On this particular Monday, 28th May 2010, a FIFA truck is intemperately sprawled across the square opposite Xarra Books (A FIFA stage occupy’s this space at the moment.) A queue, made up primarily of the laymen, the poor men and the everyday Joe men, makes its exodus from the centre of the square and finds its omega at the mouth of this truck. The men are given a marking pen to inject the venom of their legacy on a pair of oversized Bafana jerseys. Ha! A joke if you ask me. But I wasn’t laughing when I too made my mark momentarily after this interview.
The angel Gabriel is an extremely pivotal character in both the bible and the Qur’an (According to Islamic tradition he was the angel who dictated the Qur’an to Muhammad.) He is said to be one of the seven archangels in Hebrew tradition. Those who are Christians will recollect reading about this particular angel’s visitations to both Zacharias (John the Baptists father) and the ‘holy’ mother of Jesus, Mary. Albeit my Gabriel is no angel, neither is she a ‘he’ sent to deliver sublime tidings which will see my lineage catapulted into a league of deity. In fact, my Gabriel’s first name means to watch over, guard or to wait in isiZulu. Linda, this is exactly what I am doing here at the Kaldi’s Coffee Shop in Newtown… waiting. (Note to reader: do bear with me on my pious blabbering**,) Linda Gabriel has offered me her lunchtime, “we’ve got 45minutes” she says, without the overly egotistic tone you’d get from most artists. Well, she is a poet, so I did not expect an ego anyway. Then I learnt the virtue of ‘ukulinda,’ to wait, as I watched 45minutes morph into forever.
|Born||2 September 1985|
|Current Hometown||Soweto but relocating to Blantyre in Malawi in 3weeks time
|Memberships/affiliations i.e poetry groups etc||I have worked with different artists and I am a resident on House of Hunger both here and Zim, also am part of Body of Words|
|Poets||I really don’t have a favourite|
|Musicians||Eric Donaldson, Habib Koite, Buju Banton, Omar Pene, John Coltrane, The Neville Brothers,Angelique Kidjo, Elemotho- the list is endless, I love Reggea and Afro Beat|
|Verse/Quote||“live the life you love and love the life you live”|
|Books and authors||Letter to my daughter by Maya Angelou
The book of Negroes by Laurance Hill
Destiny by Virginia Phiri
Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Purple Hibscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta
The Run Away Jury by John Grisham
The list is endless
Ps : I am a huge fan of John Grisham (author of “A time to kill”)
Malawian born Linda Gabriel, who is currently based in Soweto (moving to Malawi within 3 weeks), performs annually at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. She writes her own poems in English, Chewa (Malawian national language) and Shona, she also fuses her poetry with mbira vibes during her performances. Linda was 1 part of a 10 member all female group named Dariro which focuses on the performance of spoken word. She is one of the very few women who are members of the House of Hunger poetry slam in Zimbabwe which runs once every month in Harare (and South Africa.) She is a regular at the Harare International Festival of Arts also collaborated with Stanley Kenani (renowned Malawian poet.) Currently, Linda currently works for African Synergy in the development of arts. In January 2007 Linda was involved in the birth of Sistaz Open Mic, Pamberi Trust’s special platform for emerging female artists. Linda
is a documented photographer and has been working flat out, in the ‘place of gold’, learning new skills and gaining experience which she looks forward to bringing back home.
At Kaldi’s, the fresh aroma of rich percolated coffee steals its way through the pearly gates of my caffeine affectionate nostrils. A crime compensated by a R12.50 purchase of Latte. Linda schools me briefly on the types of coffee served here. My eyes, probably carried by coffee waves, linger to the newly allocated “African Books” shelve just across our seats. This coffee haven is joined to another haven, Xarra Books. I take an eyeful of ‘next buys’ before I brake the informalities.
Matt: your poem, “My Geography Teacher,” what is that work about and what inspired it, personal experience?
Linda: Ya, I guess all of my work is personal as much as I speak of other peoples stories. If I see someone being beaten, that is personal to me. “My Geography Teacher” is my reality man. I was in high school, I was 14 then. Then there’s this cute guy, there for temporary teaching… and I wasn’t even the only one who had a crush on him. I even flunked my geography at that time; he had become the geography lesson…
Matt: I picked up something from this particular poem and I hope it’s not too sensitive a question to ask. You say, “When he said we should keep quiet in the corridors, I felt myself walking on eggshells hand in hand with my long lost father.” What’s the story behind that?
Linda: I wrote this poem in 2007 and my father passed away in 2002. So, this poem is also a flash back, because it was the year 2000 when I was in form 2 (Grade 9 or Std 7 for those just pre OBE) when I had this crush on my geography teacher… I think it’s every girls wish to walk down the isle with her father and here I was combining all that.
“Home is where the heart is.” At this point I was curious as to the origins of this intricately woven African woman. A canny woman who spoke fondly of the Creator, her warm words blending with the scent of Ethiopian coffee, Latte’s and Espresso’s served in double demitasse (‘demitasse, ‘meaning half-cup) doses. “Where is Linda from, can you get us on that journey that got you where you are now?” And this question is the gentle nudge that imbues a tale of both migration and ultimately, of a woman belonging wherever her heart is set.
Linda: I am Malawian, but I was raised in Zimbabwe…and I’m here now. My great, great grand father, from my mothers’ side, comes from Tanzania and my grandmother, who is my father’s mom, is from Cape Town. It’s all these genes in me that I really love.
I am in love with the fluidity of the language in use in some of her poetry. Shona, this is the new French for me. Listening to Linda perform a piece at the “Body of Words” show at the Lab Theatre, I felt as though I was floating in a liquid body of words. Unknown orgasms (I meant organisms) stretching all my senses to hear what the ears where failing to comprehend. She says, “As much as I speak English/I’ve learnt English, it (language) goes back to who I am and what I’ve been through. So there’s no way I can write all of my work in English, because there are some phrases I can’t even get in English and translation just ruins the meaning. So I write in Shona and Chewa AND in English.”
Matt: So when did you move to Zim(babwe) and how was your time living there?
Linda: When my parents got divorced, my mother started cross border trading around that time. It was between Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Botswana. The place that had the best education at the time was Zim. So whilst she was pregnant she moved there to prepare her child for a better education… So born and bred in Zim, then I moved here (SA) in January 2008
She’s the only child from her parents, though, she says, “I come from a big family (as with most Africans) of step sisters and half and step brothers… my mom moved to Zim, then later my dad also moved and they both remarried to Zimbabweans which made me stay permanently in Zim.”
Linda describes herself as a hustler, “if you grew up in Zim, you have to be a hustler even though you have a formal job somewhere. It was hard and at the same time I wanted to pursue a career (Linda is a documented photographer) and I couldn’t. The school there was under-resourced and expensive at the same time.” So she found herself coming to study in SA. Linda had had dreams of becoming a Metrologist or a Tour Guide, but those dreams never really materialized. It was when she was performing at the Grahamstown in 2007 at High-way Africa (Convention for Journalists from all over Africa.) “One morning I walked into a certain room and there was a Tanzanian photographer by the name of Bob Sankofa, he had beautiful images in black and white, works that moved me. That’s when I fell in love with photography.”
We speak of HoH (House of Hunger) and the ecstasy in her voice is impossible to contain. She gives me a brief history of the origins of a movement that began in Zim some six years ago. She speaks nostalgically of Dambudzo Marechera (1952-1987), the late Zim writer after whose novel the movement is named. HoH is a Slam house, the type of platform I’m more than certain the spirit of Marechera would have been honored to bless. “So it’s named in honor of the person that he (Marechera) was, being true to who he was as a young person.” HoH was launched in SA in September 2009 and usually takes place every last Saturday of the month. An initiative of the Pamberi Trust, (an NGO called African Synergy in SA) the movement offers opportunities for artists to travel to different countries for development and exposure. It has provided platforms to prolific young slam poets such as The Lazarusmann and Donald “The Neosapien.” Check out the House of Hunger Poetry Slam with Cadbury PS chocolate – 19 June @ Alliance Francaise. For more information, hit Linda up: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Linda will be moving back to Malawi soon, “where it all began,” to make things happen there as well. “I want to start Spoken Word circles there and make them vibrant and begin platforms to discuss women issues in art…” Speaking of women issues or female (read feminist) voices in Africa, she says in her opinion SA has a bigger voice in terms of the subject followed by Zim and then Malawi. This is partly the reason she is going back to Malawi, to raise the volume.
Matt: Your group, “Dariro.” (Here she jumps in, utterly amazed that I’ve heard of the group)
Linda: Wow! You know of Dariro…? Dariro was inspired by Napo Masheane, when she came to Zimbabwe in 2007 and we were performing together at HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts.) She told me and the other sisters about “Feelah Sister”… “eintlek, why not experiment with the idea?” As always I was the youngest in there and we heard tried really. We started at 15(years) and it never really got there, because everyone had their own commitments. But it is something I’d like to revise and given a chance, do it again… and especially now with the experience of “A Body of Words.”
Matt: And what is the meaning of the word “Dariro?”
Linda: Dariro is a Shona word…I don’t know what the proper term is in English, but Dariro is a confined space where you are allowed to speak, a space where you have someone who will be listening to you.
Matt: You mentioned HIFA, Phillippa and Lebo mentioned it as one of their favorite festivals. What is your favorite festival?
Linda: I don’t necessarily have a favorite festival; I love all festivals and am at a point right now where I’d like to get invited to different festivals… I’ve not always waited to be invited; I’ve taken chances in going, used my own money to be part of something you know. I’ve nagged people. Like right now I’m nagging a certain brother, I really want to go perform at Mozambique. I just think festivals bring us together and there’s always something to learn from going to a festival. When I came to Arts Alive (September 2007), for me that was an eye opening experience. I went back home and was like, “sisters, we’ve got a long way to go in spoken word.”
Being the hustler that she is, she informs me that she’s cooking something for HoH poets. She wants to send four more poets to Denmark with Lazarus around August. The question is, ARE YOU ONE OF THE FOUR? We speak of the nature of Slam poetry, because I still believe a lot of Slammers just use punchlines and metaphors and have no cognizance of telling a story or leaving a message. Invite me if you think you can prove me wrong. She informs me, however, that it isn’t so with all Slammers. “For me, I use simple English. Words a Grade one learner would understand. ‘I was a six string bass guitar, made of metallic round satiny textures…” I speak to you… She goes on to say, “I’ll be honest, the other thing is that YOUNG ARTISTS DO NOT READ.”
Matt: Your surname, Gabriel, where does it originate?
Linda: “…years later after my surname has been changed to Gabriel…” (A line in one of Linda’s poems) It goes back to colonialism and slavery where white people couldn’t pronounce our surnames. (Like our Grootbooms etc in SA) So at the end of the day you are a Gabriel and Gabriel has stuck for generations and generations to a point where we couldn’t go back to trace it…
I quote something Linda says on relationships, “You love like you’ve never been hurt and you dance like no one is watching… It’s good to be loved.” (Everything else is off the record”,)
Matt: What is consciousness to you?
Linda: Consciousness is knowing who you are first deep inside. After knowing who you are, it’s your surroundings and how you relate to them… It is paying attention and listening to whatever is going on in the world. It is believing in what you do and believing in others. Knowing that whatever we do we leave soft prints in other peoples lives. For me a soft print can be easily erased, but a soft print in someone’s heart? It stays forever. Consciousness for me is communicated through my poetry. I should leave you there with a piece of me. There are a lot of ingredients in forming the recipe for consciousness, but also, consciousness begins with self love.
I know all I wanted to know about Linda, do you? Drop her comments or questions to know more.