for some months now, i’ve been bemoaning the fact that the soul of Newtown has been killed. With the loss of venues like Horror Café, Shivava, Kippies and Worker’s Library, poetry lost its space and the poetry session suffered a slow death.
so to see an event like Word & Sound at the Bassline is quite surprising and refreshing. i sent some questions to Afurakan, poet extraordinaire who is the man behind it all to find out more about this event…
Tell me about why you created Word & Sound and why place it in Newtown at the Bassline?
Personally, Word & Sound came out of a belief that I owe it to my community to contribute towards positive change. It is not enough to demand and speak of change, one needs [to] participate in processes which bring about the desired change. Newtown was instrumental in my development and journey as a writer and performer through platforms such Horror Café, the Baseline, Kippies, Shivava Café, The Market Lab and Couch and Coffee. [The] Pre-2010 Soccer World Cup development devoured the vibrant and organic system and left in its place a pseudo arts precinct characterised by tourist restaurants and a beer museum. Once Blatter and his bandits had left our shores, Newtown was left for dead. Word & Sound is thus a necessary attempt at resuscitating the Jo’burg arts and culture scene.
What is the philosophy of Word & Sound? What is it all about?
The Word & Sound Bassline Series Showcase is a hand picked spectrum of word and sound creativity currently pushing the bar and going against the grain within the South African music and creative scene.
Each episode focuses on one specific artist, poet, mc, vocalist, musician or band and comprises a live performance and an audience driven Q&A session with the artist or band.
Each event affords an eclectic audience, comprising media, music and creative industry players, business and government stakeholders, poetry and music enthusiasts – a close up experience with the future of South African creative arts.
An open mic session allows the audience to be a part of the show and inspire hidden talent to also pick up the mic and dare to shine. The live stage setting emphasizes a specific objective – the pursuit of excellence. Before an artist’s work is heard all around the world, it is on stage where creativity is unleashed and polished, magic is created and dreams are fulfilled. This is where it begins……
How did the event start out? Tell me about preparing for the first event and how the first event went down?
We initially started the shows at Yebo Studios, which is a music recording studio below the Baseline. It was also the only space around Newtown that willing to listen and had equipment but could only fit 40 people. At episode 4 featuring Kojo Baffoe and Warona Seane, 98 people showed up and it was obvious that we had to find bigger space. That’s where Bob at the Baseline stepped in and we moved from the underground to upstairs.
The first event really sucked. I was showcasing and 4 people showed up. I still performed my set though. We were expecting that, the most important thing was to get the shows off the ground and build a track record. Six shows later, we are now hosting the shows at the Baseline and quickly running out of space. Considering that not a single marketing cent has gone into the shows, I think we are doing very well.
What are the highlights so far?
Each has its own flavour and highlights but my favourite thus far was episode 5 featuring Kojo Baffoe and Warona Seane. The venue was overcapacity, it was sweaty and hot but the people stayed and watched a great show. For me it showed me a glimpse of what a revived arts and culture scene can be like in Newtown.
We always hear about there being no money in poetry. We hear it from publishers to event promoters. Does Word & Sound plan to make any money? If so, how are you going to slay the ‘no money in poetry’ beast? If not, why not?
Word & Sound was designed mainly to provide a platform and not necessarily make money. The first 5 shows were self funded, with the event becoming sustainable after moving to a bigger venue. The R20 door charge allows us to cover basic costs including venue, sound and logistics. Developmental platforms are essential, with or without money. The other reality is that for an investor to take interest, they will want to see the investment is sustainable and that you have also invested in it.
If we do not host our own events, we will have nothing to show when asking corporate and government for assistance. Word & Sound is currently in negotiations with various companies interested in investing in the arts scene and hopefully this will result in the growth of the show and even create opportunities for other platforms.
Your platform features seasoned poets. Why did you decide on that? How do you select these poets and what role do you think they have to play in the poetry landscape?
Although Word & Sound is primarily a platform for young artists, the seasoned artists are essential as beacons of light and mentors, especially with poetry. Over the last few years, the absence of seasoned poets from the public scene has meant that young writers have been literally writing in the dark.
If we are to resurrect the poetry movement in Gauteng, it is important that the knowledge bearers are involved. In simple terms, the old must teach the young. It is also important for young writers and poets to acknowledge that they have a lot to learn and to see the wisdom of working with and learning from their elders.
What is the future of Word & Sound? Can you give me a preview of the next Word & Sound event?
Word & Sound aims to grow as a respected and credible platform for performance arts development in South Africa. We aim to keep the shows accessible to both artists and patrons and hopefully assist in unearthing South Africa’s next big talent.
You are a poet that’s been around for some years now. I’m pretty sure that you’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. From what you’ve seen at Word & Sound so far (particularly, the open mic) what would you say is the future of poetry?
I believe that poetry has huge potential, especially in South Africa. I am encouraged by what I have heard so far at Word & Sound but also weary of the hard work that still needs to be put in if we are to produce world class writers and artists.
The enthusiasm is there from the youth, now we just need support from our communities both business and civil.