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FEATURE

Radioactive Poetry Café: A New Beginning

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The Radioactive Blog kicked off its 2022 season of Radiactive Poetry Café on Monday 7 February at Black Sheep Café. Somewhere between the coffee and poetry, Mpho Matsitle found pockets of space to offer some observations.

It is a rare evening blessed with a cool breeze, served with hard bass lines, soft keys, whispering horns, wailing reeds, kissing cymbals, and a sprinkle of sultry voices. There’s a dash of caffeine and other brews of less import. It is a kind of evening wherein life justifies its very existence. There’s ease, there’s peace, one may even be tempted to declare that love lives here. The sky? You may ask. Well; it is a little pregnant with rain, but not at all threatening. So much so it gives Kayode Abimbola of Swiss Productions courage to move the stage outside. After all, why waste a good summer evening indoors? 

The people who birth me call this day Mosupologo – simply; launch day. On this the seventh day of February, The Radioactive Blog launches the 2022 season of Radioactive Poetry Café. Black Sheep Café in the heart of Westdene plays host. The regulars are here earning their name, some old faces too have come out of hiding and have raised their hands to be noted when mabitso a balwa, and — encouragingly — there are a lot of new entrants to the roll call. For reasons best left to future philosophers to ponder upon, organizer Thutukani Ndlovu and perennial busy-bee Tshiamo Malatji find themselves shuffling two large xanadus in concrete pots towards centre stage. It soon comically dawns on all paying a bit of attention that the pair may be adept to spitting and splitting heavy concepts on the mic, but they should probably leave the heavy lifting to the professionals. 

At some point, the show ended. Patience Labane, the reigning Free State Slam champion, closed the show. As she was on the mic, a light drizzle pattered the roof all too quietly. It was almost imperceptible, and fleeting. Almost as if its brief presence was a quick thumbs-up from the powers above. But as already stated, the show did end. One was forced to leave the café, and interact with the broader world. In these interactions I was saddened to discover that, as far as everyone was concerned, this Monday was just as blue as all others before it since the dawn of capitalism. So why did I have such a markedly different experience?

There was poetry! As the popular aphorism goes: “Where there is poetry, all beauty is permitted.”

Reigning FS Slam champion Patience Labane at the Radioactive Poetry Café. Credit: The Radioactive Blog.

Permitted, not guaranteed. The Saturday preceding the Monday in question, I paid Art State editor Ace Moloi a visit. Or maybe I should rather say, in case this article is dug up by biographers, I was summoned by Moloi. We broke the fast together, and later as we chew the cud in his garden, his daughter made a cameo appearance. She and I went through the rigmarole of greetings. I was impressed by her pacing and how she hit every note in the right order. However, we wondered as she went on to play, can a toddler understand the meaning and significance of tumediso, or are these just words memorised and recited?

The same question has been asked of poets. I wonder if it has been asked of the audiences. Do we really listen, immerse ourselves in the words, or do we merely go through the ritual of faking attention, then snapping and clapping on cue? I challenged myself to listen. I have a very simple tool; when faced with a painting – I open my eyes and try to hear what the painting is saying. And when faced with a poet, I close my eyes and try to see what the poet is painting. In this exercise, as I sat there eyes shut, in a semi-meditative state, I heard whispers in the deep. Some in the audience were not even pretending to listen, they were engaged in conversations while poets performed, yet were the first to snap and clap. They were not alone in empty rituals.

Some poets took to stage to recite memorised words that seemed too interested in themselves and possessed no meaning nor significance. That is, words without life. In my discussion with Moloi that Saturday morning I remembered how when we were children we were not allowed, sometimes violently, to enter the ‘how are you’ stage of the greeting, for we could not even begin to fathom the going-ons of adulting. In the same vein, as I grew older, past the stage of donkey-ism, my father would throw a fit if I dared recite an off-the-shelf prayer when it was my turn to say grace. I find a similar thread in poet Lesego Rampolokeng’s disavowal of wordplay, he insists: “I respect the WORD. People talk of wordplay, I don’t play with it … it’s one of the most powerful weapons in the world.”

We find a lot of wordplay, rhyme chasing, low hanging fruit pop references and other such gimmicks in the poetry of Ben Runaway’s Tlotliso Ranthimo, who kicks off the show in the open mic. As precursors go, the open mic was a perfect curtain raiser for the main show, as it anticipated its two faces. This toying with the word phase was seen later in the performances of Tshediso Johannes and to a lesser extent Thuthukani Ndlovu, who had the sophomore and penultimate slots respectively. 

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BlvckMess captivates poetry lovers at Radioactive Poerty Café. Credit: Swiss Productions.

Vivica Twecu, who took up the other open mic slot, heralded the word as weapon — one is tempted to say word as The Living Word — phase. Her bleeding on the mic was selelekela for Patience Labane and BlvckMess, who both took up the baton to hurl their words at Jericho’s walls in righteous black rage. The later’s performance was perfectly placed before the musical interlude by Royal Heka’at, MC Tiisetso Motsage noted as she fought to catch her breath. The songbird was joined by the patient canvas building of Royal Priniti on guitar and Jama Ka Sjadu’s timely interventions on saxophone to render ‘Ba Ya Re Bolaya’ from the Love Light Life album. The trio earned the only spontaneous standing ovation of the night.

The night which inevitably had to end. The lights came on, music played, last rounds were ordered and bills paid as some lingered on and others trickled out to brave the big blue world. However, fortunately, it is no ephemeral moment as was the light rain that sanctified the end of the show. The good people of The Radioactive Blog, who went to the trouble of sending the attendees thank you notes, have promised more of the same in the coming months. With the next session of the Radioactive Poetry Café scheduled for the March 7th at Black Sheep Cafe.

FEATURED IMAGE: Tshediso Johannes reading verses at Radioactive Poetry Café. Credit: The Radioactive Blog.

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