I wrote the following poem for a spoken word/music show I’ll be performing in alongside my friend Raynie (Reinhart Rymhard) in two months from now at the Woordfees (Word Festival) in Stellenbosch, called Gemengde Oorsprong: Hemel in Aardse Kruike (Mixed Heritage: Heaven in Earthen Vessels). The poem is written as a tribute to Jazz and more so, Cape Jazz – the indigenous form of jazz that emerged under Apartheid amongst so called “coloured” people in Cape Town. The poem questions the identity of jazz, personified here as a stranger I can’t recall meeting. From my flimsy perceptions of what I thought jazz was to what it really is, the poem details the journey from my perspective in a very quirky yet real way. Please let me know what you think of it. Any suggestions would be much appreciated:
I’m not sure when or where we met, or what part of you caught me first
Perhaps I missed you as I strolled by, mistaking you for someone lesser
As you slipped away and we assumed our designated roles
In the way strangers would, awkwardly on a Metro rail train in either 1st or 3rd class
Perhaps the person I’d heard speaking vaguely in those days at 21st birthday parties and weddings,
The catalyst of sensual atmospheres for the many late night sagas on Saturday night TV –
Was someone I’d learnt to misjudge in the face of Top 40 and the unnerving drone of commercial radio
Your poster boys had become Kenny G and Sinatra
And your theme song was Jimmy Grand Six plays “I’ll Be Missing You”
I could not even mention your name without hearing references to Lionel Richie, Earth Wind & Fire and Pink Panther
“No”, they would say – they grew up with you
You were labelled in a time where labels had drawn partitions between people
And when fear for revolution had scribbled a fat red “censored” on your forehead
‘til what remained of you became reserved for bargain bins and 3 for 99 specials at Musica,
‘til you were headhunted for Christmas lunch background music in the instrumental section, next to Phil Collins Pan Pipe
‘til DJs chopped you up into little pieces and used your entrails for break beats
‘til anything with saxophone in it had by default filled up your shelves
No wonder I had mistaken you, no wonder I’d waited so long to make your acquaintance
My generation turned up their nose to you.
Did they forget how you scaled walls and overthrew racist dynasties?
How you spit in the faces of tyrannical slave mongers,
emerging from distant lands from which you brought us stories of those who laboured in cotton fields,
much like the labour that had made our own backs crooked –
On the daily commute, in taxis and buses we heard of you, we would hear you speak –
How you flaunted stories of Satchmo, Charlie “Bird” Parker and a trumpeter called Dizzy who had the biggest cheeks you had ever seen!
From there, you returned home to paint our uprooted houses with your melodies, so blue like the sea…the blue blue Cape
The same Cape from which you conjured rhythms and melodies from all over the world
Did they forget how you wrote the soundtrack to our lives? How you felt what the nation felt,
In the chords of our folk songs, in the words of your messengers – Abdullah, Robbie, Basil
“Mannenberg” – from which we swore we will never depart, in the sound of our muffled uprising.
Are you the same? The one they speak of as Jazz, the one we had heard them praise during the exile – the one who carried our voices to the shores of London, New York, Copenhagen, Berlin…Do you insight us still?
Do you recognise me as I fleetingly grab your attention, as we move in different directions and even maybe different times?
Perhaps time has passed you by and you have not aged well,
perhaps your eye sight fails you as you try to grab hold of the past
you tethered so tightly to a generation that will soon also come to an end.
Even then, will we remember you?