I realized today I've been suffering the artistic equivalent of dehydration. I called it hunger
, but it's really more akin to being parched.
This afternoon, a group of us from Poetry Africa
performed at the Awesome Africa Music Festival, on the banks of Midmar Dam, in the Kwazulu-Natal midlands. It was freezing
. So absolutely, categorically, NOT a day to be wearing Zanzibari kitenge and beaded slippers, as I was. People sat on folding chairs, or in their tents, or over smoking barbecue fires, in front of the main stage, wrapped in sleeping bags, padded layers, woolly hats.
Being cold shuts me down almost instantly. For this trip, I fought a determined battle against my chronic overpackitis
. Only to find the joke on me at Midmar Dam, as I hopped about like a manic bunny, trying to keep warm through motion.
To my amazement, though, I still had a fabulous time. The audience was so beautifully, generously receptive to poetry - which is a marvel at a music festival. Being on stage, in the full heat of the lights, was like a sunlamp in winter. My whole body relaxed and purred into the warmth. My set rocked.
Then, I got to soak up the work of the other brilliant artists. Chiwonisio
from Zimbabwe, her mbira like running water, her voice the current driving the river. I've shared the stage with her 3 times this year - at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, at Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar
, and now here at Poetry Africa. Each time, she blows me away. Danyel Waro
, from Reunion, who I heard for the first time - drawing sound up from every last cell of his body, making the whole tent one huge resonating soul drum. We danced to Vusi Mahlasela, in the crackling cold, as he sang: my song of love, my song of life, my song of life, my song of love
As we headed towards the bus, a young backing musician from one of the bands broke away from the crowd and came up to me. I'd noticed him when I performed Drum Rider
earlier. He was the kind of audience member you hone in on as a performer - someone who got every line, responded with voice and body and smile and eyes. Now, he said to me:
I wanted to tell you how you impacted me with that poem. Do you realize how deep it was - what you were saying?
I was like: Dude, I wrote the poem!
He threw up his hands, began to laugh, shook his head. That's not what I meant! It's just - I've never heard an Indian woman go that deep. Be that real. Know what I'm saying?
I raised an eyebrow. Decided to open myself to the spirit, the sincerity, of what he was trying to say.OK. Thank you. Get used to it.
We both laughed. Talked a little more. Hugged goodbye. Encounters like that make me smile and shake myself in bemusement. Never heard an "Indian woman" (whatever that represents for him) go that deep? Like, what
am I supposed to make of that?
On the bus back to Durban, I breathed deep, felt words stir softly in my gut. As if I'd been quenched by rain, rehydrated to the brim. All my creative muscles and strings juicy and warm and singing again.