In a sea of poets who are slamming hard to carve out a space for themselves in the Hall of Fame, Tereska Muishond stands out for being a woman of no pretensions. Her honest, gentle vibrant voice makes her stand out not only as a passionate, honest writer but as an inspiration.
Tereska is an actress, a writer, a poet and a dancer who I first noticed mid 2000s when she was performing with her sister, Laverne. Going as !Bushwomen, the two sisters had an edge that nobody had at the time. Their work was sincere, beautiful and soulful. Over the years, they have evolved in different directions and we have seen Tereska go from strength to strength. Since then, Tereska has worked as a scriptwriter on one of South Africa’s top daily dramas, gone back to studying and her writing has grown in many directions.
In 2011, Poetry Potion participated in the National Book Week with a slam poetry event called SLAMpotion. Tereska, along with Mak Manaka and Kabelo Mofokeng, gave a talk to school students about writing and performing poetry. Tereska had a great rapport with the young learners and I realised then that she could also be a teacher if she wanted to . And I guess, in a sense, she is a teacher, an educator who gets to create work that not only inspires and moves us but also gets us thinking differently about ourselves and the society around us.
Recently, Tereska debuted her play Te Veel Vir ‘n Coloured Girl at the VryFees in Bloemfontein. With this interview, we dig a little more into who Tereska is and what has shaped her work.
Poetry Potion: When I first met you, heard of you, you were performing with your sister Laverne, as !Bushwomen. When and how did you and your sister decide to perform together?
Tereska Muishond: Forming !Bushwomen was not a conscious decision. Laverne got me into spoken word. I was a closet poet at the time. She was the only person who had read some of my poetry. When she moved to Jo’burg to stay with me she joined a hip-hop band which did a lot of gigs where there was Spoken Word. It was still very underground then… Besides seeing performance poetry on TV in American productions, I didn’t know it existed as an art form in South Africa.
I still remember her coming home one night, excitedly telling me “hey why don’t you come and recite your poetry in front of people?” I was reluctant and then she entered me into a spoken word competition at Horror Café in Newtown. Petrified of revealing myself I used !Bushwomen as a stage name. Surprisingly I made it to the finals and the prize was an appearance on Yfm. I was so nervous to recite on radio that I forced Laverne to come with me and sing a little tune in the background. I was like “you got me into this so…”
After that we attended more sessions and each time I made her go on stage with me. People assumed we were an item and they liked what we were doing and that’s how !Bushwomen was born. One day while we were on stage we both just started dancing cos we have been doing modern dancing since we were young. It wasn’t planned. It just happened naturally. We liked it and people liked it and that’s how we became known. Combining poetry with song and dance was new at the time.
PP: Tell me about the !Bushwomen idea? Why the name !Bushwomen when some might think that’s a derogatory word?
TM: I was dating an African-American man at the time who would chide me for walking barefoot in the house, sitting on the floor and eating with my hand. He regarded this as being uncouth so he would tease me by calling me a bushwoman.
At first this was funny but later it dawned on me that this was how people in general regard the bushmen (The Khoi and San people) – as barbaric, stupid, ugly, insignificant. This prompted me to do some research on the bushmen and their way of living and I loved what I read. I discovered that they were not these barbarians I was taught to believe. I learnt that these people – my people – were wise, humble and very spiritual and I felt proud being their descendant. At the time I was also going through an identity crisis and the term “Coloured” didn’t make sense to me – it didn’t have substance because it couldn’t tell me what I was about.
Many people from other races thought we as Coloured people do not have culture and this hurt a lot, so I decided to call myself bushwoman, to show that I come from somewhere. Also, Laverne and I were tired of everybody else telling us who and what we were. Then we were ‘Coloured’, then we were ‘brown people’, then we were ‘so-called coloured’. It was confusing so we decided to label ourselves.
Yes, many Coloured people at the time did not like us calling ourselves that because they felt it was derogatory. Normally, if you asked a Coloured person about his or her ancestry, they would only tell you about the European side. The Khoisan and Nguni ancestry was omitted. With Apartheid as our legacy, who could blame them? Anyway, a lot has changed since then. I think !Bushwomen also managed to change a lot of people’s perception regarding our heritage.
PP: What has it been like working on your own and then with your other younger sister?
TM: I have exceptionally beautiful and talented sisters. I always tell them that the reason why I perform with them is not because they are family, but because they are talented. Laverne and I had a chemistry between us that worked well on stage but later we had creative differences and so decided to go our separate ways. I’m happy to say that she is pursuing her music career.
As an individual artist I have more artistic freedom and I can do things at my own pace, in my own time, my own way.
My younger sister, Tyla (19), is not really into the arts but I expose her to it because nothing saddens me more than unused talent. She is currently acting alongside me in my play and I love seeing how she has grown as a person and an artist (of course she is not aware). I think performing together is a great way for us to spend time together as sisters, but they might disagree because according to them I am quite domineering… lol.
I am now grooming my 12 year old son Tino who is a beat-boxer and occasionally I share the stage with him.
PP: In other interviews, you’ve spoken about how poetry helped you through a tough time in your life. Can you speak about this – going through tough times and having poetry there for you?
The arts in general saved my life! I grew up in a troubled home where there was domestic violence. I discovered dance at the age of 8 and that helped me to deal with my frustration and anger. Books helped me to escape my pain and exposed me to a brighter world. But still there were more feelings I didn’t know how to deal with.
I was in a deep and dark place when I discovered Maya Angelou’s poetry. I still remember memorising ‘The Caged Bird’ and ‘I Rise’. These poems made me feel less isolated and gave me something to hold on to. When I was hospitalised for severe depression, I couldn’t read anymore because I couldn’t focus on the words on the page. I panicked because books were my closest friends and my source of comfort. I needed another outlet. That’s when I put pen to paper and the result was poetry. It was cathartic to express myself in this manner. Reading and writing poetry helped me make sense of the world, myself and my experiences.
PP: Your poetry is delicate, sensual, gentle, loving, nurturing… writing from a woman’s space, as a mother, a sister – was this delicate, sensual, gentle etc. voice a conscious choice or is that just who you are?
TM: It didn’t start out like this. At first my writing was morose and angry but it changed as I changed and grew. I’m quite surprised by this gentle voice. It’s taken me a while to get accustomed to my voice and I’m only now starting to like it. But there’s a stronger and more witty voice coming forth and I can’t wait to see it on the page.
PP: When you sit down to write, do you always know what to write about? Talk a bit about your writing process and how you’ve had to (if you have had to) adapt it to different genres (scriptwriting, developing a theatre piece, etc.)?
TM: I have different processes for different genres. Poetry is very organic – I feel something in my spirit or see something I haven’t seen before so I grab a pen and write it down. Then I put it away and look at it after a few days or sometimes months and then I edit.
Scriptwriting is different in that I am told what to write about. I read my breakdown and allow the characters to come to me and speak to me. Then I go to the page and write what I see, hear and feel.
Theatre is a beautiful medium because I already know what I want to say. The trick is to find a way in which to show it, so I spend a lot of time working out the characters and the structure of a play.
PP: You did an amazing interview with Myesha on Poetry In The Air. You performed For Coloured Girls about girls who don’t wear panties – what inspired this poem? You sound happy when you perform this poem, is this a happy poem?
TM: The poem came to me while I was preparing for a live music show called Tereska & The Coloured Girls. I needed a poem to sum up the essence of a “Coloured” girl. I was the original inspiration for the poem because I am all those girls the poem talks about. It was also inspired by girlfriends I grew up with and all the “Coloured” girls I knew, young and old. The poem revealed to me that we were all girls of colour, no matter what race, age or background, because all girls are colourful. I realised that I and many “Coloured” women/girls were afraid of calling ourselves Coloured because it is not always politically correct. This poem liberated me to not only once again label myself but also to put every woman of every colour, background and nature in my rainbow. It reinforces that we are more similar than we are different.
So yes, it is a happy poem and it is fun to perform because it unifies us as women.
PP: This poem invokes and reminds one of Ntozake Shange’s “this is for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”. Was it inspired by Shange’s seminal work? I do love how different from that it actually is. Talk to me about this line “we all belong to the same rainbow”… what emotions, inspirations, thoughts got you to this point of the poem?
TM: Shange’s work has inspired not only this poem but also my play Te Veel vir ‘n Coloured Girl in that it is also a choreopoem. For this particular poem I would like to think that I only borrowed ‘coloured girls’ and the idea of the rainbow from her work. The term Coloured is different in the USA from what it means in SA so Shange and I use it in different contexts. The poem plays on the words colour, Coloured, colourful which relates to a rainbow. This in turn relates to South Africa which we like to call the rainbow nation.
I find that we as South Africans are still very much tribalistic so we like to categorise people, focussing on (mostly negative) stereotypes for each ethnic group. I’m tired of having to explain who and what I am and what being Coloured means and defending myself against negative stereotypes. The line “we all belong to the same rainbow” means that we all belong to the human race and that should be enough so we should stop judging and just accept each other. It also shows that our diversity is a beautiful thing and that each human being possesses all the colours of the rainbow. So, in essence, we are one.
The word “belong” is very important to me because for a long time I was searching for a place to belong to, a ‘racial group’ where I can fit in. This line showed me that I can belong to the rainbow because the rainbow is as colourful as I am and it will neither judge nor discard me. The rainbow symbolises hope and dreams and magic and beauty. This line gives me peace.
PP: This year, you worked on your first theatrical poetry production, Te Veel vir ‘n Coloured Girl. What is this production about?
TM: Te Veel is actually my second play. The first was “Who Am I?” which showcased at Arts Alive in 2009. Te Veel is born out of my frustration as a Coloured woman living in modern day South Africa. I feel marginalized and I’m still angry about how Apartheid placed us in the middle of black and white and on top of that I’m dealing with my own issues as a woman and mother. It’s too much for a Coloured girl!
So, through poetry, song and dance, the play shows four young women who are dealing with all these issues. It touches on themes ranging from identity, abuse, romance, sisterhood and self-discovery. My heart’s desire is that every ‘girl’ in South Africa should see it, especially the Coloured girls who are very near and dear to my heart because we are still very confused.
PP: Why did you search for performers in your hometown and choose to launch it there first?
I decided to launch the play in Bloemfontein for various reasons:
1) Most of the poems and monologues in the play are inspired by the people of Heidedal, the Coloured township in Bloem where I grew up, so I wanted to pay homage to my community.
2) I wanted the work to have an authentic feel so it was important to have my characters speak in the dialect I speak and love and which is so unique.
3) There are very little opportunities for local artists and since I’m planning on touring nationally and internationally with the play I thought it would be a great opportunity for Bloem artists to gain experience and exposure.
4) I want to show the rest of the country that Bloem artists are just as talented as the rest of SA. 5) Lastly, I wanted to expose the community to the beautiful art of poetry and get them to love it as much as I do.
PP: What have been your expectations for the production and did they match what has happened since?
TM: Honestly, I was overwhelmed by the response I received. My homeboy, director Angelo Mockie, did an outstanding job of bringing my work to life and the performing artists portrayed the characters beautifully. My only desire was that if a Coloured girl/woman came and watched the play, that she should walk out of the theatre with a sense of pride. Not only could the women/girls relate and felt proud of themselves, but so did everyone – boys, uncles, grandfathers & people of all races loved it. The show has been nominated for Best Debut Production at the Vryfees.
PP: Having gone through this experience, are you inspired to create more pieces like this? What are you working on next?
TM: Yes, theatre is an invaluable medium. It draws people in and is a nice vehicle in which to use poetry. I already have another play on my heart, also about women. But right now I’m working on a documentary about identity. I’ll also be launching a blog soon. It will be called… yes…you guessed it…Too Much For A Coloured Girl!
PP: What inspires you? I’m thinking about the piece you wrote about your son, “Goodbye”. Often poetry is personal, I know for me it certainly is even if I share it with the world. How much of your personal life inspires poetry?
TM: My poetry is very personal and most of my inspiration comes from my family and life in general. I like to think that I got my writing style from my mom because she has this unique way of expressing herself. Most of my work is so personal that I don’t want to publicise it but that is what makes it relevant and effective. I pity my mom and siblings because I expose a lot of things about them that they would prefer to keep private. I appreciate them for allowing me my freedom of speech.
PP: Also tell me about writing from within. Sometimes, I find writing a poem would help me figure out what’s going on inside but other times, whatever is going on inside refuses to come out or it’s not yet ready. Have you experienced a poem that has taken forever to write? How long has it taken you to write some poems?
TM: For me mostly the writing is quick but the germinating period is long. The poem “Goodbye” which you’ve just mentioned was a poem that was hiding in my spirit for a long time before I even realised what was going on.
For months, I felt sad but I didn’t know the cause of my sadness. Then came this poem and I realised I was mourning my son growing out of childhood and becoming an independent person. It only took a few minutes to write the poem but only when it was on paper I understood and allowed myself to cry.
PP: I know I’d love to read a book of your poems… What do you have in store for us in future?
TM: I’m editing my manuscript at the moment. I already have a prospective publisher so the book should be out next year. I want to explore as many facets of writing as possible so the future includes essays, short stories, children stories, more plays, doccies, drama series, a movie and maybe a novel.
[information]This the third print quarterly from Poetry Potion. Inspired by Audre Lorde’s essay, this edition is themed “Poetry Is Not A Luxury”
features: poet profile – Tereska Muishond who talks about how writing had affected her life positively and about her award winning chorepoem Te Veel Vir ‘n Coloured Girl.
poetry: Fasaha Mshairi, Mandy Mitchell, Ayabulela Tutuse, Saurell Boyers, Morula wa Kutukgolo, Monique Barnard
This edition is available in print and digital formats at
Book Lover’s Market, Scribd, from our sales man in Durban – Menzi Maseko, at The Love House in Sunnyside Pretoria, or you can order by clicking here – click here for more info on our stockists[/information]