher and a singer in a band to pass time she told the audience at her book launch. ” I found it was necessary for me to go in order to remember who I am and what I valued most in my life”
Metu is the youngest in her family. Her two older sisters dotingly described her as a fragile, perfectionist, humble and stubborn, quick to laugh and cry, someone who is at ease with herself.
A gift of a thousand words reads like a prayer, intimate conversations with herself and the loves that surround her, an invitations into her deepest desires musings on life and its meaning. Poems like Child You Belong, written for one of her sisters is one of hope and encouragement in which she says she wanted to remind her sister that she belongs even in the very discomfort of life.” It’s not just for her” she said looking in my direction” it’s applies to everyone, we all belong here, even in our discomfort. “I am the gap that fills up your spaces” is a tribute to the kind of love American academic and author Bell Hooks says “we all want to receive but are afraid to give”. Mother of Mercy is a call out to God, a deity she describes as her mother because she knows her mother loves her more than anyone in the world. It’s a poem penned, during despairing moments of being alone in foreign land.
Her voice is fresh,honest, passionate and energetic, a reminder, an inspired call to change our minds about who we (think) are and who we have become a call to be brave and dare to look at life with a different eye – a conciliatory eye of love.
“This moment reminds me of the first time I really, really fell in love” Said her uncle on behalf of the family. “This reminds me of the first time I fell in real love for the first time 36 years ago – I didn’t know she could write like, she melted my heart”.
Master of Ceremonies, Mak Manaka barely caught his tears from falling on to the grand piano as Metu delivered her final poetic kisses to an audience hungry for love. Her words were like a string of precious pearls she draped around each of her guest, to Honour and soothe reminding all of us that we are loved.
Pictures by Photographer Zanele Muholi have been following me… literally. They were the last pictures I saw at the The Biennale de L’Art Africain Contemporain: DAK’ART 2012 in Senegal in May this year. It was surreal. I had met and made friends with a Mauritanian Photographer Elise, during pre-election protests on the streets of Darkar and she was exhibiting photographs she had taken of the floods in Senegal the previous year – 2011. It turns out that her exhibition was combined with the launch of Zanele Muholi’s book of Photography and mini exhibition, including a video with sound narration by Zanele Muholi about Lesbians in South Africa. This was the same week in which Muholi’s home had been burgled and hard-drives of her work were stolen from her house.
The cinema at the French Institute in Dakar was almost empty. I had invited one of my friends from the popular Sandanga Markert to come – but he declined, because he did not agree with subject matter, being a devout Muslim who prays five times a day. It was not so long ago that I myself had been a nation builiding lesbian. I had seen all these pictures before. So many times. I knew these faces. I heard the narrative being given by the french hosts ” … in South Africa Lesbian women are being killed targetted.. just this week Zanele Muholi’s home was burgled”
I felt like a fruad, sitting there with a straight face. I was also at a cross roads – debating whether to continue living in Senegal or return home to no job, no place to live, no money, nada. I had worked so damn hard to get those two things in Senegal sorted. I found myself in the early hours of one real wicked morning, at a 24 hour Shisanyama (braai meat) joint I had used for shelter, with sex-workers from Guinea and their Senegalese handlers. They tried to recruit me and one of them tossed me a one mil note (CFA), equivalent to 10 South African Rands (ZAR) or less than one USD to buy food. It had taken all my God given strength to get myself up from that place, to a great space where I had money, work and a comfortable place to stay, one I could call my own. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give it all up again and for what….
Those faces kept slidding past the screen, over and over again, as if to say you are one of us , as if to say come home. It gradually dawned on me that I had a to make a choice. To risk living in a place that refuses to acknowledge my existence or to die in a place that does.
FACES & PHASES: Tuesday 27 November 2012. Catch it if you can @ the German Cultural Center in Johannesburg.
The series “Faces and Phases” of acclaimed photographer Zanele Muholi was included in dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Germany from June to September 2012 and co-produced by Stevenson Gallery and the Goethe-Institut. It will now return to South Africa for an exhibition at the Goethe-Institut.Zanele Muholi explains: “In “Faces and Phases” I present our existence and resistance through positive imagery of black queers (especially lesbians) in South African society and beyond. I show our aesthetics through portrait
ure. Historically, portraits serve as memorable records for lovers, family and friends.
“Faces” expresses the person, and “Phases” signifies the transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and experience to another. “Faces” is also about the face-to-face confrontation between myself as the photographer/activist and the many lesbians, women and transmen I have interacted with from different places. Phases articulates the collective pain we as a community experience due to the loss of friends and acquaintances through disease and hate crimes.
The viewer is invited to contemplate questions such as: what does an African lesbian look like? Is there a lesbian aesthetic or do we express our gendered, racialised and classed selves in rich and diverse ways? Is this lesbian more ‘authentic’ than that lesbian because she wears a tie and the other does not? Is this a man or a woman? Is this a transman?
“Faces and Phases” is an insider’s perspective that both commemorates and celebrates the lives of the black queers I have met in my journeys.”
I first met critically acclaimed dancer and choreographer, Nelisiwe Xaba, in 2008. We made T-shirts together for the anti-Xenophobia protest march Johannesburg in June. She never said a word the entire evening, (if she did I didn’t hear it ) while I and our other mutual friends chattered or argued and debated about which slogans worked, how many we should make, the fonts, the style etc. She just got on with the work at hand.
The next time we met, it was in 2009 for an interview on the short run of her solo-performance pieces, “They look at me and that’s all they think” and Sakhozi says ‘non’ to the Venus, which she self-funded at the Market Theater in Jozi . Both works were based and inspired by the story of Sara Baartman (1789-1815) a Khoi-khoi woman famously exhibited as a sideshow attraction in 19th Century Europe, under the name “Hottentot Venus”. I watched both her pieces with awe, I had never seen her perform before – she is often travelling and working abroad and on the continent. I wondered why I didn’t know about her before (being a lover of dance and all) or why there were not many people, black women like me, going out to see what other sisters are doing. Her performances are powerful and challenging, and thought-provoking. I have never been left unchallenged by her work. Her meticulousness is evident in how her work is structured: from the costumes she chooses, the props she uses, body movement, facial expressions, no action or movement is wasted. All tie in methodically together into smooth and powerfully vibrant performances only Nelisiwe Xaba can deliver. I have loved all of the shows she’s produced including that of X-Homes in Kliptown ( one of the oldest townships in Soweto and the venue where the 1955 freedom charter was signed) in which I barely escaped her urine which she splashed angrily at her audience as part of the piece. If there’s a critique from a novice, it would be, she is very much more than just “intense” . The day of the interview was over-cast, just like this one today. We sat in a cove at Gramadoelas restraurant at the Market Theater, and indulged in what was to be the most enjoyable interview I have ever had. We both laughed, and giggled like two school girls while sipping tea. I was surprised when I stumbled on a short transcript of the interview the other day and re-reading now I see it was probably the most seriously, real, interview I have ever done. Xaba is also, as it turns out one of the funniest people I’ve met yet, with a balanced mix of irony and witt I smile just thinking of that day. I didn’t want the Interview to end I remember… I was already in Love.
SWA: How did you navigate your way through the dance industry almost two decades down the line?
XABA: ” I had to fight. Nothing was given to me, all I had (have) I had to do it myself. I know that for my male counterparts things were just given to them and they didn’t know how to handle it, because it was given to them. No one gave me anything. I had to build my name, build everything myself. So, no one can say I gave her something, including all these Dance Institutions for all I care. The dancing industry is full of men, and no they’re not better.
SWA: Isthere a need then to build support structures for young (female) dancers? Would you consider perhaps setting up a something to train aspirant dancers?
XABA: Sometimes I dream of having my own studio, my own Non-Governmental – Organization (NGO). But at the same time I don’t believe in NGO’s…. to keep giving something to people, maybe they don’t need it. They don’t need it so they don’t know what to do with it. So I would like to create something where young girls or boys, if they want to be dancers, would have to make an effort. I don’t want to open another school where I have to rely on funders to give me money for the underprivileged, I don’t believe in that. It’s a great gift from NGO’s or from Europeans, but it doesn’t help. How many NGO’s do we have in Africa? What do they do? If NGO’s were helping Africa, Africa would be at the same level with first world countries today.
SWA: In Sakhozi says “non” to the Venus, you tackle Immigration Issues amongst other pressing issues, tell us more.
XABA: It boils down to the relationship that Europe has with Africa. It’s the superiority complex that they have with us. Also it’s not only Europe that should be blamed. We’ve been blaming Europe forever. I think our Governments will blame Europe until I’m dead. Africa needs to start having balls. Africa needs to stop having her legs wide open and cross them probably, and start having some dignity. Europeans are closing their gates to Africans, and we’re opening them wide, I don’t understand that. I don’t know what we gain from them. Europeans gain money from doing business in Africa. I don’t know what we gain.
SWA: Who are you Challenging?
XABA: Unfortunately cabinet ministers or parliamentarians won’t attend the show. They are too important (laughs). I grew up in Apartheid – South Africa, then there was a movement of consciousness, ( Black Consciousness Movement/ BCM) especially with the youth. We made each other conscious, but that’s all gone and I don’t understand why it’s gone when it should be starting, beginning actually. So I look at my work as a form of creating a consciousness.
SWA: You’ll also be performing your 2006 piece, they look at me and that’s all they think, what does this piece relate to.
XABA: This goes back to exoticism. When you’re performing in Europe, people are mainly interested in seeing your body. Sometimes they don’t actually care about what you’re saying. The black body is still so exotic. When your body is your tool to make or create art, then it becomes a challenge. How do you get your message across when someone is actually not listening and they’re just looking at your body? How do you get them to listen? That’s the challenge. They look at me , was also a challenge to Europeans that the black body is just a body “actually”. So you can listen to what I’m saying, or see what I’m talking about, to open a dialogue”
SWA: How do you deal with your own personal narrative? The irony your work evokes?
XABA: This time it is a choice. It’s not like Sara Baartman who had no choice, a contract or costume. Of course it is an art-form that gets abused. My challenge is how do I use my body in a way that exhibiting it does not degrade it, and how do I do that with pride.
SWA: Why do you think, many women, like Sara Baartman are still “caged” today?
XABA: The problem for me starts with the basics. If we women don’t teach girls to be powerful girls, they will never be powerful women. You can’t expect a 21-year-old to be a powerful woman, when you’ve never taught her when she was five how to be a powerful girl. The state of women in Africa is still ridiculous. Men are still men. Men haven’t changed despite the fact that we marched in the 60’s . It’s like the struggle of being black, you have to fight everyday of your life. Same with being a woman, you fight everyday of your life. We live in a man’s world. We live in a White world. Until we change that world, nothing can change for us.
Nelisiwe Xaba was born and raised in Soweto (South Africa), and received a scholarship to study at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation. After studying dance in London (with a 1996 Ballet Rambert Scholarship) she returned home to join Pact Dance Company, where she was company member for several years, and with whom she toured to Europe and the Mideast. She worked with a variety of choreographers, visual and theater artists, particularly Robyn Orlin, with whom she created works such as Keep the Home Fires Burning, Down Scaling down, Life after the credits roll, and Daddy I’ve seen this piece six times before and I still don’t know why they’re hurting each other, which toured for several years in Europe and Asia, winning the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. In 2001, Ms. Xaba began to focus on her own choreographic voice, creating solo and group dance works that have been performed in Africa and Europe, includingb Dazed and confused, No Strings Attached 1, No Strings Attached 2, Be My Wife(BMW)(commissioned by the Soweto Dance Project), and Black!.. White and Plasticization. Ms. Xaba has also collaborated as choreographer and dancer with fashion designers, opera productions, music videos, television productions, and multimedia performance projects.