Bonga Ndziweni: Urban Laureate
Born in the Eastern Cape, Bonga Ndziweni like all the other kids wanted to be a doctor or a teacher and at the time had no idea that poetry even existed. In 2001 he moved to Joburg but it would only be around 2005/6 that he was introduced to poetry and like the perfect love Story they’ve been together since. We spoke to him about urban influences, slam poetry and the importance of homour.
You were born in the EC, tell us a little bit about moving to Joburg and how you got involved with the poetry seen there?
My mother moved here in 2000 because of her job, I tried the whole independent thing but I caved the following year at age 11 and moved here too.
At what point did you want to start being a writer yourself and what prompted that?
I got introduced to poetry in high-school but the trend back then was underground hip-hop so I was listening to a lot of that. Started hanging around the cyphers and poetry gathering purely as a spectator and that’s really how it started.
Who are some of the writers and books that have influenced you and why?
When I started writing I wanted to be deep because I was listening to a lot of underground stuff but as I grew in the art there was a lot of talk about finding your voice and I didn’t understand that…
You use a lot of humour in your writing why is that?
That’s who I am, I love laughing. In high-school I used to say my sense of humour is promiscuous because I used to laugh at everything and anything. So yeah I remember being challenged to write more honest poems and I love laughing and making people laugh so I figured why not write poems with the sole intention to make at least one person in the audience smile and the rest is history.
Do you ever fear that when treating a serious subject matter with humour people might not take is as seriously and not get the message?
All the time!! And I think it happens occasionally which is sad really. I mean I don’t claim a science to all my ‘madness’ but most times hidden in the humour is real sentiment.
You have competed in and won many slams, what do you think is required to make a top notch slam poet?
That is a hard question to answer because often in slam how good you are is relative to what your audience or judges are looking for and this is where slam gets tricky, but from my experience I’d say performance and content. What people need to understand though is that not every poet is a slam poet. I’ve been fortunate enough to win a couple of slams but I don’t consider myself a slam poet.
When you are doing the slam poetry how do you prepare for a performance?
I’m really bad when it comes to preparing for performances, Its like studying for an exam. I, you know, go over the notes gingerly a couple of times with no real conviction, then pull an all nighter 2 days before the exam. So yea the zest of my preparation is done 2days before the performance, though in my defence I am always writing,that has to count for something.
Tell us a little bit about your writing style, what informs it?
My style is not very academic nor aggressive or even ‘conscious’ if you will. If anything I’d say its conversational…Novel is a more exotic term so yeah let’s go with that. Human interaction informs my writing. Communication and just the language and its tools.
As a young writer, what value do you think poetry and writing has in South Africa today?
I think the value of poetry is misplaced in the vast South African audience, and I think this is mainly driven by the tendency to always label poetry as a vehicle for the ’cause’. Poetry should educate, unite and entertain.
The EC is a very traditionally landscape whilst Jozi is very urban how do you transition between these two spaces and how would you say those two worlds have shaped your writing?
I live in Joburg now and going back to the E.C is really just to visit family I don’t think of it as going back home, terrible I know. I will say though, I owe my formative years to the Eastern Cape, years I will never take back because they played a huge role in shaping the man that I am today, I happen to like who I am, and what Joburg does is add by shaping and molding the poet in me. Both places give something different, I love the E.C I do, but Jozi is home for me.
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?
Indeed,I was in Upington earlier in the year and we were booked to perform at a club there. So what happened was that the promoter for the show did a lousy job so the show bombed and then there was the ‘bright’ idea to come back later on when the club is packed with drunk people who just want to dance and ‘bore’ them with poetry (I was obviously against it-FYI)… Let’s just say it turns out it really wasn’t that good of an idea
You have performed in many different spaces tell us about what do you think of the standard of local performance poetry in South Africa and where do you think we can improve?
Performance poetry in South Africa is on par with the best the world has to offer.
What are some of the plans and initiatives you are working on for the future?
The nearest future is a one-man show but before that I’d like to see poetry hit more ‘on-the-ground’ type of venues as opposed to the traditional underground spots.