Afurakan T Mohare: Redefining masculinity
Afurakan is a one of the most expressive performance poets in Mzansi. As a writer he has graced stages in various parts of South Africa and the continent. Sharing stages with poetry luminaries such as Natalia Molebatsi and Lebo mashile just to name a few. He more recently however has become known as the founder of Word N Sound poetry series. We spoke to him about poetry vs hip-hop, Steve Biko as an artistic fetish and why black man are completely overrated.
MindMap-SA: Ok let’s start from the beginning, How did you initially get involved with poetry?
Afurakan: In high school, I was an mc. I used to rap and write and thought I was going to make a career as a rapper. Towards the end of high school I was getting frustrated with Hip-Hop as the message was changing and I felt that it was not saying things I was concerned about. That’s when I started exploring poetry. The first poet I ever heard on radio was Zee Leaf on YFM’s poetry show. I was hooked. He was doing a format called slam poetry and I knew from that moment that poetry was my calling.
MindMap-SA: It’s interesting that you mention you started out in hip-hop a lot of performance poets began there but as you say become disillusioned with rap as a whole, what do you think of the relationship between the two mediums?
Afurakan: I personally believe that poetry is the foundation. One has to be able to write and capture meaning before attempting to address the masses. There are a lot of poets who are good rappers but very few rappers who are good poets.
To be a good rapper, I believe one has to be a good writer and poetry promotes good writing. At the moment Hip-hop has no respect for poetry while poetry feels that Hip-Hop has turned into societal menace. The two art forms can learn and influence each other as it has been in the past.
MindMap-SA: Do you think this is created by a sense of being too protective about our art and people on either side not being willing to open up?
Afurakan: Poets are protective of their art as they do not want to see it watered down like what happened to Hip-Hop. At the same time, they are faced with the challenge of commercializing poetry so that it may reach more audiences and truly be a part of the South African music industry. Hip-Hop on the other side has changed focus from changing people’s lives to making money and getting famous. So naturally both sides will have beef with the other as there are no shared interests or objectives. Both sides need to be more open minded but poetry needs to be careful that it does not fall into the same trap as Hip-Hop.
MindMap-SA: How then does a young poet, find that balance, cause I think in South Africa have a mentality of “you can’t live of your art.” How then does one commercialize without watering down?
Afurakan: I can only speak for writers and poets. The best method is to expand your writing. Many poets still think that writing means only writing poetry and short stories. Commercial industries have a huge need for writers. I currently work as a copy writer at Masters and Savant WorldWide and this allows me to write other things besides poetry. A good example is advertising copy. Writers also need to create products that they can sell to people. From books, audio tapes, DVDs, stage shows, ebooks, training manuals, etc. With social media and internet, one can reach a far wider audience than it was possible in the past. Our view of who is our potential market also needs to change. There are countries out there that are looking for authentic African products and this gives us a big advantage. Networking is also a good way to connect with people so that you can inform them of the work that you do and how they can use your services. In short, a writer needs to start applying a business sense to their art. It is possible to make a living off writing but one needs to think broad and be willing to adapt and learn. Another factor is separating your personal work from commissioned work. If a client asks you to write something for them, then it is not about you and what you want. You have to give the client what they asked for as it meets their goals and objectives. This is not selling out but rather bringing discipline into your work and expanding your capabilities as a writer.
MindMap-SA: So the days of being a hippie, discussing big ideas is over. We need to get practical about things?
Afurakan: Yes Sir, those days are over. Now we need to do things and not just plan things. I believe that this century is the writer’s century and everything is at our disposal we need to apply our hands to where our minds are.
MindMap-SA: Earlier on you spoke about how you heard Zee Leaf on YFM, this was back when poetry was very visible in South African media, and even years later we had shows like Buwa and L’atitude and then it all gradually subsided. There seems to be a resurgence again. Do you think that this is just a trend that will fade again? And what is the role of media in helping spread the word?
Afurakan: I don’t think poetry becoming fashionable again is just a trend. It is the sign of the times. When mediocrity stifles a nation, there is a natural movement towards restoring balance. It is different this time because the audience and the poets have changed. We are more empowered now than we were in the past. Also poetry is not a Rasta thing anymore. It has become a legitimate voice of the youth. A lot of poets now are educated and are working thus investing into their art is not as difficult as previously. Media’s role has always been important. The only challenge is that media focuses on mass reach events or initiatives. Thus we as the poetry community have to ensure that our art form is of the highest quality and that it is relevant to people. Media also reacts to what people demand. I believe that it is a matter of time before media has its eye on poetry again, as the movement is stronger than before and has a better chance of growing thanks to internet and social media.
MindMap-SA: So I ask you then, what is the role of poetry and even art in post-democratic South Africa? What should our artists be exorcising?
Afurakan: The role of art is to inspire people to ask questions and come up with solutions to everyday problems. Art needs to be the conscious of a nation. Our artists need to exorcise laziness, fear and our people’s “back seat” mentality. Our past is our past but our future is still something we can determine
MindMap-SA: But that is hard to do seeing as a lot of our artist themselves are in fact very lazy. They in a way are what they hate. Not so?
Afurakan: True However, each one needs to inspire one. When lazy artists start seeing other artists working and getting ahead, they then will be inspired to up their game and learn. We still lack good examples and role models in South Africa and sometimes that is all that is needed to motivate people into work.
MindMap-SA: Speaking of role models, who are some of the people that have influenced your creative outlook and how?
Afurakan: Wow there are a lot of people responsible for that Steve Biko is the ultimate inspiration for me although he was not an artist but his outlook is one that all artists need to follow if their art is to touch people and help create change. On the writing side I draw inspiration from a lot of local writers including Ntate Credo Mutwa, Lesego Rampolokeng, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile, Phillippa Yaa De Villiers, Myesha Jenkins, Lebo Mashile, Mak Manaka, Khosi Xaba, Quaz Roodt, Flo Mokale and the list goes on and on. I am a sucker for good writing so I embrace anyone who offers really good writing.
MindMap-SA: You started with Steve Biko, which for me was not suprising as you quote him sometimes in your writing, but I am always concerned about how he and his works are becoming a public fetish, especially amongst local artists. What do you think of that?
Afurakan: Truth never rots. I believe a lot of people are drawn to his words although they may not fully understand why. Some to find answers, others to find inspiration while other just to look cool. I am just happy that Steve Biko is still relevant in urban culture. There is a risk of Biko becoming more a commercial image like what happened to Che Guevara, however, more and more young people are discovering his work and finally seeing the bigger picture. It’s our job (those in the know) to educate people about Biko and his work.
MindMap-SA: Ok let’s speak a little bit about Word N Sound. At what point are you like screw it we are going to start this Word and Sound Series and we are just gonna take this to the people? How did it all come about?
Afurakan: I was off stage for about 4 years. Most of which I was either out of the country or focusing on my business. Towards the end of 2010, I was getting frustrated with my business and wished to perform again and guess what?? There were no poetry platforms in Jozi to perform. Thus the best thing to do was to start a platform. So we did, in a little studio in Newtown Jozi. The first show I was showcasing and only 4 people showed up. We did not lose heart and saw it as a challenge. 4 shows later we were looking for a bigger venue and after a year Word N Sound has become on the prominent poetry platforms in Jozi. But the simple moral behind the oral is that – when there was no platform, we created one and did not wait for someone else to do it.
MindMap-SA: And it has grown very steadily, what do you think the success of the series is owed to?
Afurakan: The success of the series is owed to discipline.. We were tired of open mic shows being disorganized and really doing nothing for the performer besides giving them 5 minutes on stage. There had to be a purpose behind the shows. We also have an honest audience and this helps us keep the quality of the show very high. But the most important element is the poets themselves. We are lucky that we have young poets today who understand the social impact that poetry has and are not taking this lightly.
MindMap-SA: What value do you think poetry slams add to the performance poetry genre; because there a fine line between competition and war?
Afurakan: Performance poetry brings life to the written word. It adds depth to ones writing and also helps your work reach more people by adding the entertainment element. If poetry is going to reach people, it also needs to entertain them. The challenge is with Poets and their egos. Poets tend to think that just because they won a poetry slam, then they are the best poets in the world and no one can tell them anything. Competitions help us improve. It is when egos come into play that Competition turns into battle.
MindMap-SA: A lot of “poetry” purists feel that spoken word erodes the quality of the medium, what do you think of this?
Afurakan: We are all allowed to have our opinions. I feel though that keeping poetry “pure” in the sense of it being underground and always complaining about things and not doing things – is what has kept poetry stagnant and an elitist art. I support anything that exposes poetry to more people and helps the writers improve their art. But at the same time, I am a strong supporter of poetry with integrity. We cannot prostitute poetry just because that is the flavour of the times.
MindMap-SA: Ok lets speak a little bit about your writing I am always struck by how your writing attempts to re-asses ideas of masculinity and more specifically being a “black male,” why is this important to you?
Afurakan: Black people are what they were told they are. They have not had a chance to redefine themselves. This is our time to redefine ourselves and decide who we are. And that starts with challenging stereotypes. The black male is overrated, protected by tradition, culture, innovation and a male dominated world. But what has the black man really done to improve their society? Any inventions? Any positive leaders? All the black man is riding on is the fact that they are male and somehow between society and religion they are superior and entitled to shit. The black man needs to wake up. We are no less slaves as our fore fathers were. The black man in an infant in society and there is a lot of growing up to be done. Through my writing, I try to challenge and address such issues.
MindMap-SA: It’s interesting that you talk about the lack of contribution of black men, in fact I recently posed a similar question. But in the same token when we define ourselves why is it always in racial paradigms? Why is it never in human paradigms? Are we too obsessed with race?
Afurakan: Well our President used the race card during his trail and subsequently his election campaign -“100% Zulu”. It is such reminders and actions that always draw people back to the default position. We have not been taught to live in a non-racial society thus our closest ID will always be our culture and race.
MindMap-SA: You have performed in a lot of different places tell us a little bit about some of the strange and wonderful experiences you have had?
Afurakan: My worst performance are always government gigs where you have to perform while people are eating dinner. You are on stage pouring your heart out and no one is listening I have also performed in noisy bars, school halls, soccer field, in an elevator, I have performed for 2 people in the audience, and to 5000 sober people in Senegal. Every experience is different. Some performances you leave sad and other you are over the moon. But I have found that the older I get, the more tolerant I have become. In the words of Jay Z “Put me any where on God’s green earth and I will triple my worth”
MindMap-SA: Ok last question. What are some of the future plans and initiatives you are working on?
Afurakan: Word N Sound remains my biggest priority. So we are focusing on growing the platform and creating more products from it. We will be launching the Word N Sound Mixtape this week And also starting with Word N Sound Xtra from this Saturday Other plans include opening a poetry cafe, Word N Sound DVDs from last year, taking the Word N Sound top 10 around the continent to experience new people and new things.