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Matthew Mokoena

Be servant to all, master to self, like rain... pouring on both the just n the unjust... Change is here, now... WATCH...

Body of Words – Review

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(photographs by: Mlungisi and OZ – you can find the full photo journal on the galleries blog or click here)

The Lab (Market Theatre Complex) came alive mid May as it hosted the Majesty of seven of SA’s finest literary scientists. Of course these outspoken women are not scientists in the conventional sense; how appropriately ironic though that their 1st Experiment together (A Body of Words) be presented at THE LAB THEATRE. In my mind I imagined 7 specialists around A BODY OF WORDS. Silver, light emitting flashes from the scalpels of literary doctors ready to ply their trade. A sign on the door which reads; PLEASE ENTER: Resuscitation of the written and spoken word in progress. From the poster design alone (a female posing vignette with words subtly whispering hints of full on femininity), I got the picture. Indeed, a picture does say a thousand words, no ‘figures’ of speech attached.

We are at the Lab Theatre to be inspired, appeased, to be told that words can only truly live once spoken, hence this is a resuscitation and not a resurrection. We are here for the hearts and souls of Khosi Xaba, Myesha Jenkins, Lebo Mashile, Natalia Molebatse, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Linda Gabriel and Khanyi Magubane (Khanyi was not present on this day due to the Journalism Awards) Today, May 15 2010, God is sweeping the streets with His Mighty breath and all His people in ‘Art City’ Newtown can feel its chill. A God of diversity He is. So some of His people gather, waiting, searching for Him on dance floors and restaurants while WE (the others), gather around the Lab Theatres doors painted with invitation. Myesha meets The Consciousness Team warmly, for I believe she no longer considers us guests, but rather an extension of her family. She leads us backstage where our wizards are adorning themselves in modest apparel. For expressive presentation is an inward-out display. The general mood is jovial with minimal chat and so sensing the anxiety I kept my conversation to a bear minimal.

The beautiful Natalia is wrestling with her make-up (a battle which she no doubt won judging by the pictures.) Mam’ Khosi is being assisted by her lovely daughter, Phillippa is not in sight and Lebo is busy beautifying Linda further. So Myesha takes a moment, upon request, to school me on the conception of “A Body of Words.”

Myesha: It just occurred to us that a lot of our poems speak about things which have happened to our bodies and so our bodies are a tool. We learn through our bodies, learn shame first through our bodies, things happen to you from the outside world through your body… It is from this precept that “A Body of Words” was born.

So I leave the ladies to do their thing, check out the theatre before everyone else comes in and I am greet by the magical sounds of Jimmy Dludlu. Lebo (not Mashile), Kg and Thato (all 4th year students of the Market Theatre Lab) are handling the technical aspect of the show and promise us the best show of our lives. Kg (having already attended on opening night) describes the show as “Music in words.” Outside the theatre, I spot a familiar face; Nkoto of Kwani Experience, and decide to nibble her mind on her expectations for the show.

[wpaudio url=” of Words Review/Before/Nkoto Before Gig began .mp3″ text=”Nkoto Of Kwani Experience Before Gig began (Click to Listen)”]

Matt: What are you expecting from the show?

Nkoto: Women, issues… mainly directed at men. Guess that’s what I’m expecting. I love theatre so I’m just excited.

Matt: “A Body of Words”… what comes to your mind?

Nkoto: A     BODY…. OF WORDS “, (isn’t she just direct)

Matt: Do you have a favorite poet on the line up?

Nkoto: I like Lebo. I like Phillippa’s work. I’ve seen Original Skin, lovely play. I also like Napo Masheane (Napo had to cancel her appearance on the show due to other obligations.)

Next on the “Conscious Spy Glass” was the man formerly known as Archie Moroka, well, depending on which side of reality you are looking from, here is what Mr. Sello Maake ka Ncube had to say about the show.

[wpaudio url=” of Words Review/Before/Sello Maake ka Ncube Before Gig began.mp3″ text=”Sello Maake ka Ncube Before Gig began (Click to Listen)”]

Matt: Any expectations, favorite poets?

Sello: Well, I’d say Lebo and Khanyi. (I do sense however that he appreciates all of them enough, but I didn’t give him space to say “they are all good.”)

Matt: What do you think of the title?

Sello: The title is quiet intriguing and being an actor I always talk about “the physicality of words” and for me, words never speak sense of physicality. So I’m gonna be watching and listening to how the words are going to be used to paint pictures.

So the general consensus was this, “We are looking forward to hearing these powerful women in action.” With the stage set and the crooked sticks of the conscious clock a little over 20:30, the show begins.

Natalia brings the room to a hush. With words in a tumble, characters with a magnetic charm dressed by music (and boy can she sing.) In fact, in her opening piece she speaks of bodies singing, listening to eulogies, dissolving the winds breath… She says, “… these bodies release the truth to what the soul had shelled. Bodies who love and are loved, bodies who pray and are prayed for, bodies who play and are played…” Tel me you can’t picture her words in your head and I’ll tell you that you probably lost contact with your imagination when you stopped telling stories using stones; this is if you are a girl of course. If you are a boy, you stopped painting your dreams in the clouds with kites as mobile paintbrushes. Natalia possesses a rhythm only the god’s can dance to, sing to, and live to.

[wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase1.mp3″ text=”Natalia, Khosi & Myesha (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase2.mp3″ text=”Phillipa (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase3.mp3″ text=”Linda (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase4.mp3″ text=”Lebo & Phillipa (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase5.mp3″ text=”Linda (Click to Listen)”]

Now, for the answer to the question no one wanted to respond to. ‘Who was your favorite poet?’ Not that it is by any means easy to respond to such a question, especially considering the generation of poets the likes of me hails from. Not that it prides me to say this after attending this show. I hail from a generation of verbal stone throwers, ones born amidst the massacre of apartheid. These, children of soon to be free women trapped in abusive relationships, became ignorant to the paramount role to be played by the ‘Children of Freedom of Expression.’ So all we do is write based on slam scores numbered “10.” Words saturated in meaningless punchlines and diluted by pale, ghostly metaphors; but to be fair, some of my contemporaries are seekers of light, truth and poetic discipline. So, my favorite TWO poets of the evening were one Makhosazana Xaba and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers.

[wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase6.mp3″ text=”Khosi (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase7.mp3″ text=”Lebo & Phillipa (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase8.mp3″ text=”Myesha & Lebo (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase9.mp3″ text=”Khosi (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase10.mp3″ text=”Phillipa (Click to Listen)”]

Makhosazana’s mouth is a playground for words. A playground for words narrating stories of love and sorrow, hate and despair. Stories that demanded to be written; demanded truth to be told. Not painted in caves or coded hieroglyphically with words unspoken. Her words shook the structures of systems that hid the truth. The latter is visible in her poem about Police Constable Francis Rasuge, who went missing in 2004. How the media could have said more instead of hiding and protecting identities. My favorite offerings from her were “My Librarian” and “My book.” The latter sings praises to her book which could pass as “a spouse.”

“My book has never been too tired to go to bed with me.

It never has a headache or needs down-time to discuss the day.

It never says: please not now, I’m not in the mood.

In fact, my book seduces me with its spine

that beckons from the shelves, yearning for my touch…”

Her writing technique is witty, intelligent (yes, intelligent) and comical as you can tell from the above poem.

Then there was Phillippa. (Read her interview on You can’t miss the slight whispers of pain embedded in her poetry. She speaks of life’s issues with pureness of heart; as if she were somehow cleansing her own self with her utterances. Totally self aware of WHOM her words represent, the human in you and me beyond the color of our skins and the disillusions that come with it. “Words are fish. They nibble at our nipples and tickle our clitori and we scrabble for the right one to describe the absoluteness, the this-ness of THIS!!!”

[wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase11.mp3″ text=”Myesha (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase12.mp3″ text=”Lebo & Linda (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase13.mp3″ text=”Natalia & Phillipa (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase14.mp3″ text=”Natalia (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase15.mp3″ text=”Khosi (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase16.mp3″ text=”Lebo (Click to Listen)”]

To feel the multiculturalism and diversity of poetry; to know what it is to hear and listen to poetry beyond language barriers, you would have heard to give yourself to the magical voice of Linda Gabriel. I am now of the impression that Shona is the French of Africa. I sat there thinking, “I do not know what she just said, but YES WE CAN…” The fluidity of her words… it was as though she was in the process of creating a new liquid to replace water with her tongue as a tool.

Myesha Jenkins’ poetry would make those of you who aren’t comfortable with hearing words like “SEX” and talking about YOUR PERIOD COMING duck under the soles of your own feet. In fact, if you were part of the “Comrades” who she referred to. The ones who stood up to tell great stories of how she fought for liberation, but left her alone to die poor, sick and alone. I urge you to erase your membership. Myesha speaks honestly, comfortably, as comfortable as the setting she is a part of. Her poetry rich in the aroma of the locations she’s at in pieces where she is waiting for him, “with open arms and a smile.” (Read her interview on

[wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase17.mp3″ text=”Phillipa (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase18.mp3″ text=”Myesha (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase19.mp3″ text=”Linda (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase20.mp3″ text=”Myesha (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase21.mp3″ text=”Khosi (Click to Listen)”] [wpaudio url=” of Words Review/During/Performance phase22.mp3″ text=”Natalia (Click to Listen)”]

Lebo Mashile plays a mediatory role, bringing together theme with prose; reconciling an era with its history, an issue with humanity. She did however perform ONE POEM during the set themed “Joy.”  Her poem, titled “I dance,” was Lebo at her best. In all the years I’ve spent attending shows (from the formal to the informal ones held on the streets with burning tires as the main source of heat) never have I come across such a talented perform. She had the audience in the palm of her hands, waiting for her to snap them back into their senses. We stirred, in awe of her artistic wizardry. It’s not fair that she only did one poem whilst the other ladies spilt their hearts and souls to us, but you got to say, her one poem was worth it.

These women… mothers and daughters themselves, are a living testimony of the power of Spoken Words. I am still caught in two minds about this art though, about who the audience is. About why so many communities of poetic “struggling artists” exist when it is SO GOOD.

One thing about this show though. If poetry to you is about slamming and competing with punchlines etc, you would have hated the feeling of being so out of place. The show was to some extent more of a reading than a performance, which to me seemed to give it the status of maturity which it possessed. So once again, if you are the type that can’t stand reading, this was the wrong show for you. For now, picture it in your mind, round two of, “A BODY OF WORDS?”

[wpaudio url=” of Words Review/After/Audience after the gig.mp3″ text=”Audience after the gig (Click to Listen)”]

(photographs by: Mlungisi and OZ you can find the full photo journal on the galleries blog or click here)

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