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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Are we a bunch of malcontents?

There are days when you have to wonder if South Africans are addicted to complaining. They complain so often, about the most serious things, but also about the pettiest. First thing in the morning when you are brave enough to try a little Talk Radio, someone is already complaining. The next caller will try to outdo the first caller with their own tale of why something sucks so much. As if not to be outdone, the animated host will throw in her own experience from hell and before you know it, morning radio is like a convention of malcontents.

So you switch to the CD player, and lo and behold the lyrics are catchy, but when you listen closely, the Cape Town musician is complaining. And you wonder why on earth the lyricist would spoil such a great tune with such sour words, then you think maybe you are not qualified to judge musicians. Still you tap to the irresistible rhythm even as you shake your head. So you decide to go for a breakfast, and as you wait for a table you pick up the daily newspaper, and by chance you turn to the Letters to the Editor. What do you know, but these letters have to be written by the unhappiest lot under the sun.

So you decide that you’ll take it easy the rest of the day and not read any media or listen to the radio, but it’s easier said than done and as you head home in the evening you instinctively switch your radio on. It’s nearly midnight but the callers are still firmly on the complaining bandwagon. When they are not ranting about the Springbok Coach, they are bitterly complaing about how expensive books are, or about how corrupt our officials are, or how dirty the streets are nowadays, or how everything is just so bloody expensive. They never run out of things to complain about, and even when one brave voice does try to stick in a little praise for outstanding service somewhere, they quickly shoot him down. So the whingeing wins the day and those who want to shout that they are having a great day, no, a great week, maybe even a great year eventually succumb to the fashion of the day and they too join in on the act and they too become habitual whingers.

And the biggest act in town carries on as they complain, complain and complain till you wonder if they will ever know happiness if it hit them in their hearts. Because, because, who knows? Perhaps they are secretly happiest when they are tell themselves that they are unhappy. So maybe, just maybe, we are a bunch of malcontents and there’s nothing we can do about it but play out this dull drama of those that believe that true happiness comes but once to these shores. Like when there’s a Rugby World Cup, the FIFA World Cup, or when Bono and his U2 outfit jet into town ready to improve the world in their Louis Vittons and glistening designer jeans. Black of course.

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Video Clip of Shailja Patel Performing at Poetry Africa

I recorded the following performance of Shailja Patel‘s at Poetry Africa in Durban, 2007. It’s truly a clarion call for those who wish to be creative but find themselves blocked:

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Two Recent Photographs of Gabeba Baderoon

Gabeba Baderoon

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Podcast with Poet Laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile

This Way I Salute YouKeorapetse KgositsileIt is his ability to capture, in movingly lyrical poetry, his very deep love for the musicians who brought us jazz – the stand out art form of the 20th century – that has endeared Keorapetse “Bra Willie” Kgositsile to lovers of poetry. Keorapetse is South Africa’s Poet Laureate: a fitting role for a writer whose work is littered with lines that elevate the human spirit and oppose all that limits freedom. But it shows the measure of the man that, even as he performs his official duties, he has maintained the delicate balance of the celebrated griot – the one who praises and chastises his patron and society in the very same moment.

In his collection, This Way I Salute You, Keorapetse pays homage to jazz artists with distinctive voices on their chosen instrument, whether it be the trumpet of Hugh Masekela, the double-bass of Johnny Dyani, the saxophone of John Coltrane, Billie Holiday’s delicate and Nina Simone’s gruff vocals, or the incomparably beautiful singing of Cassandra Wilson. He also pays homage to other poets, like Senghor, and it is an affirmation of his status as a proponent of Pan Africanism that his references to African leaders cut across the arbitrary borders that were the result of the Scramble for Africa.

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Live Podcast with Breyten Breytenbach and Emmanuel Dongala

Emmanuel DongalaBreyten Breytenbach

“Culture” is one of those words that can conjure up so many meanings – yet on close observation these meanings often lose their power, and fail to communicate something tangible.

During the Time of the Writer Festival held at the coastal city of Durban, South Africa, earlier this year, I had the honour of sitting down in front of a live audience to chat to Emmanuel Dongala and Breyten Breytenbach about “changing cultures”. They provided some fascinating views on this important topic.

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Podcast: Live from the Launch of Lebo Mashile’s Flying Above the Sky

Lebo Mashile Flying Above the SkyThis episode with Lebo Mashile – our second together – marks a first for the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast: it’s the first one I’ve ever done “live”, in front of an audience.

The audience in question comprised those who turned out, in large numbers, to witness the launch of Lebo’s second collection of poems, Flying Above the Sky, earlier this month. What a night it turned out to be, with Lebo first delivering a powerful and deeply felt recital. As she took hold of the mic at at Johannesburg’s Dance Factory, she planted her feet firmly on the ground – then transported us to a soaring world. Her poetic vision lifted our consciousness, dislodging preconceptions and beliefs and replacing them, sometimes with doubt, but as often with hope.

After the performance, Lebo graciously invited me to join her on stage to chat to her about her new work, and I recorded our conversation. Tune in as I chat to this extraordinarily talented poet with a fiery voice.

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Podcast: Conversation from the Country of the Heart with Breyten Breytenbach

A Veil of FootstepsBreyten BreytenbachIn our age of consumerism, when even ideas must be stripped of their complexity and delivered ready to serve, there is something to be said for those who are still prepared to speak in riddles, who still think that ambiguity adds to the joy of language and that narratives are far more open than is often reflected by those who insist on closure.

Any careful reading of Breyten Breytenbach‘s A Veil of Footsteps (Memoir of a nomadic fictional character) reveals a writer deeply aware of the demands of convention – the convention of the memoir, of the convention of the “observer” – and it is the risks Breyten is prepared to take in resisting, even frustrating these demands that bear the most fruitful rewards.

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Podcast: Don Mattera’s Living Memory

Azanian Love SongDon MatteraIf ever proof were needed that it is possible for one man to undergo a complete personal transformation, then Don Mattera, rise up. Today Don is renowned for his writings, his humanism, his powerful oratory, and his message of hope, but in his earlier years, Don was a feared gangster. After turning his back on that life, Don simultaneously turned his attention to poetry – and it was as a poet that he gained the kind of earth-shaking status that gang leaders crave.

For if once Don had been feared on the streets, he was to become even more feared as a writer and a political activist. Such fear did he inspire among the Apartheid rulers of South Africa, in fact, that they moved to silence him completely. He was banned for his activism, spending the years from 1973 to 1982 – three of them under house arrest – as a “Banned person”: no speaking, no meetings, no publications, no liberty.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to Don Mattera about his poetry, his deeply held beliefs, and about the twin transformations in his life – his own, and his country’s.

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Podcast with Wordsmith Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

Taller than BuildingsPhillippa Yaa de VilliersA sense of wonder and a palpable exultation at the beauty and potency of language runs through so much of Phillippa Yaa de Villiers’ poetry that it is impossible to read it without feeling that the vault of language is fully open to her, like a treasure trove glittering in the dark. But in her hands words are often picked clean of easy artifice, and so much of the meaning and power of what she writes is subtle sheen, not just sparkle.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as Phillippa shares the source of her most urgent messages – which she expresses across a wide variety of genres. She writes poetry; writes for the theatre and television (including Takalani Sesame and Soul City); writes for industrial theatre productions; and she has also found the time to write for magazines. Recently, she collaborated with Pule Hlatshwayo and Swedish writer Charlotte Lesche to create Score, a three- hour miniseries for Swedish Broadcasting and SABC 1.

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Podcast: the Disarming Irony of Poet Immanuel Suttner

Hidden and RevealedImmanuel Suttner In his poetry, Immanuel Suttner has a gift for communicating paradox, often through poems that are disarmingly simple, but always with a sting in the punchline. “Punchline” here is apt, for Suttner likens some of what he writes to a good joke, saying that when the poetry works, it has a climax that is fresh and surprising – but also familiar, almost intimate, able to worm its way under one’s skin.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to this fascinating individual about his work and deeply felt sense of moral repugnance toward the indifference and social decay that he depicts with such skill in his poems.

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