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When the Poetry Greats Came to Town

Don Mattera MutabarukaAlert! The recent Urban Voices Poetry Festival that took place in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban featured Jamaican Reggae dub poet, Mutabaruka, local icon, Don Mattera, Jamaican Jean Binta Breeze and American-Filipino Patrick Rosal. The artists performed at various venues and held workshops and master classes in the suburbs and townships.

The festival did not go unnoticed in the local media, but Percy Zvomuya and Bongani Madondo had rather different takes on the merits – or demerits – of the do.

Rose Francis Bongani Madondo takes a dip at festival organiser, Roshnie Moonsamy, saying, “Call it what you may, but this festival runs the risk of collapsing under its success: it no longer concerns itself with introducing us to new, exciting poets.”

By stark contrast, Percy Zvomuya, who interviewed Mutabaruka, sees him as decidedly relevant. He says, “Taking cue from a changing world, the Rastafarian vegetarian has broadened his vision. His poetry routinely deals with environmental concerns, junk food and drug abuse.”

The next generation of poets study the greatsMeanwhile, BOOK SA’s Liesl Jobson, who stopped by at the Alexandra Police Station where Mattera and Mutabaruka gave a workshop to teens from local high schools, offers a third take. She wrote, “Mattera, 73, was the star of the show, an enigmatic presence and gifted teacher. ”

Read up with these very different articles on the recent poetry:

It’s the same ol’ greats over and over again. I think Mutabaruka has really run the full ultra-marathon of what’s possible in liberationist poetry.

Jinta Binta Breeze might be new to our shores, but she’s not exactly Zena Edwards, Saul Williams, Lupe Fiasco — or even the lively poets from Mama Wiri Wiri Lekeng’s West African cultural group. She and others are big names but I wonder if there’s anything fresh or new they are talking about these days.

In the late 1970s Jamaican dub poet Mutabaruka wrote the cultish Dis Poem that declared: “Dis poem will not change things, dis poem need to be changed”. Almost three decades later Mutabaruka suggests that the line remains relevant as long as the developing world fights “neo-conservatism, neo-colonialism and reverses the legacies of apartheid”.

Born Allan Hope, Mutabaruka found the stage name that rolls off the tongue randomly in a school textbook. Later, when the nickname stuck, Mutabaruka learned that in Rwanda the name means “One who is victorious”. It was an apt choice because his vision — then in its formative stage — is unapologetically African.

THE sounds filtering into a poetry workshop in Alexandra in Joburg last Friday were the clatter and bustle of the police station’s charge office below — the thud of rubber stamps, the odd yell and banging doors.

While about 60 high school children waited for world-class Jamaican dub poet Mutabaruka and South African icon Don Mattera, who’d been delayed in traffic, Joburg poet and publisher Rose Francis corralled them into an impromptu poetry slam.

Photos

Empress GaiaPrince Shapiro High school poets Student rapper at the Alexandra Police Station Scholar rapper

Azanian Love SongThe First Poems / The Next Poems

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