Published in the Sunday Times
Nirox Words provides a space where the spoken word is presented as an art form, writes Kate Sidley.
You know those relaxation exercises where you’re told to imagine you are in your beautiful, happy place? Well, if the new Nirox Words festival is as good as its programme promises, it’ll be just like what I imagine my happy place to be – in a gorgeous garden, sipping something delicious, with brilliant conversation, and the burble of a river and strains of guitar in the air.
Nirox Words is a festival themed around words, their meaning, their beauty and their power to move and transform us and our world.
“Words traverse all the arts, all genres,” says Benji Liebmann, founder of the Nirox Foundation, and the man behind the festival. “They are integral to music, to performance art, to literature and to visual arts. This festival fully integrates literature with all the other arts.”
The aim is to weave the genres together, says Batya Bricker, who co-ordinates the book-related programme: “Books exist in the entertainment and art space, as opposed to the purely literary space.”
Music, sculpture, poetry, film, conversations, food, sometimes in combination – food with books, books with music. Words are there in every incarnation: written, spoken and sung – informing, questioning, entertaining and enlightening. The programme is diverse and surprising.
SOUND AS THUNDER
In the music line-up, for instance, there’s something called “Words in Memoriam”, recreating the words – and music – of visionaries and activists who are no longer around. Shotgun Tori sings Leonard Cohen, Tidal Waves plays Bob Marley classics. Urban Village pays tribute to Miriam Makeba’s music, and Chris Chameleon performs Ingrid Jonker’s poems.
Nirox itself is a drawcard – 15ha of parkland, meticulously landscaped to look like a vision of natural beauty – sweeping green lawns, winding pathways and hidden corners. The outside venue has informed the choice and format of events – relaxed, and more conversation than presentation. So the bookish chats will take place in fresh air, and be more about conversation than presentation.
The landscape also showcases the visual arts programme, which centres around sculptor Willem Boshoff, the recent winner of the Villa Extraordinary Award for Sculpture 2017/18. “Words are a fascination of his and have been a thread running through his work. He uses words of all kinds, including Braille, in a mischievous kind of way,” says Liebmann.
There are a number of firsts and one-offs on the programme. Excerpts from Mazisi Kunene’s epic poem Emperor Shaka the Great will be presented in SA for the first time, performed by his daughter, Lamakhosi, and others, in English and Zulu, and accompanied by Mazisi’s brother Madala Kunene, renowned Zulu guitarist. You can also catch a screening of Inxeba (The Wound), SA’s Oscar hopeful, with a preceding talk by director John Trengove.
POEMS ARE WORDS TOO
There’s poetry, curated by poet-in-residence and Sol Plaatje Poetry Award Winner Atholl Williams. Bring your own (or someone else’s) words to the open mic Poet Tree (Poet Tree/poetry, geddit?). And there’s a kids’ programme, which includes Gcina Mhlope, everyone’s favourite storyteller.
And when you’re all out of words, head for one of the programme’s most intriguing offerings – a wordless performance of Othello in the ancient Indian tradition of Kathakali, which relies on gesture to tell the story. Because, as Liebmann says: “I’m not sure that words are always the best way to approach the world. You engage through intellect rather than emotion or instinct. So we deal with words in their absence as well as their presence.”
Nirox Words take place on October 21 and 22. A day ticket is R320, R480 for the weekend. For information, go to www.niroxwords.com.
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