InZync Blog

InZync – the new edge in Cape metropolitan poetry

It’s as if SLiP’S InZync poetry event project has found a gluten-free diet that’s given it a dominant, physical edge, a mental alacrity that is already leaving open mic initiatives in Cape Town and elsewhere in the dust, writes RIAAN OPPELT.

The first SliP InZync poetry evening for 2012 was hosted a few days before Valentine’s Day, and whereas poetry at this time of the year is geared towards schmaltz about undying love, chocolates, inferiority complex vampires, Manchester, rolling around in post-apocalyptic flowers or an impossibly well-kept beach on Venus, we were once again saved from such capitalist mind-control by local poets who had no patience for any of it.

For the first time, we were indoors at AmaZink, with tables arranged as if for a druid’s convention and more Americans present this side of a Garden Route tour, but on a rare cold night in a scorching summer, the interior setting for the AmaZink magic was just what was needed.

Although I could not stay to see the Open Mic performances, the main event was an incredible way to start the year. The first featured poet for 2012 was Voicemail, a Kayamandi proudheart, young and akin to friendly dynamite, the kind that has a “Peace and Love” smiley badge on it, but that you ignite and throw at your friends to show your despot proclivity. Voicemail has the pocketed energy of a stair-climbing rhyme.

The sound controller could have been a bit more accommodating to the up-and-coming Kayamandi poet, as microphone feedback marred Voicemail’s performance at the beginning and a missing backtrack stymied his ending. In the middle of those two unfortunate technical glitches, however, the youthful and dynamic performer hooked the crowd with his oscillating between machine-gun succinctness and steady, rolling thought-sharing.

Most people forgot it wasn’t in English and just went wherever Voicemail took them, which is generally what you do when, in a room full of people having cheese and wine, you display impassioned appreciation, underlining your credentials as a connoisseur although you know that they know you don’t understand a fucking word of it. Voicemail will develop more stage presence with more performances, this we know, but for now SLiP can be happy to have provided one of the big shows, and a big crowd, early on in this artist’s career.


Things matured nicely with the introduction of Eavesdrop, who came up next. Hailing from Parkwood, the elegant performer informed the crowd that she usually worked exclusively with backtracks, and her relying on her solitary voice alone was a rare experiment for her. But then the grace and honey tones in her voice spun clouds around our heads, making us think we were better people than we could really claim to be, just for being in the same room with her. Eavesdrop had no right to be as good as she was, in spite of her experience and local clout, but she was so good that even the Americans willed her on, after she stopped herself, to continue her meditations against things largely blamed as American; and here we’re talking globalised minds, inherited and skewed perspectives of the world outside the nationalised mind and the over-indulgence of indulgence, making me or you as “American” as any American anytime we look at our own continent and forget we’re a part of it.

Did it matter that she said it sounding almost American herself? No, it merely added a devilishly clever reflexivity. It’s a nifty John Lennon kind of trick, this, but Eavesdrop repeating the word “incessant” to underscore the problem was more penetrating exactly because there was no music to accompany her. It affected you, touched you and, in case you forgot, frightened you out of your i-Phone wits.


And then there was Hemelbesem, “heaven’s broom” as he introduced himself to the crowd, a regular presence on Good Hope FM and a fixture in the hip-hop music charts. There was every indication that the Namaqualand-born, Worcester-settled rapper with “Aweh, kullid” printed on his T-shirt knew exactly how to play a crowd. His particular routine for us saw him as part social commentator, part rapper, part stand-up comic, and all poet.

He went from aiming his own barbs at globalisation to explaining the geographical morphing of the alliteration of the letter “r” from the Namibian border through Worcester, Malmesbury and ending in Namaqualand, by which point “r” becomes “g”, hard “g” like the sound your throat makes when Graeme Smith says the Proteas won’t choke again.

Hemelbesem presented such a cocksure concoction of performance skill in his interaction with the crowd that at one point I was convinced all of us had actually been cordially invited to watch him have a conversation with himself, not that he needed us mere mortals – such was his presence. He was even manly enough to pick out Khanyi Mbongwa in the crowd, something none of us will even dream of doing, lest we have to wake up and apologise to InZync’s resident Poetry Queen. With Hemelbesem, there was smooth elocution, subtle theatricality and the priceless ability to invoke laughter, even if it was something your mother told you not to laugh at.


I understand the Open Mic was also something quite special to behold and I’m sorry I missed it, but with our opening trio of performances for the year, the SLiP-AmaZink connection, I think, is going to go places this year it could never have imagined in 2011. It’s suddenly as if the SLiP poetry event project found itself on a gluten-free diet that gave it a dominant, physical edge and mental alacrity that is already leaving open mic initiatives in Cape Town and elsewhere in the dust.


Everyone is in agreement, from the organisers to the regular attendants: SLiP’s first InZync Poetry Session of the year, which took place on 10 February 2012, took this event – as a phenomenon, a cultural happening – to a whole new level.

Still hosted at AmaZink Eatery in Kayamandi, the event has moved indoors from the open-air amphitheatre to the revamped AmaZink Live theatre, with its excellent sound and lighting equipment.

The cosy venue, packed dense with a crowd partly shuttled in from the Stellenbosch University campus by Inzync’s indefatigable driver, David, confers an edgy, jazz-club atmosphere to the event – the perfect setting for an evening of hip-hop, spoken word, poetry readings and musical performances. Pick your poison from the well-stocked bar, manned by AmaZink stalwarts Shorty and Gift, grab your place at one of the long tables, and get ready for a full-on sound assault as featured poets and open-mic performers work some magic with their words.

Friday night featured homegrown Kayamandi verbal acrobat, Voicemail; Cape Town’s Amazonian word warrior Eavesdrop; and the phenomenally slick Hemelbesem, a consummate pro in the genre people call “Boland rap”, whose deft semantic play was matched by the way he played the audience.

Performing on home ground, Voicemail had everyone riveted with what MC Adrian Different called "spaza" poetry, a mixture of English and Xhosa (but mostly Xhosa) that set the tone for the multilingual, polyphonic performances that are becoming a signature of the Inzync sessions.

Eavesdrop wowed the crowd with her beautifully personal, politicised performance, which really underscored hip-hop’s potential for activism. To quote Emile Jansen, organiser of the 2011 Hip Hop Indaba and member of Cape Flats hip-hop crew, Black Noise: “Real hip-hop is … educating the youth, fighting Aids, exchanging cultures and breaking down racism” (as reported in the Mail and Guardian). Eavesdrop's voice and her seamless movement between rapping and singing mesmerised the crowd into reverent silence.

Hemelbesem, adopting a performance style that draws as much on stand-up as on hip-hop, had the audience chanting along to the existential, self-reflexive “Hoe Salla”: “Hoe Salla man an bo bly / Hoe Salla man in truth rym / Hoe Salla man salute kry / Hoe Salla / Hoe vra ek an in who's name”. The phrase “Hoe Salla”, with its Arabic inflection, is actually a phonetic version of the Afrikaans phrase “Hoe sal ’n”, a playful reminder of the Arabic roots of the Afrikaans language. Hemelbesem's effortless command of the rhythms and sounds of both English and Afrikaans was evident, proving once again why he was crowned as the 2010 hip-hop freestyle champion.

During the interval, Inzync regular Tebogo Louw kept the good vibes going with his smooth guitar rhythms, and we had a surprise performance by O’Ryan Winter (a well-known SA musician who played in the local TV series Backstage).

The interplay of languages and the potential for sound in poetry was also reflected in the Open Mic session, where Khanyi Mbongwa, Kate Ellis-Cole, Carsten, and others performed at a level of polish, impact and poetic expertise that went way beyond anything one has come to expect of such sessions. We were also introduced to the group Away the Sound Within, a collective whose hybrid of a capella and spoken word resulted in a haunting performance.

A highlight of the session was when Pieter Odendaal and Annel Pieterse performed their Afrikaans translation of Mongane Wally Serote's “City Johannesburg”, along with the original English version, in what can only be described as a kind of fervent performative unison. Pieter performed the Afrikaans and Annel the original English poem. Now they were taking turns with the lines, now they created an amalgamated cacophony; in all, they managed to enact the poem with an energy so intense it left the audience fatigued and exhilarated, a truly oxymoronic state if ever there was one.

Pieter Odendaal and Annel Pieterse