Theatre/event review: Cape Town Spoken Word Festival

Posted: November 19, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: , , ,
Production:  Cape Town Spoken Word Festival
Master of Ceremonies: Quanita Adams, Reggae artist Teba Shumba, Jy!7, JP and the All Elements Band, EWOK, and Keeno Lee.
Reviewer: Astrid Stark
First published in The Cape Times, 19 November ‘09 

 “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion.” – Dead Poets Society.  During this film – released in 1989 – Robin Williams’ unorthodox character teaches his students the importance of non-conformity, finding their passions, and the might of words.  Back then it was a powerful film. Today our country is riddled with politicians gorging themselves on taxes, violent outbursts of xenophobia, and a frail health care system; Williams’ message is now more important than ever.  It is then with disappointment that I watched Cape Town’s first ever Spoken Word Festival unfold at the Baxter Theatre.  Where’s the angry youth rapping about a failing education system?  And the griots, travelling singers and poets of West Africa, passing on the oral traditions which must surely be under threat of extinction?  The line-up included a lot of music and the messages of a lot of the artists were neither terribly profound nor very clear.

Award-winning actress, singer and presenter, Quanita Adams MC’d the affair and opened the evening with a beautiful poem about the Cape Doctor that blows with constant sorrow through our people’s hearts and lives.  Her golden voice and timing of the poem is brilliant, but it is also the only highlight of her appearance on stage. Adams spoke lightly and briefly of campaigning for the rights of women and children and made the men in the audience stand up in support of this issue; which saw them shuffling nervously about for a bit.  

EWOK

Next up, Reggae artist, Teba Shumba, delivers his music and poetry flawlessly, but it does not come across as a memorable performance with a strong message.  Reggae often speaks for the downtrodden and those who cannot, or are not given a platform, to speak for themselves.  Our country is filled with these voiceless people; does this really speak for them?   It’s only when the hip hop artist EWOK rocks onto the stage that the audience sits up and responds.  EWOK is an actor, a graffiti artist, a writer, a poet and an activist.  He was born in the Eastern Cape to a Kenyan mother and an American father.  He could be South Africa’s EMINEM but he quickly changes our perception when he angrily attacks the misplaced American hip-hop gangster-bling culture.  With a super-smooth tongue and rhyming slam that explodes from his microphone, EWOK confronts consumerism, and the youth’s lack of direction.  He raps about the ‘the bomb style’  – the trend of youth wanting to become suicide bombers – lamenting the slavish following of the fanatics, “Fashionable figure heads for us figures without heads.”  He has a strong opinion on the digital revolution, “The revolution will not be broadcast. It is going straight to DVD.”  In the 80’s video killed the radio star. In 2009 the internet is killing the TV’s fading star.  Maybe the SABC should be paying better attention? 

At last I feel as if the festival is reaching deep and coming up with meaningful and memorable material.   This is what Spoken Word festival needs more of and the excited whistles and shouts from the audience is proof that EWOK’s message is hitting home. 

The rest of the line–up included a interesting but somewhat unremarkable performance from Jy!7.  This duo handle the very important issue of preserving the Khoi and San languages and culture, and it has a few endearing moments, but lacks final impact.   Singer and performer Keeno Lee, dedicates a proportion of his stage time to the struggle of the working classes and the fallen soldiers with his a very touching poem, ‘Sukkel’, which translates as struggle. His poem, ‘Mooi van Ver, en Ver van Mooi,” is a cheeky and funny poke at the misplaced vanity of some girls. His singing voice is beautiful but there is just far too much singing and not enough spoken word.  He is also somewhat outdone by his nimble fingered guitarist, Julian Carson.  

The evening ends with a too long performance by Jazzhop group, JP and the All Elements Band.   It is great to have a Spoken Word Festival introduced to Cape Town, and its potential is surely enormous.  At the recent slam poetry sessions held at the Franschhoek Literary Festival it was obvious that we have an abundance of raw, untapped poetic beatniks with a lot on their minds, in the Western Cape.  Hopefully the next Spoken Word Festival will rake in extraordinary talent to address social, political and personal issues with word and song.  In the words of EWOK, “I have value, I am worth more, I am not just a cog in a machine, my eyes are open and my voice can be heard.”

The Cape Town Spoken Word Festival runs at the Baxter Theatre until 21 November.  Tickets may be booked through Computicket by calling 083 915 8000.

THE END

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