water (part 3): Zaneliza – How the Water Moves

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I remember the year the Tsunami hit. It was the early 2000s, and we were in primary school. Suddenly we all had to discuss what a Tsunami is, why and how it happens, and how many people had died versus how many had survived. We were astounded at the determination of that tide, and the powerlessness of those running from it, weak in the face of such a frightening and mighty moving body of water.

But destruction is not water’s only expression. In thinking about Msaki’s latest offering, Zaneliza – How the Water Moves, I had this – the strength of water, and how it can take on a life of its own, and even (joy!) give you life – foremost in my mind.

So I called her up and we had a young chat about “loss, hope and the wave-like rhythms in between those two states of being”.

Dusty: Cool! How are you?

Msaki: I’m good. I’m (pauses) hectic. I’m trying to leave for Cape Town so I’m trying to wrap up things today. And I need a PA, so I’m tryna put out an ad.

Dusty: I was actually wondering, how do you survive? I hate admin, personally, and I’m like ‘How does she survive, how does she raise a baby, be a wife, be an artist –’

[Msaki is an independent artist and does all her own management and bookings through her company, One Shushu Day  Artistry. She’s basically superwoman. Jokes. But close 😉 She has also been featured on popular house tracks.]

Msaki: Am I surviving?

Dusty: (laughs)

Msaki: I’m up between 3 [AM] and 5 [AM], doing my stuff, like I said.

Dusty: Ja you can’t get me up at that hour for anything, except if the house is burning.

Msaki: (laughs) Ja that’s my time. I actually wrote a song this morning because I was just like uh-uh, need to block off all the nonsense of the admin that’s creeping up and I just had to sing.

Dusty: Yeah. (pause) Okay well the last time I wrote about you, I wrote about the EP [Nal’ithemba], this was when it had just come out –

Msaki: I love that blog post!

Dusty: (laughs)

Msaki: Ja, EP indala mfondini, what was it – like 2013?

Dusty: Yeah it was 2013, I remember because I was listening to it a lot in my last year at Rhodes.

[The EP sold over 3000 copies – all independently. Msaki plays for mostly smaller audiences, and prefers to connect with listeners this way. Her latest project was crowd-funded largely in part by her network of supporters, people she has met and connected with over the years, musicians and music-lovers alike, her “Golden Circle”.]

Msaki: For some reason when you’re playing to smaller crowds, it’s easier for people to want to buy at the end of the show, ‘cos they really get to connect, you know? Like I’ll do shows in someone’s lounge for 60 people, and almost everyone will walk out with the EP. Stuff like that happens, because it’s difficult to hide your soul, it’s difficult to hide the message [in that atmosphere]. The proximity physically also lends itself to a proximity spiritually because people are examining you from up close and the energy is right there. It almost beckons you to share the essence of the music more. I find that in small gigs I’ve got less disclaimers, I’m less stressed about what people think, you know? But in the festival gigs I’m always like, ‘Oh my gosh – are people bored? Am I playing enough upbeat songs?’ and I’m wondering if they’re not twiddling their toes waiting for Zahara.

Dusty: (laughs) So the message of the EP [the first offering] was hope and love – what’s the message of this [album]?Is it resistance, water …?

Msaki: Oh man (pause). I didn’t realise how much loss I was processing through this album, and trying to figure out how you express or share that without it being full of despair. Just thinking of the waves coming in and the lapses in between and the ebb and the flow – there’s something about the water, cleansing, that made the loss bearable. So the theme of hope is always there, it seems like it will be a central theme to all my work. At the same time this album…it kinda like leaves you in the middle of the sea there bobbing wondering if a rescue mission is coming or not, you’ve gotta sorta figure it out for yourself. (laughs)

Dusty: Ja.

Msaki: It’s more real life. There is a song full of hope but it’s also like, ‘What next? Where do we go from here? And what do I do with all the stuff that’s sore? It’s asking more questions, and I guess I’m imperfectly processing some of the things that make me sad about being young, about being in this country, about the reality of losing people and the reality of losing dreams and having to pick yourself up and do another day when things aren’t working out.

Dusty: The line “Living water for the war over your heart/ Waterfall” [from Weight (for the war] stuck out to me, and it gave me a sense of watering in your life, watering the dry spaces, watering the dryness.

Msaki: If you listen to the pressing of a waterfall when you’re right there against it, you can’t mistake the power that’s there. Continuing from the EP; even using the water metaphor, I spoke about how You are not my strength/ You rock the cliff, the edge, the drop, my landing of love, I almost pictured myself jumping into a waterfall, like free falling into a waterfall, when I wrote that. If you think you’re jumping from the cliff into water (and the water is meant to be a metaphor for love), you’re mistaken because you’re standing on love, the rock is love, the cliff is love, the water is love, the great force around you when you’re in the water…that was when I decided to become a musician full-time because I realized that grace had been covering me the whole way and it will continue to do so, and that love is ready to meet me if I take the leap. So that water theme extends itself into this album, but now it’s looking at the different qualities of water and also what that speaks to my heart. Waterfall, nyani – you realise that God is fighting for you. There are clues that are telling you this all the time. You’ve got your own inner turmoil but there’s an outer fight that also manifests itself on the inside. But there are so many clues on the outside saying ‘Look around, keep going’. That whole line, that’s kind of where it’s from. The waterfall was a very obvious sign that love is fighting for me. The power, the rushing noise, and…thing of a war cry. Hence that line that you’re talking about.

[Weight (for the war) is the first single off of the new album. It begins with Msaki chanting the words “FRIEND FIRE FREEDOM FEEL/ WISDOM WONDER WORRY WISH/ BLESSING BURDEN BROTHER BREATHE/ WAIT WAIT WAIT WEIGHT” acapella. In later verses, she changes the last line to the refrain, “WADE WADE WADE WADE”. The pause after the acapella intro is followed by a guitar playing a note suspended over a bar as she sings about the blues. Enter the drum, which together with the chorus, creates a marching sound that increases the urgency of the song. As it progresses, more instruments are layered in, until the point when the song reaches its dramatic turn, ushered in by a stripping back of all the instruments save for the urgent drum, and the subsequent introduction of a soaring orchestration. By the time my favourite line, “LIVING WATER FOR THE WAR OVER YOUR HEART/ WATERFALL” is sung; the battle has raged, and the war –punctuated by the rousing, rallying cries “ZIYADILIKA IZINDONGA!” and “MAKULIWE!” – is steady on the way to victory. An earnest ‘call to arms’ that’ll rouse the faith of even the most doubtful Thomas. If you haven’t already, listen to it below.]

Msaki: Can you hear Kwanda? She’s trying to pull off my ears, can you hear her in the background?

Dusty: (laughs) Yes I can hear her with her little sounds every now and then.

Kwanda: *indistinguishable baby talk*

Dusty: (laughs) She’s so cute.

Msaki: Hayi sana ubusy ubusy ubusy.

Dusty: (laughs) I have one more question. You were saying [elsewhere] that it is hard in the music industry, to keep the message central, to not get distracted by the machine. What are the things that you do to remind yourself that the message is important, and to keep the message intact inside of you?

Msaki: First thing is to surround yourself with a community that isn’t afraid to point out your blind spots to you. I’m in an industry where ego is king, and depending on who you’re working with, that kind of stuff can become more apparent than the inner journey. If I spend my time with like-minded people that know what music is for, and have a heart for artistry and creativity, and community, then I think I’m in a safe space to go explore, to go to different places and come back and know ba kukhona abantu that are gonna be able to tell me that I’m going astray. That’s sort of the outer section. But now…Like this morning I had to wake up at three and fight for my own union, you know? Because that’s what music started as for me – it started as a way of communion, a way of communing with myself and with God. It’s a space where I can also listen for what song is being played to me. It’s so easy to stumble into every day and completely be absorbed by your To Do List and everything that you’re chasing as well, and things like trying to organize an event for a friend. All those things can still be good and you’re busying yourself with things that are good, but it still might mean that you’re distracted and you’re missing out. Sometimes I need to reset, to listen to God even more than myself. And sometimes these songs are not even to be shared, they are just for me to get something, the things that I need to meditate on and think about and acknowledge as truth for myself. Especially with so many messages that are telling us that we’re worthless, that we’re unlovable – that’s pretty much a very strong message out there. ‘You’re only good as your next this…’ There’s so many things, and I have to fight for a space that’s more real, and that’s where I’m writing from. Uhm, I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with writing from a point of confusion, or from a point of being hurt, or processing the stuff that’s out there, I think it’s really important; but my reality, wholeheartedly, should come from the secret place, or the place where I’m quiet. (laughs) I don’t know how to say some of these things, because even that, I’m exploring it through my music.

Dusty: (laughs) It makes sense. Thank you.

*This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

*Zaneliza – How the Water Moves, will be available in stores April 16th, 2016. If you struggle to find a copy, email oneshushuday@gmail.com to inquire.

Love and warm waves,

DustySoul

“The tides are in our veins.” ― Robinson Jeffers

“Though I walk through the valley low, I’ll fear no evil. By the water, fill my soul, no matter where I go.” ― SUTRA, The Water

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.”
― E.E. Cummings, 100 Selected Poems

 

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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

 

“We are the subjects of our own narrative, witnesses to and participants in our own experience, and, in no way coincidentally, in the experience of those with whom we have come in contact. We are not, in fact, “other.” We are choices.”

~ Toni Morrison, Unspeakable Things Unspoken

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)

All God’s children need All Stars (Chuck Taylors)

I love to tell the story of how I got hooked on words. How, ever since I could read, I have wanted to be a writer. I would walk around during break-time reading Sweet Valley books, because I was socially awkward at that stage (to be honest I still am) and had not made very many friends, but also because I was enthralled by the idea of delving into different worlds while remaining in this one. It was, and still is, magical. I was certain, when I grew up; that I wanted to ‘make books’. I had no idea that the process of ‘making books’ meant being a writer, but as I grew, I came to understand that it meant wielding words.

It appealed to me as a child because it gave me a way out of whatever disappointments and pain I was faced with. I could become a part of a world that was limitless. Words, in many ways, became more than an escape, it became home.

So when I was about seventeen I got my first pair of Chuck Taylors, or All Stars. Any owner of a pair of Converse sneaks will agree that these can quickly, as they did for me, become a staple of one’s wardrobe. Ever since I got them I have been wearing my sneaks with jeans, shorts, pants, and even (to my mother’s dismay) skirts and dresses. What I love about Chucks is that they’re so comfortable, they go with almost anything, and they’re super cool. They are, in a word, travelling shoes.

In Maya Angelou’s autobiography (one book in a series of six) All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes, she writes of going to Ghana and how living there helped her connect the dots of the Diaspora from Africa to America. She experienced firsthand that the Diaspora testifies to how connected we all are. The theme of home is strong in Travelling Shoes, and through anecdotes and reflection she explores how we all yearn for home; but most importantly, how home is really wherever our hearts feel invited and embraced.

I especially loved this bit:

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. It impels mighty ambitions and dangerous capers… Hoping that by doing these things, home will find us acceptable or failing that, that we will forget our awful yearning for it.”

Her words resonated with me: ‘home’ has always been a complicated topic. I have always felt that I am more of a wayfarer, more inclined to move from one place to the next than to be rooted in one spot too long. I’ve ached for home, for that place where I did not feel questioned, or like I needed to fulfil a certain role in order to be acceptable within ‘those’ surroundings to ‘those’ people. My friends say I have ‘itchy feet’ and an ‘itchy bum’.

Well, I do have itchy feet. Find myself moving about as though each place has a deadline. But God has given me travelling shoes for the journey: love, words, my faith, and His heart.

He’s with me wherever I go, and so even though the only ‘places’ I ever felt like I ‘belonged’, is in Him and in my writing; I’m pretty darn glad gave God gave me this refuge so that no matter where I am – I will always be (or find, as it were) home.

**the DustySoul recently decided to get a tattoo. Always wanted one, but after deciding that last year was the right time, God told me to wait a year. My motives at the time were wrong, so I get why He said to wait. After the long wait, I booked in an appointment with a parlour. I knew what I wanted: All Stars with wings. I feel it speaks to my story, to my being a traveler and having big dreams. Most of all, I wanted it to be a reminder and testimony of the fact that God will be with me wherever I go. I encountered opposition though, from people who feel it’s wrong because of what the Bible says, or skin cancer risks (science proves these are unfounded), or (God forbid!) wrinkly skin (rolls eyes). Truth is, it’s a grey area in the Bible, and if we’re going to judge people with tattoos, we may as well follow the Levitical Law completely and not just pick what’s convenient for us. We’re no longer under the law of the letter. The law of the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3v6). Found myself crying, because it brought me back to that place where authority dictates which direction my life should go, as it has done in the past and still tries to do (it would seem half the things I do are classified under ‘heathen’, but I can’t live life by other people’s standards). But it wasn’t a rebellion: I was not trying to prove that I’m ‘cool’/ ‘hip’/ not conservative, or whatever else people think is happening here. Also, it upset me that people were so quick to make value judgments about my character based on what is external. But I was doing this for me. And I don’t regret it. Go where the Light guides you folks.

Love and light,

DustySoul

“…Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1v9 (NIV)

“There was this one guy in his unit, real different, an intellectual, real bookworm. And over time, he became Boy’s best friend. He lent him some books to read, the first books the kid had ever read about anything. For the first time, he saw a world that was bigger than the one he had been born into – and he wanted more. He wanted to BE something more.” The Old Man, The Words

The Quiet Violence of Words

I recently went through one of the most traumatic experiences of my life at the hands of a book. Yes, a book. I read it cover to cover reluctantly, only persisting because I was compelled to write an essay on it as a course requirement at the end of term. Before that words had always been wonderful things; always associated with catharsis, creativity, spirituality, relaxation and at the very least escape. Never did it occur to me that words could be vile things.

Duiker (1974-2005) is also the author of The Quiet Violence of Dreams. Source: http://www.randomstruik.co.za/

Enter the accused, that little book by K Sello Duiker, Thirteen Cents. The book is about a homeless boy, Azure, trying to survive on the streets of Cape Town. Each time I discussed the book with friends and peers, I would stress how depressing the book was: “EVERY moment is depressing,” I’d say, “and the moments that aren’t depressing are not less depressing because they are in and of themselves not depressing, but because they are less depressing than all the other depressing moments within the book.” Yes, you get it, the book was depressing.

When I read, I am at that moment held hostage by the words on that page, restricted to what the book describes, the world the book invites me into. As I read I must involve myself in the world of the book, partake of its experiences as though they were my own. It had never occurred to me that reading is, by that description, a violent experience only because my emotions are captive and at the mercy of the author’s pen. It’s a quiet violence because it’s a hostage experience I’ve entered into willingly.

Azure is a young, black male, and Duiker’s description of his experiences raises some compelling questions about identity, history, trauma and its effects on individuals and groups, the representation of violence and reality, and so on. My contention with the book was its graphic nature: Azure is molested, raped and abused physically and emotionally, and far from glossing over these facts, the reader is forced to experience his molestation step-by-step as Duiker takes us through each act in detail. It was difficult to read, to say the least. Because of this, the book alienated me, I recoiled from putting myself in the focaliser’s shoes, and so for the first time, I was repelled by words.

Thirteen Cents is not for the sensitive reader. Source: http://www.sashaarms.com/2010/11/thirteen-cents/

I am not sure if I was more disturbed by having to engage with such violent imagery or with the fact that there are young boys in Cape Town for whom such violence is part of their every day lived experience. I felt at once ashamed to be human in a world where other human beings perform such atrocities on other human beings, and at the same time I felt angered by my helplessness. At the least Duiker managed to get me thinking about the human condition from a new perspective.

On this, the first ‘birthday’ of theDustySoulDiary, I am able to look back on my growth as a writer, how blogging has helped me gain confidence in my craft, and how it has improved my skill. There’s still a lot of growth I need to experience as a writer, but I’ll get there. I am grateful, at the least, for the freedom to write without restriction, and for that I thank the great freedom writers whose words were penned by blood and pain for me and my country. My experience with Thirteen Cents has shown me anew the power of words, of literature… Viewed as a violent act, the power words have take on new meaning in that old adage: the pen is mightier than the sword, for although the wounds of a ‘sword’ may heal, words stay with you forever.

**To mark a year of blogging, DustySoul adds a category to the four theDiary already has: “Look”. As times goes by, the idea behind this new category will be more apparent. For now, happy Youth Day.

Yours,

DustySoul

“When writers die they become books.” – Jorge Luis Borges

Writing from my grave

Introducing... Dusty Soul

Death has no manners. I know this because of the way it enters our lives without invitation and camps for long periods of time. When someone close to us dies we are confronted with the fact of it first. The realisation of it, of their permanent absence from our lives is yet elusive. We grope in the darkness for something to hold on to, something that will be our anchor and show us how to map out a new way of being, because we can no longer live like we used to. It’s like the deceased punched a hole in our existence. We cry, shout, and deny their departure. How can someone who was so alive, whom we could touch, converse with, laugh with, become so inaccessible to us now? “I’ll never see her again,” we think, and are brought to tears. We blame Death for this misery, angry that it would display such insolence in telling us that we will not, after all, live forever. Selfishly we had thought that she was immortal, that she existed for us. How dare Death remind us?

 Death interrupts us while we are busy living, going about as though we will never reach our D Day. Lately I have been thinking a lot about it. I blame this on Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying, which I have been reading, my uncle’s death about a month ago, and the recent deaths of two Rhodes University students. Death slapped me in the face and reminded me that I am on my own “dust to dust” journey. All life’s efforts, the things we believe in, the people we love, the stuff we do; they all seem minute the moment Death throws its darkness at us. We must stop. We must remember to change the pace and take in the sights. Any moment now we there will be a hole punched into where we should have been.

A rather bleak beginning to The Dusty Soul Diary I know, but if there is one thing I love about Death, it’s that it reminds me that I am still alive. It’s not that obvious, you know. Too often we wait our whole lives to actually begin our lives! What am I doing here? What are you doing here? What are we all doing here? Bear with me, I’m not altogether here, you see. I’m just sharing my words because it’s what I’m meant to do. There are too many words inside of me to keep to myself. If I have not given, I am selfish. If I am selfish, I cannot, I have not loved. If I have not loved, I have not lived. I write to exist.

I am a dusty soul because the words inside of me are old. It’s an old soul lives inside this body. I’ve been here before. These words were given to me, you see, by the Alpha, the oldest Being around. He put these words away and bid me share them when the time was right. They are my words and they are His words. They preceded my existence, and hopefully when I am gone, they will linger on.  So that when they (the people from the future) read it, it will be as though I am penning them for the first time, from my grave. I am ready. Tell Death to stay its hand.

Love,

Dusty Soul