a conversation with Lwazi Prolific

zamantungwa | September 8th, 2011 | essays | No Comments

Lwazi Prolific, a brother from another mother, is the type of brother that makes you feels comfortable and safe in his presence. He’s a talented musician, a writer with an interesting approach to his work. I met Lwazi virtually when I heard his music on StereoDtox, hosted by True Jones, early in the year. I immediately wanted to know who’s music was paying and subsequently met. The song I heard, Mhambi Jozi, even before hearing the title, embodies the busy spirit of Jo’burg. I was drawn to it and him as a young creative. Since then I have come to consider him a friend and respect him as a creative.

Lwazi Prolific is now the co-producer and co-host host of the StereoDtox (Sundays, on TransAfrica Radio) with True Jones. He is at the forefront pushing out good music and creating an accessible platform for poets, DJs, musicians and great thinkers to converge.

When we sat down to talk, and it took us weeks just to get down to this, I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to talk about sound – the effects of sound on poetry and vice versa. I wanted this edition to explore sound, textually. I always feel like a great poem needs to be heard. A good poem compels the listener ready to close her eyes and just savour the words. We spoke about his thoughts on that as well as his approach.

“in the beginning there was the word. if there was the word there had to be sound for it to be heard or for it to exist,” says Lwazi. “Sound is that basis of everything. Scientifically, sound can travel further than light.” And I got schooled.

Lwazi goes on to say that sound begins everything, the heartbeat, we feel the vibrations of the sound of the heartbeat. I realize that the man is not only seeking to be a prolific artist but is a prolific reader and a deep thinker.

Lwazi believes that sound doesn’t only come from music. He says there is also sound of the silence while reading. The sounds around you – the car outside, the music next door, the dripping geyser, the humming computer – these all, Lwazi believes, add to the way that you interpret the words that you are reading. So it makes sense then that Lwazi takes influence from sounds around him – to him these sounds aren’t a coincidence or distraction. He relates how when he was learning the piano there would be birds tweeting outside the classroom; the more he practiced the more he found that he was interpreting the birds in the music.

Discussing his writing process, Lwazi describes himself as an editor. Like most writers, he writes when inspired and then puts the work away for some time. He always goes back later to assess every word to see if there’s a better way to express himself. It’s tricky for a serious creative to just be satisfied with the first draft of anything. Even when the work is already out in the public, creative people always find something that could be improved on, removed, changed. The creative process never ends and some creatives find it hard to bring their work to completion. Lwazi is no different.

An album has been brewing for a while.  Just when he thinks he’s done, new influences come and like that uncompromising artists, Lwazi pushes the launch back. Lwazi isn’t bothered by how long it’s taking though because he believes in being true to his aspirations and what he lives and learns along the way. So maybe that album may still brew for a little while longer. “Yes, the will be an album, yes,” he insists not wanting to say anything further.  So among other things, Lwazi Prolific might be a perfectionist. That attention to his craft was ingrained in him a long time ago. As a receiver of creatives works, i’m always more excited about the work of creatives that take their work very seriously. It makes me feel like they care about me too, if they don’t want to put out anything mediocre, then they care that I don’t consume mediocre art.

Lwazi started out as a stage performer, trained as an actor. He was also an active emcee and what he learnt through stage performance would influence the way he wrote his rhymes. He believes that it made him a less self-centered writer because he learnt to write for the audience, to share with others. Performing influences what he writes because he is concerned about being heard and understood. He makes space between his words, letting them breath, letting them be heard. He isn’t as concerned with what language to use as he is about his words coming out as natural as possible. Lwazi relates hearing some Shona poetry, not understanding the language but hearing how the poet would intone certain words and in places would let the mbar play, Lwazi food himself loving it. this reminds me of my own soft spot for isiZulu and seTswana.

“When you start limiting yourself to ‘will people understand [the language] it’s like saying Miriam Makeba didn’t exist. It’s like saying Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens weren’t good, their work wasn’t good.”

I guess the essence is that the truest of intentions and emotions always comes across. Lwazi reflects that Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens perfected their work and I suppose when a creative piece of work is good that goodness will permeate and cross over language barriers.

Lwazi says language can orientate or disorientate but it is up to the writer to turn the words in a sentence and make all clear. So through sound, we discover rhythm and through rhythm we can discover a sensual feeling, a feeling of urgency, excitement, anger, fear, the rush of the city.

Lwazi feels that words and sounds can be mistaken for the same thing but that words jump out quicker at the listener than sound. He feels that people can better pick up new concepts through words than through music. Maybe that’s because words can be more explicit while music is more vulnerable to a multitude of interpretations. Lwazi says that he opened up his ears to what mood music could put him in but then had to think, as a poet, how he could describe that mood. He believes that what poets can learn from music is to put more layers into they are saying. He suggests that poets work with the dynamic of space because everything starts with space. “You start with a blank page, you start with silence before you play your first note. Once you can find what’s most natural from  one sound to the next, one word to the next, I think you can flow more fluently.”

He thinks that we (poets) sometimes fear going with the feeling because we fear getting lost in the words. Lwazi compares poets to politicians. A radical and risky comparison in his own words. He believes that politicians use words to sway the masses. He believes that the power of words for politicians and the poets is the same however the difference is that politicians believe in their own power. Politicians aren’t shy about their words. Poets need to take themselves as seriously as politicians do when their are on the podium.

“Hitler wasn’t shy about his words,” he says as we laugh and recognize that words wielded by Hitler were most powerful. Whatever politicians and poets say will always linger in the minds of people. how politicians and poets say their words will always linker in the minds of people. Lwazi highlights that Hitler won the Germans over by using words. He painted visions and dreams and hopes with his weds. Lwazi doesn’t see why poets can’t do that because they already do. He says that poets just lack that “absolute foolish confidence that says ‘Yes, i’m right.’” Politicians always use poetry to move people.

As for the state of affairs in the creative world, Lwazi says that we are sleeping on it. There are many creatives out there doing great work but not being recognized. He describes the arts in South Africa as being in the a sad state because while more platforms and places to get funding exist in comparison to other African countries, those that hold the purse strings aren’t as aware of the talent out there as they should be. He also thinks that too many of us are stuck in survivalist mode, we need to make money to eat. So we’d rather get a tender. He laments how we lack a unity and how jealousy makes it hard to keep working together. Ultimately, Lwazi believes that we need to take control for ourselves and find ways to keep those platforms sustainable. He suggests that for that to happen we need to know what we are doing it for. We need to find purpose. We should grow up and become more focussed and leave what he describes at the ‘artsy fartsy’ stage to the younger creatives.

So Lwazi thinks we should take our work to the world. The world is hungry for our work while home, South Africa, finds it convenient to ignore our truth. He says we should dream big. I beam as he talks about getting our work read in Nigeria, Kenya, having our work prescribed in schools as exam set work. Ya, that is dreaming big. He dreams big about getting his work out there on a big platform while maintaining humbleness. This is how poetry can achieve longevity. He says we should put it out there. and not only work with just music or music through traditional instruments but he believes that anything that makes a sound – beat-boxers, singers – should work with poetry. He even thinks we should work with painters, graffiti artists. However, poetry doesn’t need music to be powerful. Lwazi talks about hearing a clip of Gill Scott Heron performing a poem without any music and also refers to Saul Williams OHM. The voices alone were extremely powerful. Poets need to have faith in our words. WE can change peoples minds about poetry being boring.

Lwazi observes that it seems that when I write my poetry, I challenge myself from one letter to the next. He wants to know how sound figures into my work. That gets me thinking because while I’m aware of how i respond to other people’s work, i’m not as aware of my writing process. When I write poetry I always think about how the words are going to land in the listener’s ear. Whether someone is reading it themselves or hearing it from me, I  want my words to be heard, to be read aloud. Reading aloud is how you discover what’s hidden in a poem. That influence comes from listening to songs. You can always tell a good song by how the words string together; the words and music should be one thing and shouldn’t crash into each other recklessly. When words crash into each other they struggle to come out of the speaker/singers mouth. In poetry, when studying, they say read the poem aloud. That is how you discover the meter, the rhythm. So I challenge myself in that way because that way new meaning can the created and discovered.

A good poem, when heard, causes the listener to close their eyes and savour  the words…

“Sound is that beginning of all things. I can look like a beggar on the street but how I speak to you will change your perception of me forever,” says Lwazi.

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