water (part 2): “…we have come to be baptised here…”



Koleka Putuma. Photo: Andy Mkosi


I often wonder why I feel as if I am drowning every time I look out into the sea

This and feeling incredibly small 


Every time our skin goes under

The reeds remember that they were once chains

And the water, restless, wishes it could spew all of the slaves and ships onto shore

Whole as they had boarded, sailed and sunk

Their tears are what have turned the ocean salty

This is why our irises burn every time we go under

Every December sixteenth, December 24th and December 31st

Our skin traumatises the sea

They mock us

For not being able to throw ourselves into something that was instrumental in trying to execute our extinction

For you, the ocean  is for surf boards, boats and tans

And all the cool stuff you do under there in your suits and goggles

But we, we come to be baptised here

We have come to stir the other world here

We have come to cleanse ourselves here

We have come to connect our living to the dead here

Our respect for water is what you have termed fear

The audacity to trade and murder us over water

Then mock us for being scared of it

Koleka Putuma, Water

I’ve been thinking about Koleka Putuma’s “Water” (seriously, do we walk the same earth as her? Her poetry is out of this world) and the line, “We have come to be baptised here” is playing on repeat in my mind, and I feel my body and soul craving a baptismal of sorts. A watering. A watering to halt the withering.



“Take me to the water/ To be baptized […] I’m going back home, going back home/
To be baptized.” ~ Nina Simone, Take Me to the Water




Baptised by the Jazz Horn

We rush in and make our way to the front, sit right before the front row seats on the carpet floor. Behind us, in the seats reserved for distinguished guests, we spot President Thabo Mbeki and Zanele Mbeki. Gush. The former President is here! He is so close we could touch him, but nerves have us hostage. So my friend tweets about it instead. I retweet it.
The MC says a few words to introduce the artist. We aren’t really listening. She gets off, people applaud, and then he walks onto the stage with his signature black cap pulled over his head, a black flap covering the sides of his face. He gets straight into the swing of things, singing about being baptised by the jazz horn, his band joining in, the horn taking the lead. The time has come, it’s Gregory Porter.

He’s flanked by an orchestra that includes 11 strings, 2 flutes, 1 oboe, a French horn, 13 other horns, percussion, drums, piano…

The rhythm section is up first.

“There will be no love dying here,” he declares, the horn driving the point home. He scoops those low notes from down below, throws his voice in the air, then out towards us. Swoon. Once more, enter the horn.

Hey Laura,” they say, “it’s me.”The atmosphere in the auditorium pulsates with excitement. The piano, understated and subtle, is present the most in this one.

1960-whaat!” The drum, furious and fast, drives the beat of the tune. Acoustic bass, not willing to be left behind, marks its spot in the harmony. Again, the horn. Always the horn.

The strings are spectacular. They lift us up, and soon we are all in the air, flying with Gregory and his accompaniment. He growls like a Southern Gospel singer. Claps his hands like a man under a spell. It’s all very spiritual.

Some more songs, including the well-loved ‘Liquid Spirit’, then he does a tribute to Nina Simone – ‘Work Song’. He put a little swing in it, a little groove, a little attitude. Before we know it he waves goodbye, bows, and we exhale.

Love and light,

“Jazz – it takes passion to make it happen!” ~ D C DowDell

Pictured: Gregory Porter at this year’s Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Photo credit: Babalwa Nyembezi