ON Monday Durban becomes the poetic hub of the world when the 16th Poetry Africa International Poetry Festival starts.
The festival, organised by the Centre for Creative Art at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, runs from October 15 to 19 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, with additional side events taking place in other parts of Africa and in Cape Town.
A host of respected artists – the likes of Saul Williams, D’bi Young, Werewere Liking, Ewok, Poppy Seed, Tolu Ogunlesi, Jessica Mbangeni and Rustum Kozain – are on the programme this year.
The music element on the menu will see a host of respected musicians performing and combining their talents with the poets.
Tonight caught up with Pedro Espi-Sanchis, an established and internationally recognised expert on traditional African music instruments.
If you were a child in the 1980s, you’d recall Espi-Sanchis from the popular 1990s kiddies’ TV series Kideo as Pedro, the Music Man, where he taught us how to make the most interesting instruments using everything from plants to recycled materials.
It is this passion for indigenous music that sees Espi-Sanchis travel the world today as an African story-telling legend.
It was interesting to learn that his passion for indigenous African instruments was born in SA.
“I came to South Africa playing folk music from Spain and South America. So this (African music) is really a continuation of that.
“I was lucky to connect with Andrew Tracey (in the 1970s); he had an immense effect on the white South African population coming to know the treasures of South African music.
“I was lucky to meet him and be enthused and connected with a range of African music, from Uganda to South Africa,” said Espi-Sanchis.
He said what he found most exciting about African music was that it was “community music”.
“The other aspect is that it teaches you. You can make music with anything and that is very empowering and exciting, because you don’t have to spend any money. For example, over the years I’ve learned how to make a flute out of a paw paw stem…
“In the Western Cape we use kelp (seaweed) that you find on the beach. It’s hollow inside and can make a flute.
“To play an instrument is wonderful, but to make it yourself is taking it one step further,” said Espi-Sanchis, who plays an array of instruments including the mbira, the Xitende bow and the Lekgodilo flute (on which he is considered one of the best players in the world).
During Poetry Africa 2012, Espi-Sanchis will be playing music and also presenting a host of French and Spanish language poetry.
“Through platforms like Poetry Africa you realise that humans all over the world have a creative impulse to use their own language. Poets are at the forefront of developing language…”
A glance at other highlights on the festival programme:
• The programme features Madosini, the foremost exponent of the various bow instruments that form part of Xhosa culture – she is a crucial custodian of these traditions.
• The festival finale will feature the mesmeric groove of Vavangèr(s), a music project led by Sergio Grondin with Maya Pounia and Alex Soress, honouring the legendary Reunion Island musician Alain Peters.
• Special cameo performances by Madala Kunene with Zos Kunene, Guy Buttery and Nibs van der Spuy, and the Zimbabwean mbira duo of Isaac Machafa and Praise Zinhuku.
• A number of important festival book launches include Rustum Kozain’s new release Groundwork (Kwela Books/ SnailPress), the long-due Zulu version of Oswald Mtshali’s Sounds of a Cowhide Drum and the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Volume 2 (Jacana).
• Poetry Africa provides a space for intercultural exchange and dialogue in wide-reaching day activities that include seminars, workshops and poetry performances at tertiary institutions and community centres.
Other activities include engagement with local poetry groups, open mic opportunities and visits by the poets to 30 schools in Durban and surrounding areas to exchange poetry and ideas about poetry with young pupils.