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

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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.

Yours,

DustySoul

“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

 

 

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What Melanin Means

The following post was first published on my book blog “The Black Feather Hideout”, and is a short account of how I started it.  If you haven’t already, check it out, and let me know what you think! Dusty

The Black Feather Hideout started out as a frustration. When I started living in Johannesburg a few years ago, I would troll second hand bookstores, indie bookstores, and mainstream bookstores for reads I could dive into and get lost in. What I kept seeing, over and over, were multiple editions of books like Pride and Prejudice, a JM Coetzee book or two, and once in a blue moon in the corner of some shelf at the back, a copy of Things Fall Apart. Friends of mine too, knowing me to have a voracious appetite for reading, would ask me which African authors to recommend to them, and time and again, my list always felt too short. At first I thought, Let me start a sort of directory where people can find authors from Africa and the diaspora, as a way to expanding their knowledge. But then I began to see that that would be limiting myself and the possibilities for this kind of project a whole lot. My frustration begat an excitement – not just a directory but reviews, interviews, podcasts, giveaways and in the future, events and workshops and all sorts of wonderful Black Feather Hangouts!

This is our corner of the internet where Black writers and their work can be celebrated and acknowledged, where the issues that we want to discuss can be discussed, where we can just be.

I do it for the Black teens who don’t know who Tsitsi Dangarembga is because we feed them Shakespeare every school year, but minimal literature by Black writers. For the black boy who wants to be a writer but writes in thous and thys because again, Shakespeare ad nauseum. He does not know how to articulate his specific, unique, complex and beautiful Black existence, because he is limited to metaphors he gulped down from dead old white men and not his father Achebe, or Sol Plaatje, or Miriam Tlali.

For the times when your skin feels heavy like a burden and you want to scratch it off. This is so that you will reach out and use your hand to join this community of beautiful Black people also groping in the dark for a matchstick. So you will know that you can be free.

Here is the beginning of the salve.

I do it because Blackness is not brokenness, slavery, apartheid and colonialism. Gene Demby wrote it how I felt it when he said that Blackness is not just “a parade of calamities and disadvantage”.

Because we belong in books and there are books that belong to us.

And most of all, I do it because melanin matters.

Yours in power,

Relebone Rirhandzu eAfrika, aka The Black Feather aka Dusty Soul

melanin is why you are still alive.

after. the torching.

it is a second lung. the next heart. and the next heart. and the next.

breathing thing.

a ceremony of life. while you are asleep.

a cosmos. in conversation.

immortal.

– nayirrah.waheed

Poetry: a note

“I wanted to write poetry that was accessible to those whose experiences I was writing about, namely the black community. .. I heard music in language and I wanted to write word-music, verse anchored by the one-drop beat of reggae with meter measured by the bass line or a drum pattern; I wanted to write lines that sound like a bass line.” Linton Kwesi Johnson

 

Black women create – acknowledge that!

The devil does not rest sha! While Black women are out here creating, he’s erasing our names from our work. These bloody internet thieves who think our work is good enough to post on instagram and twitter but who don’t think the creators are good enough to credit will be the death of us. Stop that.

For many of us, writing is hard work. Not only because writing itself is a difficult art, but because we often write from our very unique, complicated, and often painful experiences and positions. Yes, we don’t always write from experience, but even when we don’t, it is our imagination that did the work. For someone to swoop in and pillage our sweat, blood and tears – to erase us – is incredibly violent. We’ve been schooled by life and our writing comes from that education. It’s an education that came with a few hard knocks and personal joys and victories. Respect that.

Gosh,

Dusty

Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for. –Marian Wright Edelman

 

This too is PURPOSE

I have said before and will keep saying to anyone who cares to listen, that like many of my favourite authors I am obsessed with the idea of “being” and “belonging”. We are always becoming, shifting and navigating the spaces in which we find ourselves, bending that space to accommodate that interesting (elusive?) thing we call “who we are”. If we find it difficult to bend that space, we often bend “who we are” to fit into that space instead. Something which some may call compromising our character. But I digress.
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Since I last wrote you (yeah I know, it’s been forever. Askies) I have gone through a great deal many phases of emotional testing. Some tests I have failed spectacularly, others I have triumphed over victoriously. At the heart of each misery – because each phase was a test of how I responded to misery – was whether or not I felt I was walking in my purpose.
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To explain that term – purpose to me has always meant that which we were born to do. I believe that to love is our greatest purpose. To give is part of loving, and so love is our supreme purpose. How we live out that purpose, or walk in it, how we use our gifts and our talents to give to the world, those are the details of the Reason for why we are.
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Now in those phases that I failed incredibly, the one ‘conclusion’ (it was really actually an assumption based on hurt pride) that brought me low was, “My life is insignificant to the point that God has forsaken me, and I am not walking in my purpose, never will, because I’ve never meant much to Him.”
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What I failed to understand is that a 9-5 does not constitute “walking in my purpose”. That is a minor detail. More than anything, I have come to realize that “purpose” is not what I do – purpose is a state of being. More specifically, it is the state of being where you are meant to be at that moment, which for me is in the will of God. I have never thought of purpose in that way before, and to be honest, that definition frees some of the tension of having to “prove myself” to the world. (To be clear, it is not a definition that replaces the one I gave before it, rather it complements the one offered previously)
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If there is one person who I can offer as a true example of someone who is the perfect cross between someone who exemplified the “being” and the “doing” of purpose, it would be the incredible Maya Angelou. I cried real tears when I heard that she had died. It affected me something fierce because she meant a lot to me. Unlike the death of others whom I have loved and admired though, I immediately received a great sense of peace shortly after I had cried my last tear. Not because I didn’t know her personally, but because I felt that I was satisfied with how she lived, that she used every ounce of the life she was given and left no unfinished business. Maya had to overcome so many hurdles in her life. If you had met a younger, angrier, more hotheaded Maya, you would have never guessed what she would accomplish later. And you know the darnedest thing is that her greatest gift to the world was not her singing, her poetry, or her literature – it was her hardship. Hardship is what gave her the material for her autobiographies, her poetry, her music, and so forth. Hardship is what showed the world that greatness is living inside each one of us waiting to be expressed, and hardship is what showed us that even dark days will do us some good in our future. Even in that moment when she was a pimp, a prostitute, a teenage mother, she had greatness on the inside of her. When she expressed this in such a way that the whole world could grow from it (her greatness I mean) we all understood the “doing” of her purpose.
browngirlsconnect

Preach, Maya. (Source: browngirlsconnect.com)

This truth about hardship was echoed to me the other day when I texted my mother an anguished complaint about how helpless I feel sometimes, about not having a 9-5 and being financially dependent on the generosity of others. Her response, “This too is PURPOSE. It is NECESSARY. It will pass. Make the most of it.” She read my mind. And she is right; just as Maya Angelou reminded us, every experience you have ever encountered, even the seemingly insignificant ones, prepares you for what is to come.
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Yours,
Dusty
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**I know I’m inconsistent with the entries in this blog. I’ve gone into a sort of writing cave past few months. Most of my literary energies have been expended on my novel-in-progress. Anyways this is the one place where I write and upload when I feel like it, not when there’s pressure to do so. Bear with me?
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GOD made everything with a place and purpose… (Proverbs 16:4 MSG)

Guest diary entry: “Love: unrelenting fighter you are.”

Love is my favourite author. They inspired this. I hope she finds you in your secret place; lays your soul bear; and pierces your heart. I hope your heart bleeds…

Love: unrelenting fighter you are.

I remember those times

when the moon bore witness to our love.

Shining bright—the only light to guide us in the dark night.

It was the only certainty I needed, the knowledge of our truth manifested in the natural

Intended as a sign, a symbol, a reminder of love in times distraught.

____

When a speck of light brought illumination to a sea of blackness;

When the glow in your eyes could not conceal the past—History.

A man in dusted rubber boots dancing joyfully, treading on our dreams;

Weighting truth with truth.

Ours boxed, graved, sinking deeper and deeper into nothingness,

Light as a feather.   _

Oh, what an unbalanced scale, when the reality of it is compared to will.

An equivocation unseen, caused only by seeing.

_____

I remember those times, when the stars sat hiding;

A sky graced only by a moon,

Waxing,

Half drowned by the blackness of night.

How alone it must have felt.

Overcome. Doomed. Destined to nothingness.

____

I remember when the moon bore witness to our love.

I remember when the moon was our love.

I remember a conflict of truths. A balancing of scales.

A blindness of sorts.

Oh how I wish we could have seen that moon, that light, that sign

A symbol; a reminder of love in times distraught

How I wish we saw a soldier adorned in the blood of her enemies;

An unrelenting fighter

But instead we saw an army of full stops.

We saw the end…

____

Oh how I wish we saw love

Bella Boqo

“…a soldier adorned in the blood of her enemies/

An unrelenting fighter…” Pic sourced

“I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.”  – Pablo Neruda

“It was my destiny to love and say goodbye.”  – Pablo Neruda, Still Another Day

Bella Boqo (left) and DustySoul

Bella Boqo (left) and DustySoul

**theDustySoul thanks her dear friend Bella Boqo for this poem: a swift but beautiful, painful and enthralling journey through the rollercoaster of being in the clutches, the throes, of love. Who can escape this mixture of the pretty with the ugly, sweet and bitter? Better yet, who would wish to? theDustySoul hopes you will embrace this poem even as you embrace Love.

Yours,

DustySoul

Ubuhle bendoda: on the beauty of a black man

The Black man is a beautiful thing. This assertion is a declaration of faith; because every day I am told that there is no hope for him – in the news, by the testimony of others, by media. I need to believe against hope that he is more than a burglar, an abuser, a lazy man, a rapist. This assertion is a reminder to myself that my Brothers are beautiful, despite the shame that has haunted them through the ages.

Yes. Indian, Chinese etc men are all God’s children too, but I write about the Black man now because he is the one I had lost faith in. He is the one I believed was built too weak to love. He is the one history saw systematically abused and de-humanised.

During the National Arts Festival I had the honour of sitting through the amazing Sibongile Khumalo’s concert, Reflect. Celebrate. Live.  at the Guy Butler Theatre in Grahamstown. The concert was the kick-off of a tour meant to look back on her journey as a singer and actress, to celebrate her achievements, and to appreciate those who have brought her through in her life. She has an impressive career spanning many years (it’s been two decades of a professional career), and as the “First Lady of Song” of South Africa, she has made a name for herself as an outstanding, talented, skilled musician to trump all others. Anyway, the concert was interspersed with anecdotes from her childhood and young adulthood; inlcuding stories of her family, her growing pains as a musician, and her lessons along the way.

One of my favourite moments of this concert came when she described going with her father to visit the homestead of Princess Constance Magogo Sibilile Mantithi Ngangezinye kaDinuzulu (1900–1984); composer, poet, singer, and authority on Zulu traditional music; in her youth. [click here to listen] She tells how she never knew, back then, sitting with Princess Magogo on the stoep of her hut, that she was “on a date with destiny”. She later represented Princess Magogo in an operatic role portraying the Princess’s life, masterfully written by Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo. uMam Sibongile Khumalo told how, as she sat at the feet of Princess Magogo, learning songs and watching her play her traditional instrument; she mused over many things, including that age old saying, “ubuhle bendoda zinkomo zayo”. Directly translated, and the Zulus will correct me if I am wrong here, the saying means that “the beauty of a man is his cattle”.

Before that evening I had always dismissed this adage, regarding it as what I had deemed an indication of the emphasis on material goods to measure the worth of a man. I could not have been more wrong.

In the days of old, when an African man was in possession of cattle, he indeed was considered a beautiful thing. To herd cattle requires discipline, persistence, cautiousness, and hard work. A man who had healthy cattle was seen as beautiful because of the implication of that possession. Seen through those eyes, the beauty and honour of a man was in his ability to care for something more than he did himself, his ability to commit to discipline, to persistence, and to hard work. The beauty of a man was in the sweat of his brow.

In a world that is overwhelmingly misogynist, it’s hard to believe sometimes, that there are still men of honour amongst us. It’s even harder to believe that there are Black men of honour who exist. But hearing uMam Khumalo speak about her encounters with Princess Magogo, learning history from her remarkable father (Professor Mngoma, who was a historian), and hearing her sing one of the songs from the Princess Magogo opera, reminded me that indeed, the Black man is not all vile and villainous.

As she burst out in song, singing about ubuhle bendoda, my heart swelled anew with pride and respect for him.

One of the best music bands to emerge from the South African live music scene in the past decade has to be the indie-afro-soul-jazz band The Muffinz. A mixture of various musical genres thrown together into a delicious mix (hence the name “The Muffinz”), they are not only five guys with guitars and a set of drums, they also happen to be immensely talented, skilled, and well, easy on the eye.

What I love about their music, besides their skill and talent, is their socially conscious lyrics. These dudes aren’t just packing “baby, baby, baby” into three minutes of a song, they are commenting on the socio-political issues of our day.

Umsebenzi wendoda (translated: the work/duty of a man), a song about single mothers who raise strong Black men in a society that is unkind to them, is another song which made my heart appreciate anew the beauty of the Black man. Every time I hear the song I feel like breaking into ukuxhentsa, or a Zulu dance.  Anyway, the song was written as an ode to their mothers, many of whom had to raise them in the absence of their fathers, in a society that considers raising men to be the work of a man yet provides few positive male role models.

During the National Arts Festival at Radio Grahamstown. theDustySoul with members of The Muffinz and the Cue Radio/Fest Focus.

The song is a tribute to single mothers, and journeys through her sacrifices, waking early and toilling all day to put a meal on the table. It speaks about how their mothers can finally rest, because the load she carried alone is lessened now that her son has grown into the young man she always hoped he would.

The duty of a man is to maintain his honour. Can’t forget the image in my mind from Ben Okri’s short story, The Secret Castle, in which he describes one of the characters thus, “He looked like the word ‘honour’, in ragged clothes”. No matter his position in society, the Black man has especially the duty to respect himself and others and to maintain his honour. I believe in you, Brother, against what I see to the contrary you are Black Gold and I believe in you. And to paraphrase Garvey, there is no shame in your blackness: blackness is a badge of honour.

Strength, Pride, Honour,

DustySoul

“Hold your head as high as you can/ High enough to see who you are, little man/ Life sometimes is cold and cruel/ Baby no one else will tell you so remember that /You are Black Gold…But you’re golden, baby/ Black Gold with a diamond soul/ Think of all the strength you have in you/ From the blood you carry within you/ Ancient men, powerful men/ Builders of civilization… Baby no one else will tell you so remember that You are Black Gold, Black Gold/ You are Black Gold…”

                                   –     Esperanza Spalding, “Black Gold”

“The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”

                               – Marcus Garvey