Written and Performed by Donald Molosi -
Written and Performed by Donald Molosi -
How do we remember history’s heroes? How do we also forget them? Dedan Kimathi Waciuri (1920-1957) was leader of the Mau Mau freedom fighters. He dedicated and gave his life to fighting against British colonial rule in Kenya. How do we remember such a figure? How do we forget him? Why do we forget him? Written and Performed by Donald Molosi.
me beneath their words, forced me out of my
orbit to fly under the radar and made it clear
that i had nothing to offer.
and although my spirit broke
when death simultaneously broke into my heart and stole,
i spent long years laughing hard
to keep the tears away and i came to be
known by my smile and not my frown.
although my heart was dislocated
and i sat there biting my nails for nothing,
i chose to grow for the same reason that a wild flower does -
because it is alive.
in my art’s luster i watched my eyes change,
and i watched my fears die a natural death.
the universe turned,
and fanned a glow that fired me into air when
my soul, mind and universe agreed that for
i have thus far acted out my life in stages, so shall i act out my life on stages.
that for as long as i have my soul in mind,
acting will be my canvas to chalk with colorful joys
and familiar pains, both with the audacity of a passion that kills;
both with a timeless finesse.
married i remain to the art that speaks my truth and fragments,
performance that towers high like a monument untouchable.
Monkoki rolls up the apartment blinds and sunlight rushes into the square studio apartment, forming bright rectangular patterns on the beige carpet. Although she is still lethargic from last night’s long flight from Botswana, Monkoki feels somewhat refreshed, anticipatory really, to wake up bathed in the newness that waking up in a foreign city creates. This new city is, after all, in the United States of America, a country where prosperity is rumored to rain down on hungry immigrants like a dream. Monkoki muses on Kitsano’s stories of Real America and wonders about losses endured in pursuit of the American Dream. For comfort, she presses her nose to the warm coffee mug that she is holding in her right hand. Through the tall window, she looks high at the blue and blithe sky and begins to blinks too fast: she left Botswana without telling most of her relatives, fearing that they would pull down her airplane from the sky with jealous medicinal herbs – how else should they react to talk of golden-paved streets of America when they themselves are stuck to the dusty streets of Mahalapye?
But as she now stands at this too-tall American window, with her nose pressed against the mouth of the coffee mug, Monkoki feels a sharp longing for the same jealous relatives: Uncle Barobi whose sonorous voice is incapable of whispering particularly after a few fingers of scotch; Cousin Raymond who is always jumping from one prosperity-preaching Pentecostal church to the next in search of “matrimonial miracle,” Cousin David who is divorced and has been not-so-secretly having sex with Cousin Raymond; Uncle Dikgopiso whose dutiful wife, Mma Betty, always treated Monkoki like her own daughter; Grandmother Mma Gabanthate whose deeply sunken eyes always told the story of bitterness living as a woman in Botswana.
Monkoki wipes a tear and takes a sip of her coffee which has now become too cool. She presses her nose to the window gauze and, for comfort, hums a Tswana hymn she learnt from Mma Betty as a child.
As she hums, it strikes her that the wind in Anaheim is too warm, too unclean and it smells of old rust. It is that clumsy grit which leads Monkoki to conclude that Anaheim, although in California, must be far from Hollywood where the wind must surely be cool and dreamy. Below, on Ball Road, blue dumpsters sit randomly along the street, their wide mouths foul and agape with bags of assorted rubbish, usable furniture and usable television sets. The minty but skunk-like smell of marijuana seems to permeate the entire street, brazenly. Pudgy teenage boys of Latino extraction swagger up and down the street dressed in oversized grey tracksuit pants and tight white vests, screaming unintelligible sounds into their cellphones. A homeless man is beating his tiny dog -
“Good morning, ratu.,” Kitsano whispers and turns in the bed to face her. His eyes are still half-closed. As he smiles, his perfect set of white teeth is revealed behind beautiful, thick and dark lips.
“Morning. O robetse sente?” Monkoki asks as she turns away from the window and sits on the bed next to him.
Even after five years of seeing each other, Monkoki’s elegant beauty still sometimes surprises Kitsano. Kitsano always tells his American friends that unlike the rest of the world, Monkoki does not wake up looking uglily startled. Rather, like this morning, she wakes up already looking like a mermaid.
He looks up at her and smiles, “Very well. And you, how did you sleep?”
“Sente, very well,” Monkoki rubs Kitsano’s forehead. “Are you going to show me the town today, Kits?”
“Yes, ratu. I thought that since it is your first day in the US we might do something American like walk down to Disneyland. It is only ten minutes away, you know.”
Monkoki silently returns to the window, realizing with a tightness in her chest that she is indeed in the US. She says too loudly, “For such hot weather I wonder why these boys wear heavy tracksuit pants. I mean, vests I can understand but as for – ”
Kitsano lapses into rapturous laughter. His chest heaves up and down as he laughs lying on the bed face-up, like a baby. Finally he catches his breath: “Dang it, ratu, I have not heard those words in such a long time. Here they call them sweatpants. And the vests are called wife-beaters.”
“Gatwe wife-beater?” Monkoki stares out of the window, and points at the boys as though she is talking to them: “How American to reduce a real word to a cheap popular phrase!”
Kitsano laughs again, a robust open-mouthed laughter that almost sounds like a series of hiccups: a Motswana man’s laughter. He emerges out of bed and stands there topless, laughing. His pajama pants are bulging with a mild morning erection which, to her amusement, seems to intensify with his laughter. She laughs at Kitsano’s laughter-triggered erection. He, unaware of his own erection, laughs at her use of Botswana English. In those peals of laughter she hears only his laughter because hearing Kitsano’s very Motswana laughter echo throughout the tiny American apartment assuages Monkoki’s anxieties like a firm hand to a sore muscle. She finishes her coffee and allows the coffee mug to hang from her hand and hover over the window sill.
This is the true story of the legendary Ugandan musician Philly Lutaaya, whose soulful AfroPop rhythms united a generation of Ugandans. Inspired by his continent and its people, Lutaaya kept faith in his beloved motherland in his music even while he was a struggling musician abroad in Sweden. This epic piece chronicles his transformation from an entertainer to a musical activist after he learnt about his own personal tragedy. “Today It’s Me” is an exploration of courage, passion and tragedy, featuring Philly Lutaaya’s exotic, riveting music. Best Performer, Dialogue ONE Festival 2008. Best Short Solo, United Solo 2011. Poster: Maya Lama. Recommended for: adults, elderly, ethnic community (African).
2013 United Solo, the world’s largest solo theatre festival, presents 121 productions! All shows are staged at Theatre Row: 410 West 42nd Street, New York City. TICKETS, with a price of $18, are available at the Theatre Row Box Office and online through Telecharge at www.telecharge.com. You may also call Telecharge at 212-239-6200. When placing your reservation, please provide: the FESTIVAL name (United Solo Theatre Festival), the name of THEATRE (Theatre Row – The Studio Theatre), and the specific DAY and TIME of SHOW you would like to see.
*The ENCORE tag marks productions with solo artists who performed successfully at the Festival in the past and came back again to perform this year.
Donald Molosi @ActorDonald
that wise place is in you, warrior o, where the prophet talks, and visions are cautiously told. where men are fine as goodness itself and women are strong as baobab. you, one-woman army, carry the heavy when wata done pass gaari. that human place is in you, prophet, where the wind speaks stories of ancestors, untold. where rivers flow in ancient direction and cheek-long tears are sparkles of power. you, poem at peace with itself, lighten the heavy. sebi, u no dey fear even before a pantheon of coarse gods? that valiant place is in you, Sokari, where questions blow hard and dry like harmattan, like why our tainted mirrors are unfair to all the beautiful ones. put simply, i dey hail you.
Today, four of the infamous Delhi rapists have been sentenced to die. Millions of people around the world are thrilled and millions around the world are infuriated, both by the much-anticipated verdict. These cases are in every society and sexual desire is clearly something the world must socialize its earthlings to better cope with, especially when it reaches as far as murderous rape. As I write this, elated crowds are on the streets of Delhi celebrating the verdict. But what do you, dear reader, have to say about it?
Perhaps that segues into my column about desirability especially since I am speaking to a woman currently living in India. This week I continue my column about desirability in the workplace. Sneha Subra is not just a friend of mine but my essential rock, and ours is a truly romantic story of friendship. I am privileged to have trudged through teenage-hood side-by-side with such a dynamic intelligent friend and now to be walking through adulthood still together with her in loyal friendship. She is an educator and writer currently based in India. She is a graduate of Knox College in Illinois and Azim Premji University in Karnataka, India.I recently spoke with her about her experience as a woman in education. “Chinchilla” is an inside joke. Enjoy!
DM: My dear chinchilla, do you see yourself as a woman in education or an educator who is a woman?
SS: Well, I have a very broad scope in terms of my work because I see what I do not only as a profession but as a calling. I am an educator. In the narrow sense that means I design curricula, observe, analyze and attempt to improve school practices through research, theory and development. From the larger picture, though, I think I’m here to help people and make their lives better, as a professional, yes, but first and foremost as a human being.
DM: I ask that question because somehow men are usually just called “writer” or “educator” but when it comes to women there is always the lopsided need to place “female” before those words.
DM: Tell us, is education a male-dominated field in your experience?
SS: Education? No, on the contrary I would say that the field has been feminized and, as a result, continues to suffer from a low status. Most teachers are female. However, in terms of who decides educational policy- that ultimately governs the entire education system- yes, I would say decision makers are predominantly male.
DM: Right. As you know my column discusses how “desirable” one has to be in their professional life. In the past we have heard about sexualized images as a necessity to get ahead in the workplace to get ahead. Could you speak to that a little bit?
SS: I think, for a woman, the image enters all domains of life. A good looking teacher or professor is likely to garner more initial interest from learners and so, perhaps, it becomes important to tap in on this appeal to get learners thinking. In the long run, however, it is the human connection and content that overrides image. On the other hand, while working with different communities and attempting to implement policy or conduct workshops, the image can make a crucial difference. For the woman to be accepted as a leader and someone who wields power, a traditional attire goes a long way in asserting authority and experience. The idea of the working woman is convoluted in the image- not only with regards to sex appeal but also in temrs of what values this woman embodies. The antiquated virgin/whore dichotomy as the basis for perceiving the woman is, very sadly, something I see living and thriving in contemporary society.
DM: Tell me though, chinchilla, can this image of appeal be harmful to pedagogy?
SS: Well, like I said, chinchilla, I think appeal can be used as an initial trigger to reel in the learner.
SS: Also by conforming to standards of beauty and appeal at times, and not conforming at others through one’s physical manifestation one can probe into critical thinking to ask learners to start thinking about the image an the woman and how they go hand in hand. not only in our everyday but in film to we must analyze the image of the female and desirability – through our own experiences and ideas of the male and female gaze. So if one is aware, it can be helpful but mostly with people who haven’t reflected and thought about how they fit into the scheme of womanhood and how it fits into their identity, it can be harmful. And this reflection is not one reached by intellect but by exposure.
DM: How does one expose oneself to that reflection? Is it socialization or a more individual quest?
SS: I think it’s a bit of both. But definitely socialization comes first, otherwise the question of that quest may not come into the picture. The thing is that being a strong woman is not just about defying stereotypes. It is not about playing sports or being a business tycoon, it is about fully knowing yourself and experiencing your independence as a matter of course that you will fight for if need be. No course can really teach this because it is so very personal. This is my conception of being a woman, anyway, and I find many people getting lost in the trappings of stereotypes and losing out on questioning the ideological influence of being the Second Sex, as Simone de Beauvoir said.
DM: Fascinating. I love it. Let us, at this juncture, shift the focus to male colleagues now. Do male colleagues also have the capacity to use desire to lure the learner or is the appeal different?
SS: I think they definitely do but the appeal there probably comes from the fact that they are so unconscious of their image. I find this very attractive but I’m a bit of a sapiosexual, especially when in a classroom scenario
DM: You said before that you were not the “good” woman in how you spoke freely about sex etc when you first came to Delhi.Tell us a little bit more about your unorthodox behavior as a woman in that setting.
SS: Haha. Oh, chinchilla! Haha!
DM: Not like that, you chinchilla!
SS: Hmm, okay. I don’t consider myself unorthodox although many people see me that way. It is a simple question of have the social and mental freedoms to make my own decisons and live my own lifestyle and be a good human being for me. That is what informs my day to day. I don’t have a bee in my bonnet about how I am being perceived at every turn as long as I can live my my own ideals.
DM: Are you able to be yourself as a happy feminist woman despite the male gaze?
SS: I think I am conscientious of the trappings of the male gaze and deliberately ensure I do not fall prey to it. For me, my understanding of men, women, sex and human beings comes out in my conversations. I am not afraid to talk about gender discrepancies that are ailing society from any lens -whether that means talking about sex or whether that means leading a highly independent lifestyle and making choices and exhibiting behaviors that are not traditionally thought of as “correct” for the female. I strive to be fearlessly myself in terms of my mind’s articulations and actions. I do not know if that is desirable or not for the other, but it is for me.
DM: Thank you, chinchilla, for your time.
one of the solos in my head keeps chanting that
uncertainty is the best way to contaminate time.
i, myself am not sure what i am meant to scream to that
because i am already living the truth of that statement,
i wake up furious because the sun keeps rising
and the days keep
along, yet i am still unsure.
i remain restless and risible in my uncertainty -
laughing and dancing without a cause.
waiting has finished the bones of my body,
it has thinned the threads of my mind.
i set each damned sun with bottles of bitter white wine because
i need to evade the questions in my head about why
my future is still yet to be written by some fat-bellied white
man in the concrete jungle across the sea.
questions demanding to know
if it is really necessary for my lips to be thus curled with cynicism.
surely i am too young for the darkness in my head.
that solo in my head, i think, should rather speak to me about danger
because uncertainty has a knack for creating desperation. please,
a chorus of solos in my head should proclaim a chilling message about danger, and guide me along the path of the smiling sun.
Sithanda Ntuka is a 25 year-old dynamic woman from Botswana. She has lived all over the world: Denmark, Canada and now she is a New Yorker fast climbing the corporate ladder. As an auditor for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, she is in the thick of the male-dominated corporate world. In my chat with Sithanda, we mostly discussed the desirability of a woman and its place in the workplace. But before we delved into that I asked her to give us insight into the gender relations in her native Botswana.
Donald Molosi: Hello Sithanda. Welcome to DESIRE: A Four Part Harmony where we will discuss the role of a woman’s desirability in the workplace. Happy Women’s Month.
Sithanda Ntuka: Thank you.
DM: You are a woman in the 21st century. What does that mean for you in the workplace?
SN: As a woman in the 21st century I have more social power than the women that came before me. I have more opportunities to choose from in the professional environment. But I still do not have the privileges afforded to males in either social or professional environment.
DM: We will return to those privileges because I think that is a good point. But first, tell me about growing up in Botswana as a girl child.
SN: The gender imbalance was enforced. Boys were always excused for being naughty, disrespectful or even experimental with things because they were “just being boys.” Girls on the other hand were expected to be limited and proper and demure. Society always reminded you in many ways that women are secondary to men.
DM: You strike me as a woman without that inferiority complex that you describe as being fed to young girls.
SN: I grew up in a household where those complexes were absent so when society tried to confine me, I was already armed. I already knew I could be as good and even better than a boy in the classroom.
DM: Did you encounter the same inequalities in Danish society, or in Canadian society?
SN: Yes. In Denmark there are active steps being taken to ensure equal numbers of either gender in workplaces but of course minds take a long time to change despite quotas. Actually some people are quick to dismiss a woman’s success in the workplace and attribute it to the woman being the token female for the quota rather than basing it on her capabilities. In the US, I feel gender equality in the workplace and not much socially.
DM: Tell me more about that inequality in the workplace in the US. How does it manifest itself?
SN: Statistically, there are lots of male partners in any firm and only a handful of women, for instance despite the fact that there are so many women to climb that ladder. Also, on average women partners get promoted much later in their careers than their male counterparts. Perhaps most disheartening is that women are made to choose between their job and starting a family. Executives fear promoting women because they fear she might slow things down if she ends up needing maternity leave.
DM: It must be daunting, surely. Can one win?
SN: In theory, we can all win. As a women in this field, if you do well professionally there is no room for family. If you start a family, there is apparently not enough room for work. If you have no family, society says you must be gay and so on.
DM: So, society also takes cues from professional achievements on how to subvert the woman?
DM: Let us segue into image and desirability. What image does a woman have to project in this industry to increase her chances of success?
SN: She has to give the impression that she is industrious and that she knows what she is doing. That is in order for her to win the trust of her colleagues both male and female.
DM: Does she have to appear desirable to the male gaze?
SN: Yes. She has to appear ‘beautiful’ but enough to not be ‘distracting.’ You can wear black nail polish if you work in a bank for example, but not red nail polish because it is supposed to be distracting.
DM: Are men ever told not to appear a certain way because that they may be ‘distracting?’
SN: No. It is always the woman’s fault.
DM: So, distraction is sexual as seen through the heterosexual male colleagues’ eyes.
SN: Exactly. I personally do not seek to appear sexy at work but I know people who do. And that helps them get ahead. Executives associate with them more and those professional associations lead to promotion and other good prospects.
DM: Could that desirability hurt one’s reputation?
SN: Potentially but usually it seems to help those women’s standing. I wouldn’t know, I don’t go for that desirability at work. I put my credentials and professionalism first.
DM: Do men have to appear desirable?
SN: They have to appear professional. They do not even need a good attitude. They just need to be able to do the work well. No one sits and analyzes them.
DM: Because the men are the one who are supposed to analyze, right?
SN: Exactly. They never have to exploit themselves.
DM: Double standards. What four things do you think should not be made the markers of desirability about women in society?
SN: Skinniness. Nakedness. Light skin. Big boobs.
DM: These are all physical. That is interesting. I would like to add that a woman having to dumb herself down should also not be the embodiment of desirability in general. Do you agree?
SN: Yes. You have no idea how many times I have argued with men about that. Why is patriarchy so easily threatened?
DM: What should be desired in women, by men and women?
SN: We must all desire to see power, outspokenness, confidence and natural beauty in women.
DM: Who embodies that for you?
SN: I am totally on the fence about Beyonce. She works hard and is successful but the more successful she becomes because of her hard work the more she takes off her clothes and objectifies herself to the male gaze. I would say Mary Erdoes embodies those lovely qualities for me. She is the CEO of JP Morgan Asset Management. She has a family and has climbed the corporate ladder far up at the same time.
DM: Any last words?
SN: I am annoyed by women of my generation who are so quick to say that feminists annoy them unknowing that it took feminism for them to be enjoying the freedoms they enjoy today. So why not work even harder through a feminist mentality so that our daughters can have it even better?
DM: Sithanda, I thank you for having this chat with me. It truly has been too short and I hope that we find time in future to converse once more.
SN: It was my pleasure. I hope so! Happy Women’s month.
DM: Why, thank you.
Desire and desirability. It was the legendary philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who brilliantly observed that “ultimately , it is the desire, not the desired, that we love.” Desire and desirability have -through time – puzzled and mesmerized sages the world over. Desirability as a phenomenon is talked about, yearned for, contested and most curiously – it is expected.
This Women’s month, March 2013, I shall explore ways in which women would like to be desired by men and other women in this day and age. It is no secret that we live in times and societies where desirability of women is their most celebrated quality – at home, in the workplace, in both entertainment and popular culture: in general global society. But what is to be desired or ignored about women? And who better to answer these question than the women themselves?
Join me, Donald Molosi, as I interview four awe-inspiring women from around the globe in this four-post series simple entitled, “DESIRE: A Four-Part Harmony.” The first interview will be with the friendly and fearless Sithanda Ntuka, a 25- year old young woman from Botswana who today calls New York her home. The interview will be published this coming week. In the meantime, may we all find something of substance to desire.
rings and roses vanish, fleet and pass without leaving a trace.
but words are forever so, speak for this love lives on words
and words alone can ink themselves deep into my heart and
not rings, not roses, not a new house. no. no.
speak and i will live on your words, i will drink every word and i will
follow the breath of your lips to where it will land a new loving word.
no rings, no roses – they vanish, they fleet, they pass;
speak! and i will swallow your words deep into me
and make of them my core and essence. yes. yes.
keep speaking and giving me words big and small.
my darling artist, keep talking, writing and
painting your words and in all of them i will delight.
but like my Lord i will ask again that if you build me a mansion then you
should build it in the path of a flood.
My most visceral thoughts are right now with all the children who have been robbed of their childhoods by war and conflict. Oftentimes war and conflict can be in the home, in the family. Sometimes it is literally in war trenches. It is the time to speak out for the protection of the African child’s childhood where the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other documents such as the African Charter on the Rights and Responsibilities, fall short. Heaven, bless the child to speak and be heard. Heaven, protect the child.
Words by Toyin Ajao; Song/Instrumentation written and sung by Donald Molosi
Girl Soldier -
Injustice, corruption, discrimination she saw.
Deeply entrenched in her society. Ruling all and sundry.
She carried a gun to fight. Gun of truth. Gun of passion. Gun of selfless service.
Hello again BlackLookers. This post is not about the written word as I would rather have you hear an audio clip I am sharing here. Since two years ago, in my life and consciousness, January 26 will forevermore belong to one man and his memory: David Kato. I wrote a little song to the memory of David and although I did not get the time to properly record it in a studio I wanted to share it here as a rehearsal because the words are what carry the song. David will never be forgotten. It seems like yesterday when I was at that vigil in New York City, a week after he was brutally snatched from us.
The rehearsal is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KJAomVOD9Q
Dear David – Every generation has a task. It seems it was never too much for you. When they tried to hide you, you spoke out. It seemed to never stop raining on you. David, may the star of David shine.
Hello BlackLookers. I hope that the year is off to an auspicious, if busy, beginning. We wish Sokari well as she begins another chapter of her work in Haiti. Lately I have found myself ruminating on what it means to tell a story of Africa that acknowledges the humanity of the African even when we address the ills of corruption, war and the like that are part of the African experience. I thought I would share a paragraph from an untitled short story I am working on. Here it is below. All the best in the new year, Donald.
When “Vice President Sticks” had been alive, Segai lived like a regular Son Of a Diplomat: grandly. He flew to England too often, returning to Botswana with blurry pictures of him and his red-faced British friends “bladdered.” Just as often, Segai would go on holiday in the US and put up biting Facebook statuses about Black American’s loud and bitter blackness; their lack of his colonial refinement. Back home, Segai could be seen driving around Gaborone in shiny conspicuous cars, slowly enough for foolish girls on the roadside to squeakily swoon in pure materialism. After secondary school his father, “VP Sticks” even sent him all the way to the US to study something as impractical as art. Since his father’s death last year though, Segai’s home is literally thousands of miles from that fancy and imposing Gaborone lifestyle. His home is a fan-less single room in brutal Brooklyn. He is just another black face in the Big Apple: loud and bitter.
in these few words i bind a durable promise,
one that will never be untied the way we
have become for i must promise myself better.
i hereby put the idea of you in quotations – “habibi”
- to make that notion hollow and rumored,
for i shall evermore recognize that i outgrew you.
and you can never know, make or change my mind.
I always remember Tyisha Miller. Today I remember even more painfully because it is the anniversary of her embittering death. December 28, third day of the African American holiday of Kwanzaa. Before I tell you about a play I recently saw about her murder, let me give the back-story.
In the early morning hours of December 28, 1998, Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old African American woman from Rubidoux, Riverside, California, had been driving with her 15-year-old friend late in her aunt’s Nissan Sentra when the car got a flat tire. A passing stranger helped them change the tyre, but the spare was flat, so the stranger led them to a filling station to inflate it. The tire would not hold air so Ms. Miller waited in the car while the man drove her friend home to get assistance from the family.
When relatives arrived they found Ms. Miller apparently comatose in the locked car, with the engine running and the radio on. She was shaking bodily and foaming at the mouth, and had a .380 semi-automatic pistol in her lap. Unable to wake her they called 9-1-1. Four Police officers arrived at the scene within minutes and, informed by family members of the presence of a gun in the car, approached the vehicle with guns drawn. After attempting for several minutes to get a response from Miller, the decision was made to force entry into the vehicle as Miller was in apparent need of immediate medical attention. As one of the officers was attempting to remove the gun, Miller is said to have sat up and grabbed the weapon, at which point the officers opened fire 23 times, hitting Ms. Miller with at least 12 bullets, including 4 in the head.
Back to the play, I recently had the honor of meeting the mastermind behind this play, Rickerby Hinds. He has been revolutionizing the landscape of Black performance with his hip-hop theater, a sub-genre of theater that uses beat-boxing, rapping as delivery of dramatic meaning on stage. As I sat in that theater watching this brilliant play called Dreamscape, I was hit by a bitter sense of familiarity with the play. I recognized the excellent portrayal of the daily micro-aggressions I endure as a Black man living in the US. I recognized the pain and the fear that flashes before my eyes everytime I get stopped by police for “fitting the description” of a burglar on the loose. And that description? Dark Skin.
Rickerby Hinds’ docu-dramatic play, Dreamscape is a stirring account of the cold murder of Tyisha Miller, a 19-year old African-American whom police officers shot when they found her comatose in her car. She was intoxicated – yes – but the bone-splitting bullets that rained upon her body remain a bitter, if unnecessary, reminder of racist police violence in the US. Using elements that an American audience would see as markers of Black culture in the US such as hip-hop, beat-boxing, ebonics etc., Rickerby Hinds cleverly weakens the power of the stereotype and makes way for multiple narratives of Blackness, or at least a Blackness definition that includes humanity. By that I mean that he does not deny that some of us Black people enjoy hip-hop for example but he shows what else we love – simply being human and being perceived as such without need to be spectacularized. There is an underlying tone of Negritude, of re-claiming racial charges, with which Hinds adapts the Tyisha Miller story.
As a Black man living in the US, I am an angry object of both White-against-Black racism, and America-against-foreigner racism. I am a fetishized token of diversity and Americans expect me to the embodiment of all things insultingly “cultural,” primitively “African” and so forth, completely erasing my individuality out of the picture. It is through my facelessness then that I recognize Tyisha’s. Before the law, she is just another Black body and that is why the said police officers can joke about her death, remarking laughingly that Kwanza having come early for her grieving family. To these laughing policemen, she is not someone’s daughter or sister, in the eyes of these keepers of law and order. She is just another one from that traumatized incomprehensible group that has hopped labels from Nigger to Negro to Black American to African-American in search of a name that cures the trauma of history only to find endless yearning for belonging.
Miller’s blood was spilt at the hand of police officers and as such the playwright uses the coroner’s report as his source material. In this way Hinds is able to show how draconic the American justice system is without ranting against it but rather holding up a mirror to the system itself. This literary device is well-employed to allow the audience to start its own conversation about the law and hopefully with the law. Another way that Hinds holds up the mirror – although this time to his audience – is by having a Black actor portray the police officers, none of whom were Black. Consumption of the Black body in American art and entertainment is of a body that can do too many things – like loudly sing, jump up and down as a minstrel, shout melodiously, contort like a snake, frighten with its gaze, seduce with its Otherness – but is never the face of the law, at least not in a way that calms anxious racists. Seeing the voice of the law embodied in Black skin therefore forces the audience to confront its prejudices therefore. You cannot deny that this is the legal report. But why is it strange to you that it is coming from a Black body, despite that body being American just like its blonde and blue-eyed compatriots? The audience gets to see its own prejudices and then hopefully that softens them to the adapted story of California’s Tyisha Miller.
Along the same vein of corporeal embodiment, Hinds exemplifies how adaptation can succeed transmedially. I am reminded of Josephine Baker who, although she is never included in the list of Negritude writes, did write with her body. She used her body as text and instrument in order to carve out new images of Black women’s power on stage and in returning the gaze of their spectator. In a similar manner, Hinds not only takes Tyisha’s emotions and last thoughts and puts them into the written word but also puts them into dance. Again, this being a hip-hop theater piece, I heard audience members’ airing their expectations of booty-popping before the show. But Hinds showed them a Black female body gliding through balletic movements with her clothes on which is a far cry from the Black female bodies that exist in hip-hop music only to writhe on truck-tops wearing only their underwear. The source material here, hip-hop music (especially for the beat-boxing parts), is re-territorialized in the process of adaptation in order to dismantle the single story of misogynist hip-hop, to dismantle the single story of the vixen Black dancer, to quietly and hopefully show that perhaps Tyisha’s life was more than her drug use or her skin.
Today is December 28. I am in California. I am Black.
Hello friends! Donald Molosi here. I linked up with Hollywood actor-writer SEBATI MAFATE again to do the second half of our conversation about his latest sensational book, “MEMORIES OF LOTSANE.” I have read the book myself and recommend it to lovers of literature as well as to people who just simply enjoy good writing. The book is available on amazon.com and other book-selling sites like Barnes and Nobles.
DM: Most, if not all, of your work tells an African story in some way. Do you, as an African writer, feel that it is your responsibility to tell African stories?
SM: Yes, for the simple reason that Africa is rich with stories and we should never deny the world the beauty of our cultures and our tales, not only do I as an African feel the responsibility to share those stories, I just enjoy doing it.
DM: You mention denying the world of African stories. Do you feel that a certain type of African story has been denied the world or that a certain type of story has been “overtold”?
SM: Not at all, what I mean is that there are many African storytellers out there whose voice is never heard for the simple reason that they have not come forward, and there are many reasons for that, but whatever the reason is it is time that they step out of the shadows and tell those stories. I am glad that the Nigerian film industry is doing just that, and the results speak for themselves in seeing the market they have created for themselves.
DM: Nollywood is a perfect example of Africans consuming what they produce. But let us get back to you. Having seen your work, I often wonder – how does your background as a martial artist define the work you do as a writer if at all?
SM:Part of the martial arts is meditation and other spiritual aspects of the art, it helps deal with the curve balls life throws at you, including ‘writer’s block’, and that is why my dedication to the art has helped me as a writer, it doesn’t mean that it solves all my problems, but it helps a great deal. In a way it also enriches my imagination, especially when I delve in a fictional project.
DM: What do you want people to take from your latest book, Memories of Lotsane?
SM: Nostalgia, we have all been teenagers at some point, and we have all been in high school (at least that is what I hope), and I hope people will be taken back in time to their own experiences good or bad that made them what they are today. In short really I would like people to relate to the story whether they are in Africa or some province in China.
DM: Who is the one writer that has had an impact upon you and how?
SM: That has got to be the great Elechi Amadi (The Concubine, The Great Ponds, and The Slave to mention a few) I was first introduced to Mr. Amadi’s work when I was a student, and soon found out that he held a degree in Mathematics and Physics, a strange combination at the time since I was an Engineering student as well, but a writer at heart, so I could relate. His style of writing was simply magnificent and dealt with deep rooted African culture and lore; you are drawn to his work even though his novels end like a Greek tragedy, but you realize through his writings that even though we would like it to be, life can at times not be the fairy tale we wish it would be, case in point the novel ‘The Great Ponds’, it tells the story of two warring villages fighting over a pond rich with fish. The protagonists from both sides are determined to win at all costs that in the end both villages lose, and this done at a great loss of human life.
I have read many books in 2012 and one of the books that touched me the most is “Memories of Lotsane: The Chronicles of an African Boarding School” by the gifted Sebati Mafate. Mafate hails from Botswana and is not just an author but also a film-maker and actor in the Hollywood industry and other industries globally. I recently caught up with the man himself, Sebati Mafate, and asked him to tell me about his life and work. I hope you all enjoy the interview and grab yourself a copy of this game-changing book.DONALD MOLOSI: Memories of Lotsane… how did the idea start?SEBATI MAFATE: The idea started some 10 years ago, when I would tell my wife Vivian about the escapades of boarding school, particularly the story of Andries ‘Hotstix’ Ryan (May he rest in peace), the colored from Boxpits, who could not speak Setswana very well, I am sure by now having read the book you know all about him, and how he demoralized an entire football team by himself, by voicing expletive laced comments at them in his broken Setswana. Such stories and others I told would make people laugh and they, especially my wife, would tell me to write about these stories, and that was when I got the idea, even though to be quite honest I did not have any clue as to how I would structure a story like this one.DONALD: You mention your wife who is not from Botswana like you. Both of you live in California.Do you think your writing voice would be different if you wrote from within Botswana? If so, how? Has the distance from home been an informing factor to your writing or not?
SEBATI: Yes, I do think had I stayed in Botswana and not moved to the United States, my voice would have been different, not better, just different, because coming to the US broadened my horizon as a writer, it gave me an international perspective on things, this was evident when I wrote and published my second novel ‘WHEN THE COBRA STRIKES’ which was as you know adapted into the movie ‘Black Cobra’.
SEBATI: I wanted it to be real, because the events mentioned happened. I knew that there were some issues that would be uncomfortable for some people, so I changed their names or omitted them altogether, it was no attempt to embarrass anybody mind you, but really to tell what really happened to the best of my ability. Plus, and really there is no getting around it, I felt the need to relive the experiences – good and bad, however I must say it was worthwhile. Also, I never thought of ‘Memories of Lotsane’ as an autobiography per se, even though many people may look at it as such, to me really it was a narrative, a recalling of events as I saw them during that period between 1985 and 1987; my autobiography has yet to be written,maybe some day when I walk on three legs if you know what I mean.