Arts Focus with Raisedon Baya
We all grew up thinking Mzwake Mbuli was the best
One of the few people to inspire most of us into pursuing a career in the arts is South African poet Mwakhe Mbuli, better known as The People’s Poet. He came into our lives, deep voice and screaming change is pain, and gave us something to aspire for. Here was a voice that touched our inner soul, a voice that made us sit straight and listen. Suddenly all of us wanted to go on stage and recite poetry like Mzwakhe. The People’s Poet was into protest poetry and there is something about defiance that just pulls young people towards it. We remember trying to outdo each other in imitating The People’s poet.
Our favourite poems were about the struggle, about defiance. These were poems that implored South Africans to rise up and claim their freedom from the apartheid regime. Not surprising the first book I bought was an anthology of Mzwakhe’s poems called Change is Pain. Unfortunately it was stolen a few days later.
A number of young artistes in the townships fell in love with Mzwakhe and his poems. Listen to a lot of our local poets and you will hear some Mzwakhe influence in their performances. Mzwakhe Mbuli was like a movement. He was the best. Everyone wanted to be like him.
Happy am I to see women and children
Marching along Mangoyi Road
Singing the song
Ayaqikaza ayesaba amabunu
Freedom is their birthright
Yet gross and brutal exploitation
Is their daily experience.
We used to move in the streets singing his poems. Reciting Mzwakhe’s poems became part and parcel of our drama rehearsals. In most cases we did not know all the words and lines but that did not stop us and so we mumbled on excitedly.
And when Albert Nyathi came into the scene, our first reaction was that he was trying to copy Mzwakhe. There were fierce debates about Albert Nyathi’s originality and all that. It is only now that we have matured and can tell the difference between Albert Nyathi’s poems and Mzwakhe Mbuli’s. The writing is different, so are the voices and the performance. But during that time it was Mzwakhe and Mzwakhe alone who had our minds and hearts.
I am a soul in agony
A soul in perpetuity
His poems were and are still not academic. They are not for studying or reading silently. They are for performance. True. He is nowhere near poets of yesteryear. He is worlds apart from Yeats, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and T S Eliot. Our Dambudzo and Musaemura Zemura wrote deeper poetry than him. However, Mzwakhe Mbuli taught us that poetry does not belong to the learned and the classroom only. He showed us the possibility of everyone enjoying poetry. To us he was the real people’s poet.
Then comes Fred Khumalo, a columnist writing in the Sunday Times going for Mzwakhe’s throat. Khumalo believes the reason why South Africa and countries whose arts are influenced by South Africa have suffered immensely at the hands of Mzwakhe. He believes Mzwakhe sold them something that is not poetry. According to him, The People’s Poet must be “re-arrested and kept incommunicado” for what he calls “bad verse”. Khumalo believes that anything that sounds and looks like a poem is not necessarily a poem. And his assertions are that all along Mzwakhe Mbuli has been selling people badly-written poems. When we read the criticism our first reaction was anger. If Khumalo had been near we would have hauled insults at him. Fuming in anger I composed a nasty email to tell him to leave Mzwake alone. Fortunately I did not send it.
When my anger had cooled off we went through the article and slowly we began to see some truth in what he was saying. Good critics have this tendency of offsetting the applecart. First of all we must say we love Mzwakhe and we know he has never claimed to be your ideal, educated poet who writes verse as it is should be written. All he has ever wanted to do is communicate some message to the people. To us Mzwakhe’s poetry has always been a good example of poetry made simply. Maybe that is why he calls himself The People’s Poet.
But having been involved in a project that is trying to teach schoolchildren writing and performing poetry I took Khumalo’s accusations seriously. What is it that we want our aspiring poets to learn? What kind of poetry? We must say the kids we have been working with have been nothing but surprising, very creative. However, when we began most had no idea of what is good poetry and what is not. Like us years back they thought anything that sounded nice was poetry. Many questions had to be asked and answered. Questions like, is poetry just about big words and abstract meanings? Is poetry about rhyme and rhythm? Or is it poetry about form? The most difficulty part came in trying to tell some of the children to find a voice of their own and write about things that matter to them.
Now as we go about our arts business we know that Mzwakhe is not necessarily the best but we shall not deny what part he played in influencing many of us to love poetry.
The preparations for Power in the Voice finals are at an advanced stage. The remaining six schools from Bulawayo will be travelling to Harare for the finals. They will meet six schools from Harare and then winners will progress to perform at Hifa before going to a festival outside Zimbabwe. The excitement in the schools is high. Also interesting this time is that the students have really taken time to write their own pieces. Though the teachers and PIV mentors have been there to assist the pleasing thing is that the poems are purely children creativity. We hope the best team wins.
To Siyaya Arts and IYASA for keeping the Zimbabwean flag flying with their tours.
FONTE: Sunday News - Zimbabwe