Poetica Open Book Poetry Slam, 7 September 2013, Fugard Theatre.
Excitement was high in the Fugard Theatre’s Annexe as not an empty seat was left for the Poetica Open Book Poetry Slam. The Open Book Cape Town 2013 event hosted two slam teams, one from InZync Poetry Sessions in Stellenbosch and another from Naked Poetry Sessions, comprising of three poets each. 100 audience members, 6 poets, 3 judges, 1 winner. The format is simple enough, but the competition antithetically so. As Poetica frontwoman and MC for the night, Toni Stuart, informed the crowd, this was the first poetry slam to be held at a book festival in Cape Town history, and thus the bar was set very high.
It was immediately raised by Thabiso Nkoana (InZync), the first poet to take to the stage. Almost prophetically, Stuart had moments ago quoted Antjie Krog: “You feel poetry before you understand poetry.” Prophetic, because Nkoana opened with the first section of his performance completely in Sotho. Those of us who couldn’t understand the language were carried along by Thabiso’s animated facial expressions, his emphatic body language and his skillful manipulation of the lyrical inherent in the language, punctuated by eruptive cheers from the crowd. Suddenly he switches to English and proclaims: “And on that note, I swore and some motherfucker was offended.” The effect here is masterful. As Nkoana switches back to English you’re immediately dragged from a sensory space to one of more sober understanding – only to be called a motherfucker. But before you can object, Nkoana tells you that his cursing isn’t “discernibly due to a lack of vocabulary” but rather, he curses “because [he] can, because it disrupts your mundane life plan” and then develops on the semantic meaning of curse to speak to a larger theme of spoken word, poetry, language and their nature.
Zenande Gxabela (Naked Word) followed Thabiso with a softer performance, addressing current social and political issues. While the topic might seem overdone, Gxabele’s imagery is her saving grace as she sketches visuals such as prostitutes “chasing traffic light pavements”.
MC Verrassings (InZync) did what he does best, and freestyled on stage for a full two minutes. His subject matter is simple: it’s us, the audience, and his reactions as individual to this world of which we all form a part. Watching Verrassings move from French to Xhosa to Afrikaans to English, dance from one style to the other, sway from one beat to the next in a range of performance personae, I’m immediately struck by Whitman’s famous sentiment: “I am large. I contain multitudes”. A thought which, I feel, sums up the entire night.
Multilingualism and the metaphysics and power of spoken word seemed to be a recurring thread in the poetry of the night, a point developed by Thabe Ntebe (Naked Sessions) and emphatically driven home by Kate Ellis-Cole (InZync). Thabe, or “Taberknackle”, let rip in quickfire patois, pronouncing that there’s “a revolution in a spoken word” before moving on to his position as artist in society, claiming “I’m a starving artist because I give away too much food for thought”. Kate Ellis-Cole, the lady of the InZync crew, arguably tied the theses of the night together in her powerful, opening line: “My father speaks Zulu like a black man”. Ellis-Cole’s poetry is fresh – because it is authentic and honest in a way that makes you cling to every word leaving her lips. Perhaps it’s because her “hand and her heart are expressed by her lips”, or perhaps it’s because she can slam with the best of them, as evident in the quick staggering rhyme of “spacious, mordacious, gracious, loquacious and and and...”
Ingonyama Maseko delivered an emotionally charged performance as he asked the audience: “So, you are on which side of the equation? Part of the problem or part of the solution?” and draws on similar “mathematical imagery” to “calculate” the “problems” in South Africa. Skillfully done, which saw him move to the second round, along with Taberknackle and MC Verrassings. Here, Verassings stole the show with a love story. A powerful, tragic, delivery that extends to social, classist and political problematics as he recounts the tale of his previous relationship with Naledi and the obstacles they faced. He is a coloured man, she was a black woman. He is HIV negative, she was not. His versatile freestyle proved a favourite with the judges and MC Verrassings was crowned the winner of the night. The InZync creative seems to be making waves in Cape Town – the storm is coming.