How fantastic is this? I just came across a book review by Likamva (age 7) of The Chocolate Hair Sisters, an adorable, blogging duo from South Africa. Previously, they had chosen Mpumi’s Magic Beads for the Sibahle Collection Book Club holiday read this Summer. It makes me so happy to know that Likamva enjoyed the storyand that it has taught her, as she says in the video below, about “kindness and loving everyone”. That truly means the world to me!
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Thank you, Chocolate Hair Sisters. So glad you like my book!
A bunch of really cool researchers (you can read about them here) and myself have gotten together to create a multidisciplinary pilot study that incorporates Anthropology, biomedical research and photography to find out what young people have to say about sexuality in its current state in South Africa.
Please join us? All the criteria and info is on the poster. I’m so keen to meet you! Click here for the application form download page.
This is what I remind myself of everytime I step out. It is why I will always give my best. It is why I will always think of how to do it in a way that has never been done before. It is why I will always just try my damndest.
The reading for Mpumi’s Magic Beads at Sandton Library was full to capacity! I arrived and immediately had to get into media interviews: one for the Chinese Global Network and one for Vuzu. I think that it is really cool because it’s a big deal and I didn’t know that Vuzu, specifically, cover literary events. Right after that, the show began with a puppeteer who told a great story and had the children singing and laughing. She is amazing!
Then came the time for Mpumi’s Magic Beads. There’s a saying about innovation that I don’t recall right now but back in April, when I had to fulfill my pledge for the #Today campaign, I hadn’t yet published the book but I had made a commitment to read to children and I intended to honour it. So, I had to improvise. I used an easel and huge laminated posters of the story. Ever since that time, it’s my preferred method. It just makes sense to me because you want all the children to be able to see the pictures, follow the story and engage with it.
It worked wonderfully. I memorised the words to the whole book because I just wanted to give my all to the audience; I didn’t want to be restricted by checking words and pages. Just as I was performing (because that’s what I do), a little boy screamed out: “But where are the words?!” A very valid question. Ordinarily, that would have thrown me off and I would have lost my place and been flustered. However, I took it in my stride and stopped to answer him and we all had a laugh about it and the story continued.
I love that I got through the story without blanking out! I was confident. I was measured. I did justice to my work and efforts. You have no idea how exciting and thrilling it is to watch children’s imaginations working in real time, keeping pace with the narrative and having their faces light up in the moments where you hoped they would – and they did! They did!
After the performance/reading, I had an interview with e TV and signed many, many books and took just as many pictures with beautiful, smiling children who looked just like the ones in my story. It made me feel so warm inside to become a part of their libraries and hopefully, some inspiring childhood memories, as my favourite books have always been for me.
A special moment was when I got to meet my illustrator for the first time ever – and she also had red magic beads in her hair! Masego Morulane and I worked on this entire Mpumi’s Magic Beads project, from March 2017 until January 2018 over email, text and very few phone calls. I was elated to see her, hug her and thank her in person for bringing my imagination to life with her gift. We both teared up.
After everything, I went to have a celebratory lunch with my father, my little brothers Mpumi and Tshiamo, and my friends Jabu and Monti. So many more friends and good people from Twitter and Instagram also came through to show love at the event and I was so happy!
What a wonderful morning! Thank you Ethnkids for hosting me, giving my work a home and for the amazing role you play in supporting the work of African authors and ensuring that children’s imaginations are nurtured on Saturday mornings! Thank you to Khumo for reaching out early on in my publishing journey and always being so lovely.
I am so, so proud of myself. This, right here, is self-love. All of it. It requires hard work. It requires discipline and I don’t always get it right but I do try my damndest. I also suspect that I am really good with children and I like myself a little bit more for it.
In the evening, I went to The Orbit with my friends Xolisa and Khaya. While I sat there eating, a woman came up to me and told me that her sister-in-law had taken her daughter to the reading and she showed me her phone: there I was with her daughter, smiling and holding a freshly signed copy of Mpumi’s Magic Beads! I may or may not have cried a little into my food at that point. Today was just so beautiful. Is this my life, really?
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Thank you you each and every child and parent/guardian in the room for buying Mpumi’s Magic Beads and giving my dream wings!
“Bra Willie is and will remain a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a hero, a challenger, an inspiration, a brother, a light that does not flicker, and a fellow soldier. We’ve admired his persistent battle against white supremacy and human exploitation large and small. We’ve been transformed by him and his work and by the struggle he carried out, on the page, in the streets and in the corridors of power. We are all Bra Willie’s people.” – Prof. Stefan Rubelin
Him, the walking library of Setswana lore, Jazz music, African nationalist politics and the emancipatory poetics of struggle spanning spirits and continents. Him, whom we can thank personally for influencing the very birth of this Hip Hop* that the world so loves. Him, the great intellectual with a ready smile and a life full of words that weaved struggles into tapestries of hope. We are so profoundly privileged to have known him and to be here in the world of words that he has made. We, the poets. We, the writers. We, the thinkers.
I bought my copy of This Way I Salute You at the Polokwane Literary Festival in 2012, where I shared a stage with Prof. Kgositsile. The book is full of poetic odes to his creative peers across the fields of music and poetry. Every time I read it, I am touched that he felt it necessary to go beyond documenting the times, as artists must do, and chose to pay homage to both the living and the departed. At his memorial service at the Market Theatre, I had the honour of also bidding him farewell through poetry. I read the poem “For Ilva Mackay and Mongane”, with ntate Mongane Wally Serote in the audience. In the words of Kanye West, Prof. Kgositsile gave his people flowers while they could still smell ’em.
In a similar vein, I would like to think that we too gave him his flowers. Prof. is one of the greats who walked among us and became a bridge among the generations of poets in South Africa. We felt his presence and support for new movements, both in how he was there physically but also in how he did not suffer bad poetry; his critique delivered in ways that I personally found both necessary and endearing. He kept us sharp. He kept us agile.
We have indeed lost a monument of a man. As Prof. Kgositsile now rests, I would like to think that he knows that he was appreciated, admired and greatly respected by us, the new generation of writers, thinkers and poets. After his funeral – a beautiful affair of heartfelt tributes, poetry and Jazz – I sat steeped in sadness as I reflected on his amazing, full life that touched innumerable lives with the work of his words. How remarkable? I too would love to live a life in which I can do what I love and honour my blood by bettering the human condition with the work of my words. Prof. Kgositsile did that.
He has given us so much. It was at his memorial service that I sat in conversation with his nephew, Towdee Mac and his friend, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers. It dawned on me that Towdee was part of the songwriters on Reason’s “Endurance” on which I feature and which has been a special moment in my career. I also had a moment to speak to his son, Thebe (alias, Earl Sweatshirt) to thank him for Doris, my favourite album of 2013, as he shared some insights about his forthcoming album and the powerful way in which it came together in relation to his father. Which is to say, Prof. Kgositsile has left us with his incredibly, gifted people and has left us as more thoughtful, considerate writers than we were before we discovered his life’s work.
Indeed, we are all Bra Willie’s people. And, it is in this way that I salute him.
Somehow, it is on this day of the monumental Hugh Masekela’s passing, that I have found my ability to write through and complete this ode. So, here we have Prof. Kgositsile: giving flowers, perhaps calling his comrade home and reminding us all about time and what it is known to do.
*Please seek out and read the work of Prof. Kgositsile’s biographer, Dr Uhuru Phalafala on his connection to the birth of Hip Hop and the immense importance of his work.
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Robalang ka kgotso, bagolo. It has been an honour to walk in your light. Thank you.
I didn’t know that so many poetry lovers would find their way to us. With it being the 5th of January, I expected the city to still be in holiday, ghost-mode for at least another week and yet, we had a full house. We held the BornFree poetry reading last Friday evening at African Flavour Books in Braamfontein with the organiser, Belinda Zhawi, Katleho Kano Shoro and I on the line-up. We first performed together at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in May so it was really special to have another gathering in our home country and to watch how beautifully Shoro incorporated her nieces into her set.
This was my first reading in the country in a long while. I’ve been immensely busy with my other projects and I have wanted to just take a break from the spectacle of it all. I had become weary of being seen. Many of my poems are about sadness and romantic relationships gone horribly wrong. It had become harrowing to be on social media and have people tag me in quotes of their favourite lines because it could easily alter my mood negatively, because of the memories. I was trying to breathe through my life and just become well in my mind and heart and the biggest deterrent to that were my own words. Funny how that works. I had sat in that exact same spot a few weeks ago and had an interview in which I spoke about how I’m starting to be at odds with reading work that I wrote a few years ago, it’s themes and the effect it has on me to constantly reach back and reiterate the dark moments. At a time, this poetry saved my life. I just think my spirit is starting to move beyond, in this time.
The audience was kind, attentive and affirming. We shared a few laughs and it was immensely enjoyable yet it was a somewhat difficult reading because the words hurt leaving my body. It was strange. I was seated throughout. I appreciated each moment and how the words would travel around the room, reaching people in particular places and yet I was visibly uncomfortable. I told the audience a few times how tiring it was because it felt like a space in which I could be honest in that way. I was fascinated by the physical exertion it took for those words to make it out of my mouth. I felt like my body, mind & spirit had fortified themselves in service of my wellbeing or, it was just a signal that ya boy should write new poems. Either way, I’m listening.
The Q&A section was interesting. I’ll expand on the responses that I gave, here. The one question that was addressed to me was about my devices; how music is one of them, how lyrical my work is and whether I’ll ever use any other devices. My work reflects music because that’s what I use to survive this life. My poetry has always been a way for me to get over, primarily. I write because I need to; often no more and no less. Music is a device in my work because it is a device in my life. Will I ever find anything more powerful? I’m open to discover that. I also think that writing for children is a way of writing differently. In my world, all of my writing comes from the same place so the children’s book is the next frontier within the same vein of poetry. Lately I have been thinking on this great desire I have to be productive: to go beyond my work being a space of shared pain and healing, and to manifest other more joyous and celebratory ways of gathering. That’s exactly what Mpumi’s Magic Beadsis.The entire project is my way of being more imaginative, daring and expansive than I have ever been. This is how I ascend.
Another question was about language and whether I do not feel “mentally colonised” by choosing to work in English. It’s a question that irritates me (I have been doing poetry Q&As for a long time, trust me) but I answer it any way. Colonisation has done many, irreversible things to Africa including changing the dynamics around what credence particular languages are given in the public. I write, dream and work in English – this is a fact of my upbringing. This is a fact of my primary school that hired a white woman to teach us Sepedi and refused our corrections because she was raised on a farm with African workers. I speak my home languages easily but having the proficiency to write in a language to the extent of being a poet is another matter altogether. I’m not willing to short-change myself or my work with those deficiencies. Am I embarrassed in any way? Absolutely not. I’m proud of my work and my abilities. I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing.
Funny thing, after the reading, someone stopped me and spoke in a tone that heavily conveyed his disappointment at my lack of shame in not working in an indigenous language. The truth is, I don’t care. I don’t lose sleep at night. We all have our purpose and our paths. There are those who have an unyielding passion for preserving our languages through their work and just as they have their place in this vast creative landscape, so do I. I am very intentional about my work reflecting my reality. It’s necessary that I always remain authentic instead of being a parody of an essentialised version of other identities. There is no one way to be an African poet. There are many and this is mine.
I concluded by reading from Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile‘s This Way I Salute You, a book of poetic odes to creative peers such as Hugh Masekela, Nina Simone and John Coltrane. The great, intellectual left us on 3 January 2018. He was a bridge between the generations of creative thinkers in this country. He was always supportive while also remaining critical of bad work. He was an important force in Hip Hop, in the struggle for liberation and in South Africa as a whole. May our National Poet Laureate rest in paradise.
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Thank you, Belinda for your warm invitation to share stages with you.