kagablog

December 12, 2007

hybridization and slang in south african poetry

The Kwaito era

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The 90’s saw the emergence of the dance music genre called Kwaito, which while tapping into rap beats, house rhythms and opening itself up to the influences of jazz and at times uses rhythm and blues harmonies, also draw from the aesthetic rhythms of earlier musical genres, characterized by the resonance of the drum and bass that gives it a distinct African flavor. To give its voice a more South African accent Kwaito dug deep into the vast well of vernaculars of South Africa and the many variants of township slang. According to Aryan Kaganof the hybrid nature of Kwaito reflects its proclivity to resolve the dialectic between struggle culture and bubblegum, pure entertainment and art for a socio-political purpose by fusing these previously opposed tendencies in township politics, positing sophisticated, digital body liberation whereby dancing itself becomes the site for a radical rejection of the traditional struggle lyrics in favour of the liberation of pleasure, while at the same time attempting to use the language of the street to grapple with and articulate the present reality for the man and woman in the streets of the ghetto and to explore the future. (See Sharp-Sharp: The Kwaito Story (http://kaganof.com/kagablog/category/films/sharp-sharp-the-kwaito-story/)

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Kwaito star, Zola (Bonginkosi Dlamini) posits that the Kwaito concept of mixing languages to produce a sort of lingua franca that facilitates interaction and communication between people from different socio-linguistic and cultural backgrounds dates as far back as the days of the establishment of the Cape Colony. “It all begins with the Dutch people. The voyagers when they come to South Africa and then all the other nations mix up as South Africans integrate into what it becomes today but basically you had Dutch which of course when it mixed up with other languages ended up as a language called Afrikaans and in Afrikaans there’s a word called kwaai, sommer baie gevaarlik, somebody who’s dangerous, like very cheeky you know, hard core. And then back in the sixties there was a gangster groups called Amakwaitos which of course were the most notorious boys around. I don’t know exactly if they were from Sophiatown or Soweto, one of the two, but that’s basically where the name came from. So we had a bit of Afrikaans a bit of Zulu a bit of English a bit of Tswana Tsonga Tshona and then all those languages came up together when people started working in the mines when people went up to Joburg with the gold rush and then they had their own language. That’s where the name kwai came from and as the years went by music changed and it ended up being called kwaito as in Amakwaitos.” (Zola in an interview with Aryan Kaganof)

Language in post-1994 poetry

In the literary arena, the search for artistic and aesthetic expressions that capture the peculiarities and particularities of social issues, challenges and opportunities of post –South Africa that comes with its own set of promises and contradictions, dreams and nightmares and fears and hopes peculiarities and particularities of the contradictions, saw the growth of poetry among young people. This also came with an exploration of new stylistic and thematic concerns, which ranged from exploration with hip hop, dub\reggae and jazz poetic accents, tapping into African orature, and delving into the fluidity, spontaneity, vibrancy and vastness\ richness of the ghetto-lingo; Iscamtho\ringas, fly-taal.

Sometimes poets write mainly in English and bring in either jazz\ blues\soul aspects, or Rasta-speak, ragga rhythms or dub beats, or slam poetry and hip hop beats, or ghetto lingo and kwaito sounds, or traditional African oral, or all of these influences. Though some poets choose to specialize in one of the genres and are quite comfortable with being classified as ‘page’ poet or ‘performance poet’, spoken word artist, ‘slam poet’ oral poet, ‘praise -poet’, etc many poets including those who are referred in the media by some of these labels choose not to confine themselves to any template or label. Therefore you find a significant number of poets who write for both the page and the stage and who also have collection of poems that are a mixture of poems written in English, and poems written in hybrid language, Rasta-speak and hip hop register, African languages, Iscamtho\tsotsi-taal and a mix of these.

One Response to “hybridization and slang in south african poetry”

  1. PHUMLANE DENNIS MBONJANA Says:

    Hi! IM ALSO THE LOOK OUT TO ZOLA, AS HE IS AN ASPRIRATION TO ME, I WRITE POETRY NOT AS A CAREER BUT AS WHAT I SEE AROUND ME, IN ZOLA YOU CAN TELL A STORY BY JUST LOOKING THE SITUATION ITSELF. IM WRITING THIS TO BEG ZOLA AKA BONGINKOSI DLAMINI TO WRITE A BOOK OF POETRY IN INSPIRE EVERYONE AROUND THE WORLD, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE IT PUBLISHED. MY POEM ALSO AS I NEVER HAD A THING I CALL MY OWN AND THAT TIMES COME I WOULD SAY (ANOTHER ONE FROM A ZOLA) THAT WHAT ZOLA WOULD HAVE WANTED. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.