In the early 2000s, open mic sessions were a dime and dozen. Poets came out of the woodwork; no doubt, inspired by the likes of PERM (Tumi ‘of the Volume’, Zee Cube, Samantha and others). From the more grown up Timbila Poetry session to the younger, more performance focussed Soul To Mouth; many poets have come and gone. The best stuck around and grew while the not so awesome eventually fell by the way side. It’s no wonder that the likes of Quaz, Val and Flo grew with the movement and established a movement of their own.
In the poetry scene, Richard Roodt is known as Quaz or Quaz Slamwell. One-third of Likwid Tongue, a creative writing facilitator, a performer, a writer, an organiser and an innovator in a poetry.
Quaz started writing about 12 years ago after his sister passed away. Writing was as a form of a release and has been the driving force behind many writers. It was only around 2003 that he started to go to poetry sessions. Urban Voices was still popular and he went to all the shows, he also went to some of the BKO shows and Soul to Mouth sessions in Melville. “I needed to be at Soul To Mouth, hoping that these guys would say, you’re cool come up.” But he feels that he could’ve used that time and energy to better himself as a writer.
I had a chance to sit down with this inspirational brother to talk about Likwid Tongue, no doubt, one of the most influential contributors to the performance poetry scene.
It may be easy for one to assume that Likwid Tongue doesn’t exist anymore but as individuals, they are constantly busy growing their crafts and the fans never forget them. They have a cult-like following, one only has to look at the success that was the all day open mic event on Heritage day (Sept, 24) and the Izimbongi Poetry Festival in October.
Likwid Tongue came together almost by default, Quaz says. They were all at Wits Tech together studying theatre. They went to the same poetry sessions. Quaz and Flo would always go to shows together and not having money to go back home would walk together and free style all the way home. They fed off each other creatively; Quaz doesn’t believe that he has the kind of bond that he has with Flo, Val or T-blaq with anyone else. They were friends first.
Organising events began as an informal arrangement when they saw a gap, around 2004. At that point, sessions at Cool Running’s had died out, the scene was quiet. Even though there a few sessions around, none of them were as strong as what Soul to Mouth had become.
Loui, owner of the now closed, Horror Café was supportive as he knew Flo from around the way and he thought it their idea cool so he gave them a venue to use. Quaz tells me that they did events non-stop every Tuesday for two years. Likwid Tongue was only formalised when they registered the name in 2005. By then, they had built a following that few people can claim to have anywhere in Jo’burg.
In an industry of short-lived experiences; what with everyone thinking that poetry is a tiny market with a phase-like existence one wonders how some people create a lasting impression as Likwid Tongue has. For Quaz, Flo and Val, the idea of Likwid Tongue was creating performance platforms. They wanted a platform that would be as strong as Soul to Mouth. There was also demand; people always asked about shows. So they rose to the challenge.
They filled a gap that they realised no one else was going to create for them. They took action and as a result became a catalyst for many other talents to grow. These sorts of spaces will always be needed.
That was nine years ago and since then, they have hosted poetry shows all over Johannesburg – from Horror Café to Ko’spotong, to the legendary Kippies (which is known a pretty shell since the JDA ripped out it’s heart). More importantly, they have passed on the torch. Quaz reflects on that fact that poets like Romeo (who had an s-curl and would get off the stage at Horror and then proceed to take drink orders) and Rendani started out on the platform that Likwid Tongue created and they are now also organising poetry events and are themselves known and strong poets.
The Likwid Tongue platform was (and still is) dedicated to having fun yet they always give attention to honing the writing and performance skill by having events that are workshop focussed. And even as individuals, they created an environment that allowed performers to receive feedback either directly from Quaz, Val or Flo or from other performers. It’s uncomfortable to offer critiques but people know that it comes from a good place – that is the culture of Likwid Tongue. The approach is very relaxed and maybe even jokey.
More than anything, what people know and love Likwid Tongue for is spontaneity and having fun on stage. This quality has kept Likwid Tongue on the minds of poetry lovers. Quaz and Flo’s stage antics have made it easier for anyone to brave the stages because as Quaz says “everyone gets nervous but if you’re so nervous that you don’t enjoy yourself, that you’re are detached from what you’re saying then you might as well stop and rethink. We’ve always been pushing that even if it’s a sad poem be at ease, be in your own skin, be comfortable when you speak to people.” As collaborators, the members of Likwid tongue share this.
Likwid Tongue is about the open mic – it’s where we all started. While open mics have been the staple of the poetry session, sometimes they’ve weighed down the poetry scene. I even got to a point where I stopped going to sessions, tired of hearing the same poems year in year out. Tired of hearing the poets that never seem to grow or challenge themselves. It may sound harsh but sometimes, one feels that the open mic should be closed. Quaz feels differently about this. He observes how many shows these days are about superstar poets. Quaz feels that even though established poets have passed the open mic stage, we have to remember that there are others coming after us. We all started there, they have to start somewhere too.
Quaz reflects that it’s always important to go back to the beginning, back to why they decided to move from being participants to being organisers. The Likwid Tongue heritage is the open mic. People came to a Likwid Tongue show knowing that they would have a chance to perform. They don’t come only to see a big name poet perform but also to showcase their own skills. This was why the recent Heritage Day show was an epic all day open mic was hosted at OST in Newtown:
“the dopest show by Far” (Zamile Ngqwala on event FB wall).
“It’s important for us to acknowledge them [the younger poets] and not be dismissive because we’ve passed that stage of going to open mics,” Quaz explains. Likwid Tongues keeps their traditional of open mics because this is where these young poets can get a chance to hone their skill; figure out if their forté is performance or the page. On a Likwid Tongue stage, you can develop yourself. Learn how to be a better performer and a better writer. It’s the space where young people don’t feel as vulnerable or as insecure because a Likwid Tongue stage gives space to that poet that “probably started last week as well as Afurakan who just steps up and [blows] everyone away.”
Unlike many poets who move on and up and never look back to give a hand up, the Likwid Tongue way of doing things is different. “It’s important that we don’t forget it; that we don’t shut it out because we’ve now grown and suddenly we are earning money from our writing and assume that there’s no need for that.”
He believes, though, that the open mic has to be treated with some “responsibility and respect and understand[ing]”. That there is a bigger purpose than just having the open mic, lists, people performing, clapping, done, then the show is over.
“It’s important that we keep the movement going, [that] we keep growing. We don’t get stuck in a rut but also that we don’t lose sight of what this is all for which ultimately is to build ourselves. Go to these stages and find your voice, listen to other poets, other performers and really hear what they have to say…”Further to that, your participation doesn’t end with you just listening,
Further to that, your participation doesn’t end with you just listening. Quaz talks about then forming our own opinions about what we hear, researching, learning more instead of just clapping and cheering without applying any critical thought. How else would we learn? Imitation isn’t the only way, you know.
Quaz expresses that there is love between them but they can tell each other crap when the other is messing up. They can call each other out and it all comes from a place of love. The honesty between each other keeps them together. They made a conscious decision to focus on what there are doing – people can see that “Likwid Tongue doesn’t define them but in the very same breath it very much does.” Quaz hopes that they won’t ever pull apart as they have a lot of work that they still need to do. I hope so too.
Likwid Tongue has stayed together over the years – even when they aren’t organising events. They are constantly together as friends supporting each other’s careers – Val’s’ (PIlzy Lee) DJing took off in the past year and they support her in that way. Flo’s photography has also been going well just as Quaz has been getting more writing opportunities at UJ and freelancing. They give each the space and chance to pursue their individual interests and careers and support each other. If they aren’t doing shows together, Quaz and Flo are recording together or Flo and Val are directing plays.
“There are no egos involved. I don’t go off and think, ‘Flo or Val, you’re taking my shine’. It’s like ‘you’re my people’, we’re all moving in the same direction.
“Five years ago, we were the [young] poets looking at these other big poets like ‘wow’ and suddenly we are in a position where all these other people are looking at us [in that way]. It’s important that firstly we don’t develop an ego from that and we take responsibility for how we use this power to make sure that we grow this movement.”
Quaz gives props to Afurakan for doing exactly that with the Word n Sound Series that was launched last year at the Bassline in Newtown. These kinds of moves would not have been possible five years ago when they weren’t known. He feels that now their work is being recognised and even sponsors are calling them directly to work with them.
“The younger guys are doing a brilliant job at organising. Their shows are quality their marketing is on point and when I read the Facebook updates, people are happy.”
Quaz’s focus is on getting everyone in the poetry scene working together. Sharing information to have more poets benefit from sponsorships, corporate gigs, funding. For Quaz it’s not just about making money but also about all of us being united and realising that we’re not just working for ourselves as individuals. Quaz says, “It’s not about how big you [alone] are; it’s about how many people you’ve touched and influenced.”
“Then the world will be better. We can start with the poets, then the politicians… the world will be a better place.”
I’m inspired by this; this is why Poetry Potion exists – for the poet who isn’t a performer. If more of us thought this way, then poetry would be bigger. Publishers like Botsotso and Timbila would be able to keep putting out more titles consistently every year. A clear distinct note I hear from Quaz, and see from the way that Likwid Tongue has operated, is that these changes are in our hands. We, the poets, who are passionate about our work can invigorate poetry. It starts with the craft.
It’s our responsibility to constantly remind ourselves why we do poetry. “We are writers first,” he says. “You don’t write in front of an audience and then someone claps. You’re on your own, fighting with the words, fighting with yourself. You’re battling your emotions. You’re looking for the right metaphors. That’s the beauty of poetry. It’s sad when you don’t feel all of that because your mind is here: ‘what can I write that can make these people happy’. You forget about the beautiful process, which in actual fact, for me, is the art. Not the final poem. The art, for me, lies in fighting, getting the idea, putting it together and sitting back and asking yourself if that was the true reflection of how I felt. Everything else is peripheral.
“The clothes, the hair, the current hip language, and hype don’t matter.
“We’re not performers first, we are writers first. The decision to perform is made afterwards. This is something to always keep in mind. Taking care of the craft by reading other work, trying new things.”
Quaz always advises poets to speak the poetry because it’s about the emotion as opposed to drafting a performance. He believes that it’s important to get into the schools, make room for all types of poetry and keep the contact with the young poets by having a short- and long-term vision. Go in there serious with outcomes and not just for the money. This is the way that we can have more poets coming out of high school.
Poets should take themselves seriously; rehearse if you are going to perform. We need to break the stereotype that poetry can’t be understood. Quaz loves public street performances breaking out on the street. He talks about how just by doing that once when the YCL was protesting he attracted more poetry lovers. Leaving the ego out attracts more people to poetry and brings value. It keeps you as a writer fresh. Poetry is fun. It’s about you. When you begin to write for claps you lose the essence and only add to the stereotype of poetry being boring and confusing.
Quaz thinks that it’s brilliant that the current poets aren’t just letting themselves be defined only as poets. It’s brilliant because you can grow and your perspective isn’t limited. He’s highly impressed by some of the good poets that are bringing beautiful work on stage. He’s excited by what he sees that makes him wonder why he ever stopped performing. He loves the challenge of performing for people that don’t know him because then he has to bring the energy and perform. The events are spectacular with sponsors coming into the picture. He thinks that in the future the current organisers could be organising festivals as big as Back to The City.
He thinks that now is the time for all of the poets to get together form some sort of organisation and start things without having to wait for Urban Voices or other people to hire poets. With that unity, poets will grow and be paid for their work and without exploitation. “The scene has never been more connected that it is right now.” There seems to be spark again in the movement with poets being able to connect on Facebook and willing to travel from far. This connection will grow the poetry scene. With ideas and energies flowing, we can create work that will leave a mark as a generation that took poetry to another level.
This can only be done if we give each other a chance; give young poets a break. Quaz’s philosophy is that you treat the car guard with the same respect as you would a manager. “That way you are at peace with everyone and if we apply that everywhere,” it means a lot for the younger poets, it’s validation that keeps them working hard – even just by having a conversation.
These spaces shouldn’t be taken for granted because sometimes that’s the only break a new poet needs to be encouraged. That’s how we can come together and be able to start new projects and create new work. “It doesn’t take anything from you.” Indeed it doesn’t. The lesson to learn from Likwid tongue is that when you enter any space with respect, keep the element of fun and spontaneity, give genuine feedback and be without ego, you can affect change. After all why after all these years does that call LIKWID TONGUE get that response: HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
As Quaz says, “Just kill the ego and let’s build.”