Podcast with Master Storyteller Gcina Mhlope
It is often said of the supremely talented that they possess gifts that are innate – that they are born for their craft – and in many ways this reflects our belief that, beyond a certain point, no amount of personal effort can explain success. Gcina Mhlope is a storyteller who has been the object of observations like these. She doesn’t tell, but performs her stories, blending movement, dance and song into her delivery. Hers is a style that invokes the jazz vocalist as much as the praise singer or imbongi, and even carries the touch of the griot.
Gcina turned her back on a thriving career on the stage to take up what at the time seemed like a highly risky bet on storytelling, and she readily admits her surprise at the extent of her success. Gcina has brought joy to those who flock to hear her tell her stories, and and by doing what she loves, she has enriched our cultural milieu, investing new energy in some of the stories from the African continent that have been neglected in favour of tales from the colder climes of Europe and America.
Make no mistake about it, Gcina is first and foremost an entertainer: it is not in the strict message of her tales that her interest as a storyteller lies. She says that those who endlessly search for the moral of a story miss the point: stories are there to entertain, delight and often confound.
Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to Gcina about a number of aspects of her art: she tells why, when she is on stage, she insists that the lighting must allow her to see the faces of her audience; she describes how, when performing, her powers never become depleted because of the energy she receives from her audience in return; and, of course, in the course of our conversation it seems more than just a conversation, but another master class in storytelling from Gcina, and to top it all, at the end of our conversation, Gcina kindly agreed to sing a song from her upcoming album!
One of the things that I found quite fascinating in our conversation was Gcina’s revelation that many of the stories that she tells do not belong exclusively to any one society, and that in her travels across the globe she has been intrigued by how so many lay claim to the ownership of these stories that obviously have a universal thread. For those who insist on original authorship, it must be frustrating to come across these narratives that reveal a largely social contribution to the preservation of the art of story telling.
Surely it says something of the powers of the individual storyteller that they can ‘own’ a story during the telling, and of course theirs is more than just recollection as part of their power is re-telling of the story so that with each telling, what the audience experience is both the old story and at the same time, a completely new one.
Gcina talks of the magic of storytelling, and it is this ability to render new worlds through the power of words that makes storytelling such a powerful art. Gcina talks about the influence of her grandmother in her own storytelling, and how it was her grandmother’s tales that prepared her for her first day at school.
Mhlophe’s stories include Nokulunga’s Wedding, Leader Remember, The Crocodile Spirit, Haai! Zoleka, Golden Windows, and, most recently, The Singing Chameleon. Her musical partners have included Francis and Patric Bebey and Sam Shabalala, and she has also worked with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She has been awarded honorary doctorates by both London University and the University of KwaZulu Natal for her work.
Our conversation was recorded at the Annual Bush Fire Festival which is held in the Malkerns Valley in the charming Kingdom of Swaziland. Please tune in:
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