Did you know?
Traditionally, African societies preserved their history and sense of identity through oral story-telling traditions.
Performance poetry in South Africa evolved from a long tradition of oral story-telling.
Traditionally in South Africa, the performance poet is called imbongi or praise singer and South African performance poets were tied to the chief's kraal, performing at his pleasure. Today, you will find traditional praise singers preserving and performing traditional praise poems in cultural villages around the country. Zolani Mkiva is one well-known contemporary South African performance poet, performing in the traditional role of praise singer at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.
The tradition has continued to evolve however. Today, you will find performance poets on stages at festivals and theatres where performance poetry in South Africa can take many forms. Often, it involves reciting poetry that exhibits traditional influences, as well as the influences of jazz, dub, hip hop and reggae, and explores themes relating to our social, cultural and political identities.
Some well-known South African performance poets who have re-interpreted the genre are Natalia Molebatsi, Ntsiki Mazwai, Bianca Williams and slam poet and graffiti writer Creamy Ewok Baggends. Phillipa Yoa de Villiers, Pikita Ntuli and Matodzi "Gift" Ramashia are also well-known performance poets.
There are also groups of performance and spoken word artists, like the Khoi Khonnexion collective, comprising Jethro Louw, Glen Arendese and Garth Erasmus, who use indigenous Khoisan musical bows and arrows as trance musical instruments in harmony with guitars, reggae-dub rhythms and backing chants as part of their poetic delivery.
Collectively, South Africa’s performance poets are inspired by, and contemplate, the common humanity that binds us all together. They also open our eyes to the richness of our cultural legacy, allowing us to see commonalities and differences between us, giving voice to the nation through their creativity.
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