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Be a part of Migritude's journey.
No contribution is too small - or too large. $2 buys coffee for a volunteer. $15 rents a rehearsal studio for an hour. $100 covers 2 hours of lighting / tech / set design. $500 helps fly Shailja to international festivals!!

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"J'ai consacree le texte...."

said Habib Demba Fall yesterday. Yes, I know there should be an accent over the e in consacree - just don't know how to do it in Blogger. If you do, tell me please.

We were on a panel together: Poets in Dialogue, at Durban's ICESA Communications Campus. He was talking about his poem dedicated to the thousands of young Senegalese, devoid of hope for a future in their own country, who launch their bodies in flimsy boats onto the ocean separating them from Europe.

The sound of the words, the power and poignancy of them, melted into me like a taste, a phrase of music. I have consecrated the text...... It's an invocation one might make at the start of every new poem. Who do I consecrate this to?

Other lines that stayed with me:

Chirikure from Zimbabwe
, on building a career as a poet: You have to make conscious decisions over and above your natural talent.

South African Haidee Kruger, on making each word work: As a poet, you put language through the laundry. You want it to come out fresh at the other end.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Every bit as exciting as Bollywood

Article in today's Durban Post, by Candice Soobramaney. My comments below :-).

AS A CASCADE of words and sentences ebb and flow from her lips, it is obvious why Peter Rorvik of the Centre for Creative Arts has invited her to Durban.

Kenyan-born poet Shailja Patel is an articulate and knowledgeable orator.

Her tinged American brogue (1) adds colour to the Royal Hotel coffee shop on a dusty Saturday afternoon as a quartet of patrons seated nearby steal glances at her.

Despite missing a connecting flight from Gauteng (2) to Durban, after arriving from Kenya on a four hour flight, Shailja, venturing alone at the Oliver Tambo Airport, successfully boarded a reconnecting flight and arrived promptly for our 4pm interview.

As her brown pashmina shawl lazily rests (3) on her shoulder, Shailja, born and raised in Nairobi, is on her first trip to South Africa and is one of several African artists to perform at the 11th Poetry Africa Festival that ends on Saturday.

Scheduled to perform at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre tonight (Wednesday) at 7pm, Shailja has performed as a poet and spoken-word theatre artist at venues across the United States and from Vienna to Rome to Zanzibar.

Last December she premiered her first full-length show Migritude in the San Francisco Bay Area and excerpts of the production at January's World Social Forum in Nairobi led to standing ovations.


Sipping on cappuccino, the Gujarati-speaking artist, armed with a degree in Economics and Politics from the University of York, enlightened me about Migritude, a one woman theatre show in which her props are a suitcase of saris.

"In the Gujarati-speaking community, mums collect saris for their daughters' trousseau in preparation for marriage. For 30 years, my mum collected saris for me but she got tired of waiting for me to get married and eventually gave them to me.

"I thought how do I use these? They couldn't just sit in a suitcase. It was criminal! So, they ended up as props in Migritude, about colonialism in India and Kenya," said Shailja, who at nine won a poetry competition in a Kenyan children's magazine, Rainbow, the theme of which was road safety.


She says although there is a public perception that poetry is limited to what people learned at school, very few have experienced the power of live poetry and encouraged Durban audiences, especially Post readers, to support the festival.

"If you come to tonight's act, it will be every bit as exciting, enriching and inspiring as any Bollywood film."(4)

On the topic of Bollywood and in between our banter, she told me a half-humorous, half-angry tale of a current advertising campaign featuring Shah Rukh Khan promoting a skin lightening cream, Fair and Handsome.

"Bollywood's influence on the world is huge. In this particular advert there's a dark-skinned man, who cannot find a partner until he uses this miracle cream and his complexion drastically changes to four shades lighter," she chuckles. Shailja believes skin-lightening creams should be banned globally.


When I enquired if one could earn a living from being a poet, she replied: "Those struggling economically believe art is a luxury but people are hungry for words and there is market for what you have to offer."

My assumption that being an artist meant she could rise on a working day without being bothered to head for work, was soon corrected. "Being a self-supporting artist one must be focussed and efficient to market and promote oneself. You are running your own business, from production to distribution, and it's hard work."


Having performed at more than 30 colleges, universities and festivals, including keynote student conferences at Yale and Brown, she currently has two collections of poetry on the African Diaspora, to her name: Dreaming in Gujarati and Shilling in Love. Shailja, who divides her time between her family home in Nairobi and California, said her favourite accompaniment during her international travels was her voice, which she described as her "gift".

In her spare time, the certified yoga instructor, enjoys dancing, reading and wandering the streets of each new city she performs in.

(1) Tinged American brogue - who knew? Time to work on keeping my vowels round and my consonants clipped when I say kickass and awesome.

(2) Province Johannesburg is located in.

(3) brown pashmina lazily rests - hey! My pashmina works out every day. She has excellent muscle tone.

(4) Lure them in with Bollywood and saris, then unleash the politics......

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Awesome Africa Music Festival

I realized today I've been suffering the artistic equivalent of dehydration. I called it hunger, but it's really more akin to being parched.

This afternoon, a group of us from Poetry Africa performed at the Awesome Africa Music Festival, on the banks of Midmar Dam, in the Kwazulu-Natal midlands. It was freezing. So absolutely, categorically, NOT a day to be wearing Zanzibari kitenge and beaded slippers, as I was. People sat on folding chairs, or in their tents, or over smoking barbecue fires, in front of the main stage, wrapped in sleeping bags, padded layers, woolly hats.

Being cold shuts me down almost instantly. For this trip, I fought a determined battle against my chronic overpackitis. Only to find the joke on me at Midmar Dam, as I hopped about like a manic bunny, trying to keep warm through motion.

To my amazement, though, I still had a fabulous time. The audience was so beautifully, generously receptive to poetry - which is a marvel at a music festival. Being on stage, in the full heat of the lights, was like a sunlamp in winter. My whole body relaxed and purred into the warmth. My set rocked.

Then, I got to soak up the work of the other brilliant artists. Chiwonisio from Zimbabwe, her mbira like running water, her voice the current driving the river. I've shared the stage with her 3 times this year - at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, at Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar, and now here at Poetry Africa. Each time, she blows me away. Danyel Waro, from Reunion, who I heard for the first time - drawing sound up from every last cell of his body, making the whole tent one huge resonating soul drum. We danced to Vusi Mahlasela, in the crackling cold, as he sang: my song of love, my song of life, my song of life, my song of love.

As we headed towards the bus, a young backing musician from one of the bands broke away from the crowd and came up to me. I'd noticed him when I performed Drum Rider earlier. He was the kind of audience member you hone in on as a performer - someone who got every line, responded with voice and body and smile and eyes. Now, he said to me:

I wanted to tell you how you impacted me with that poem. Do you realize how deep it was - what you were saying?

I was like: Dude, I wrote the poem!

He threw up his hands, began to laugh, shook his head.

That's not what I meant! It's just - I've never heard an Indian woman go that deep. Be that real. Know what I'm saying?

I raised an eyebrow. Decided to open myself to the spirit, the sincerity, of what he was trying to say.

OK. Thank you. Get used to it.

We both laughed. Talked a little more. Hugged goodbye. Encounters like that make me smile and shake myself in bemusement. Never heard an "Indian woman" (whatever that represents for him) go that deep? Like, what am I supposed to make of that?

On the bus back to Durban, I breathed deep, felt words stir softly in my gut. As if I'd been quenched by rain, rehydrated to the brim. All my creative muscles and strings juicy and warm and singing again.
Shailja Patel. patterned sari border
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