The promise was liberation of unspoken words. In a confluence of ideas, last Saturday evening’s billing of our own Tawonga Taddja Nkhonjera and South Africa’s Xolisa Ngubelanga delivered performances as varied in vocabulary as they were weighty both in delivery and effect on the rapt audience.
In the cosy confines of KwaHaraba Art Gallery in Blantyre, Taddja, introduced himself with an engaging, oxymoronic verse with which shared his essence as a poet and set the tone for the entire evening.
“I am Japan with no ninjas; the Zodiac with no Libras…I am the immaculate conception with no Jesus,” recited Taddja, as the audience gasped. “I am Zaya Kunkhongo’s radio with no transistors,” closed the poet.
In his first set, Taddja performed ten poems including First Memory, If You Are Asleep and Black, setting the stage for the dreadlocked Xolisa Ngubelanga. Xolisa performed alongside rising poet and fashion model Sharon Kadangwe reading a piece titled Conversations With Victoria, a dialogue between a British monarch and a son of Kabula (as Blantyre was called then).
“A native in skin, you dare call yourself king,” queries Queen Victoria, personified by Sharon. “Under your feet lies a history buried in colonial hypocrisy…You stand in our presence an insult,” retorts the son of Kabula, through the persona of the poet, Xolisa.
When Taddja stepped onto the stage for a second installment of poems, it was to the accompaniment of music, a hallmark of Taddja’s style of expression in which he incorporates other forms of art and artists into his performances.
With long time musical collaborator Muhanya, strumming his guitar, Taddja performed a few poems before inviting musician and fashion designer Wachituta Thombozi of Kuwala Creations to play a mbotoska drum to a poem, We Chuchu We, which chronicles the genealogy of the Nkhonjera people of the Nkhamanga Kingdom.
“We have all been whipped by the same whip. Colonialism in South Africa, colonialism in Malawi. And on the continent. We feel the same pain. Working with Sharon, we read the piece and talked about it at length and saw that we live together as Africans and find commonalities,” Xolisa said of being in Malawi and performing with a Malawian poet for the first time.
“There is that strand in all of us. We must find that story, that African story. We are the storytellers.”
The spoken word event was hosted under Bluntfyre, a poetry movement that was founded by Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa and Linda Gabriel, but it went into hibernation when Linda out of the country and Nyamalikiti having relocated from Blantyre to Lilongwe.
Taddja said: “We looked at the current climate of poetry and spoken word in Blantyre. While discussing other matters pertaining to poetry, Nyamalikiti and I observed the huge chasm that is there between local performance and international performance.
“By engaging poets and performers from other countries will then our young poets grow and develop their own art to match performers and artists from other cultures.”
Speaking prior to her performance, Sharon was positively bubbling about her act.
”It is my first time to collaborate with a South African poet.I feel humbled having been approached to perform alongside Xolisa. His writing is vivid, he faces challenges with stern confrontation and he is not shy to express himself. I am inspired by Xolisa, and Taddja who lives and breathes art.”
Closing out the performances of the night, Muhanya performed an acoustic version of his new song, Tisangalare, which he will be performing at the end of the month at Mibawa Multipurpose Hall.
“We are definitely going to have a lot more of Bluntfyre poetry. We are already organising an unprecedented Slam Poetry event which we hope to host in the next two months,” said Taddja. n