Masai Dabula: A poet’s hope
Masai Dabula is a freelance journalist, painter and full time poet and writer. He started writing and performing in the year 2000. In the year 2011 some of his poetry was published in an anthology called ‘The Grounds Ear’. He is the current Word n Sound King Of The Mic and has performed in a number of stages in Johannesburg and other provinces.
You started writing poetry in 2000, that is a long time, how would you say you have developed as a writer and poet over that period?
I have learned that loneliness is crucial for my craft, my writing is determined by my observation more than anything else. I have mastered myself to master my craft and also learned how to take the negativity that looms over my community and turn it to art.
What initially prompted your to start writing?
Hope, I was taught that we created the word, world and we can reconstruct the world, with a word.
In terms of writing, who are some of the writers and books that have had the most influence on you and how during these years?
Sunset in Biafra by Allechi Amadi, Strange things by Mzi Mahola, The Dust of Death by Os Guinness, The Global Community by W.M. Spellman and The Tapestry of Culture by Abraham Rosman the list is endless. But these are some of the books that managed to bring fourth enlightenment into my life; they’ve opened my eyes about life in general, altering my perception on how I view myself as an entity. These books have taught me that no system is fool proof, even this system will fall and we need to prepare.
I remember seeing you at Cup O thought in Durban, you are a very gritty performer and your writing employs a lot of imagery, why is that?
(Laughs) Imagery? I reckon that’s my signature. I’m a nomad, so it only makes sense for me to take you with me. Remind you if you have forgotten and what you have forgotten.
Do you ever got concerned that sometimes that audience might not get the references that you use in your poetry?
Nahhh! I’ve learnt to speak the common language, I speak to the heart and not the mind.
As a performance poet when you write for a performance how much of that writing is personally for you considering that you will be leaving your space and sharing this stuff communally with other people?
I have nothing to hide, poetry is like hanging your clothes on stage, hanging even the rags that you’re ashamed of. I am, what I am because of the people that surround me, they made me who I am, I’m just reflecting that.
You are a full-time writer in an industry where it is difficult to make money tell us a little bit about your experiences and what you think it takes to make money from your craft?
Full time poets need managers, I’m an artist the technicality of seeing myself is a brand and an economical instrument is a taboo in my life. So if I have a manager, he would make sure that I eat without being abused. People can abuse your kindness or take it as a weakness; cats don’t want to pay poets. I do this poetry thing for my health.
Over the last few years we have seen an increase in platforms for poets and the rise of performance poets in general, why do you think there has been such an increased attention to poetry?
There has always been a platform for poetry underground, this new surge of poetry platforms are there solely because dedicated poets have been pushing the agenda since day one. Truth be told, this nation was liberated by poets, and we as poets shall take it back to the people, not just any people but Abantu, our people.
When you look at the standard of writing and performance in different places in South Africa where do you think we are and what came be done to improve the poetry performance seen in Mzansi?
We are mastering our craft, and we are getting better at it. South African poets own their voices, I’ve listened to poets from abroad and to me they kinda sound alike. Improving ourselves to me means practicing what some of us preach. Poets talk a great deal and fail to act.
You mentioned that you think of yourself as an artist, you are also a painter, tell us a little about that?
I paint to unwind. I just play jazz and paint with my daughter. She’s a better painter than me though.
Lets speak a little bit more about the poetry, you entered the Word N Sound slam last year, tell us what prompted that decision?
I wasn’t there to Slam, but it happened that they were introducing slam poetry to the people and I entered. Look! I just recite poetry, in my mind I’ve never slammed I just recited poetry and won. But I love the slam concept, it got people talking about poetry.
Tell us a little bit about the experiences you had last year en route to winning the king of the mic title?
Again, last year was another year of self discovery and a free course of self analysis. I had to give up on what I knew as poetry and embark on a quest to discover art in poetry.
You are defending your crown this year, is there any pressure on you personally to do well?
Not at all I’m just serving my duty. Writing just to remind the people about the forgotten ones, the people who are voiceless in skwatta camps. The only pressure I have is to see my daughter live without fear, see her follow her dreams and to see the future generation live as one.
How would you say the slam has developed this year compared to last year’s event?
This year poets have brought immaculate growth to the stage. They’ve shown me that poetry can be an industry, a lucrative business with products at hand.
How do you as Masai prepare for a performance?
Preparation for performances, is an exhausting period… Four to five hour a day or more depending on the time I have.
As a poet I am sure many strange things have happened to you, tell us a little bit about some of the experiences you have had as performer?
A woman threw an underwear on stage, just kidding… A person saying they would die for me.
What are some of the projects and initiatives you are working on?
We’ve opened up a NPO, called Phola Park Networking Organisation and Poeticians. The sole purpose of these organisation to curb ignorance and give pride back to our people, for this is home and we are adjured to curb our social ills for sake our children. I’ve collected clothes, ran workshops informing people about the livelihood of art in our community
As a writer why have you chosen to become an activist and what would you say are the causes that are closest to your heart right now?
The only reason why I became an activist is because of my people, I love my people so much it hurts. I can’t wake up one morning and decide that I want to be white, that will never happen and I don’t wish for that to happen. I need to love and teach love to my people.
You can catch Masai competing at the Word N Sound Slam poetry finals on the 6th of October, US poet Joshua Bennett will also be headlining the line-up which will also feature local soul duo Love Glori.