In her W.G Sebald Lecture on Literary Translation, Arundhati Roy considers the complexities of language formation in India and the process of navigating multiple “Englishes” in her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. In reflecting on how two incidents made her ponder on the ideas of colonialism, nationalism, authenticity, elitism, nativism, caste, and cultural identity, she articulates, “And yet I know — I knew — that language is that most private and yet most public of things.”
Embhalweni wakhe i- W.G Sebald Lecture on Literary Translation, u-Arundhati Roy ubheka ukwehlukahlukana kwaseNdiya, isiHindu kanye nesiNgisi kanye nendlela yokusebenzisa ‘iziNgisi’ eziningi kwi-noveli yakhe yesibili, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Ekubukezeni ukuthi izigameko ezimbili zamenza wacabanga ngemiqondo yobukoloni, i-nationalism, ubuqiniso, i-elitism, i-nativism, i-caste kanye namasikompilo, wabeka wathi, “Futhi ngiyazi – Bengazi – Ukuthi ulwimi luyiyonanto esiyibambela eduze kodwa futhi luyinto yomphakathi.”
Listening to Inganekwane, Zoë Modiga’s sophomore album released on 26 June 2020, I found myself contemplating the ideas of language and imagination, and the ways in which we, black storytellers, come to language our imaginations both publicly and privately. Casting the mind back to my childhood I was searching for my first introduction to my imagination. I remember a time when my cousins, the neighbour’s children, and I would split our time between day to day chores and our worlds of make-believe. I can still hear the language of our fairy-tales, our games made of pantyhose and tin cans and stones – planets we conjured up so that we could be expansive in our imagination and inventions. I also wondered if it is possible to point out the first time I learned the term: mothertongue, and further than that, the first time I had to mother my tongue – teach it the language of its birth, of its body, of survival and belonging.
Ngilalele Inganekwane, i-albhamu ka Zoe Modiga ayethule ngomhlaka 26 June 2020, Ngizithole sengijula ngemiqondo yolwimi kanye nemicabango, kanye nezindlela thina, baxoxi bezindaba abamnyama, esinika ngayo ulwimi imicabango yethu. Ngiyisa ingqondo emuva ebunganeni bami bengicinga ukwethulwa kwami kokuqala emhlabeni, lokho kuhlangana kokuqala nalokho okungokwangempela nalokho okwakuyimicabango yami. Ngiyasikhumbula isikhathi lapho omzala bami, izingane zakamakhelwane, kanye nami sasehlukaniswe phakathi kanye nemihlaba yethu ka-make-believe. Ngisaluzwa ulwimi lwezindatshana zethu, imidlalo yethu eyenziwe nge-pantyhose kanye namathini namatshe – imihlaba esayenza ukuze sandise imicabango yethu kanye nesasikudalile. Ngiye ngazibuza ukuthi kungenzeka yini ngikhombe okokuqala ngifunda igama : mothertongue(ulwimi lukamame/ulwimi lwebele), futhi ukwedlula lapho, isikhathi sokuqala kwadingeka ngibe umame olwimini lwami – ngilufundise ulwimi lokuzalwa kwalo, okomzimba walo, ukusinda kanye nokuba kuwe.
In a short behind the scenes documentary made by Tseliso Monaheng about the making of Inganekwane, Modiga expresses, “Having had the opportunity to go to so called “good schools”, talking the talk and walking the walk – that has taken from me more than it has given to me – because now I have to go back into understanding what I am in my body without trying to fit into someone else’s world”.
Kwi-documentary emfushane ekhombisa ukwenziwa kwe Inganekwane, uModiga ubeke kanje, “Ngibe ngumuntu osethubeni lokuya kulezizikole ezaziwa ngokuthi ama- ‘good schools’, ngikhuluma inkulumo futhi ngihamba uhambo – lokho sekuthathe okuningi kimina kunalokho okunginike khona – ngoba manje sekufanele ngibuyele emuva ekuqondeni lokho engiyikho emzimbeni wami ngaphanndle kokuzama ukuzifaka emhlabeni womunye umuntu”.
Listening to this album made me wish for two things a) that I had musical terminology to talk about how technically astonishing the album is in its craft, and b) that I could write a full-on reflection in isiZulu as a response to a call of sorts – to self, to tongue, to body, to spirit. A disclaimer that should have come at the beginning of this piece: This is not in any way a review of the album, but more of a reflection prompted by the language and poetry in the album, and the ways in which it prompted me to think about storytelling, imagination, translation and other things.
Ukulalela le-albhamu kungenze ngafisa izinto ezimbili a) ukube benginesichazamazwi somculo ukuze ngikhulume ngobunyonincwe obumangazayo le-albhamu eyibo ekwenziweni kwayo, okunye b) engathi bengingabhala ngokugcwele phama imicabango ngesiZulu ukuphendula lolu bizo oluthile – ekuxhumaneni, kubuwena, kulwimi, kumzimba, kumoya. Isexhwayiso ebekumele ngabe sivele ekuqaleni kwalomubhalo: Lena akuyona indlela yokuhlaziya le-albhamu, kodwa umcabango osuswe ulwimi olusetshenziswe kule albhamu, nezindlela engenze ngacabanga ngayo ngokuxoxwa kwezindatshana, imicabango, ukuhumusha kanye nezinye izinto.
On Twitter @_Ms_Tlali, tweets “Hayi, I found myself being grateful that I can understand isiNguni when I listen to Inganekwane. There is a texture in the language, in the musical references which themselves are loaded with history and context. This is good storytelling”.
At times, you are listening to music weaved with lyrics and other times in songs like Tata, Mutwa and Umlolozelo, you are confronted by a sonic gesture that invites you to wander and return to the stories as you need to. Poet and theatre maker, Siphokazi Jonas tweeted, “IsiZulu is the maker of pots in its poetry. In Umdali, when Zöe Modiga sings “wanelek’ emoyeni” it CHURCHES me. ‘The creation of humanity was the satisfaction of God’s spirit”
English: “And He saw it was good”.
IsiZulu: “It satisfied (filled) His spirit”.”
Ku Twitter u- @_Ms_Tlali, uthe “Hayi, ngizithola nginokubonga ukuthi ngiyasiqonda isiNguni uma ngilalele Inganekwane. Kunokuthungwa kolwimi, kumculo ogcwele umlando kanye nengqikithi. Lokhu ukuxoxwa kwezindatshana okuhle”.
Ngezinye izikhathi, ulalele umculo othungwe ngobuciko kanti ngezinye izikhathi emaculweni afana no Tata, Mutwa kanye nelithi Umlolozelo, uhlangabezana nomsindo obanzi okubizela ekutheni usabalale uduke bese ubuyela ezindatshaneni njengoba udinga. Oyimbongi nomdlali wasesteji, Siphokazi Jones ubhale, “IsiZulu ngumenzi wezimbiza ngobunkondlo baso. Kwethi Umdali lapho u-Zoe Modiga ecula “wanelek’emoyeni” kungifaka eSontweni. “Ukudalwa koluntu kwakungukweneliseka komoya kaNkulunkulu”.
IsiNgisi: “Wabona ukuthi kuhle”
IsiZulu: “Kwenelisa (kwagcwalisa) umoya wakhe”.
Umdali, a song about creation and being formed by our / a creator for a purpose, to coin Jonas’ word, churches me, too. I find myself thinking about the scripture in John 1: 1 [stick with me], “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” How does the first word arrive to us. When we are babies, the elders obsess about what the child’s first word will be – this is how they measure what the child has observed and practiced enough times to give value to by speaking out loud. Will it be “Mamma” or “Dada” or gibberish? Is this how words and language come to be embodied in us – by observation, practice, being encouraged to speak it, even if or when we are not too sure of it ourselves.
Umdali, iculo ngendalo kanye nokudalwa umdali wethu ngenhloso, ukweboleka igama ku Jonas, ingisa eSontweni nami. Ngizithola ngicabanga ngemibhalo ka-John 1:1 [hlala nami], “Ekuqaleni kwakuYizwi, Izwi lalinoMdali, futhi izwi laliwuMdali.” Izwi lokuqala lifika kanjani kuthina. Uma sisengabantwana, abadala bazihlupha ngokuthi kungabe igama lokuqala lomntwana lizoba yini, njengesilinganiso salokhu ayikho umntwana usebonile futhi wenza izikhathi ezanele ukunika isisindo ukukhuluma kakhulu – kungaba elithi “Mamma” noma “Dada” noma imbudane nje? Lokhu kubatshela ini labo abanalomntwana ngokuthi bazwe ngokwanele ukukwazi ukukhuluma abakuzwile. Ngimangale kakhulu ngokuthi kungabe amagama kanye nolwimi lusingena kanjani.
Kwasukasukela is the gesture that invites us into Inganekwane, both in Modiga’s offering and also in traditional storytelling. Kwasukasukela, arrives as one word in isiZulu, and translates as four words in English: once upon a time. In this dance between Our mothertongues, English and translations – what is multiplied or subtracted? And does it matter that we calculate, that we keep count, that we consider this or does it matter that the story, that calls us, begs us to give it a body and name, is told.
Kwasukasukela isenzo esisibizela kwi nganekwane, kunjalo emsebenzini ka Modiga kanti kunjalo nasezinganekwaneni. Kwasukasukela, kufika njengegama elilodwa esiZulwini, kodwa kuhumusheka ngamane esiNgisini; once upon a time. Kulokhukudansa phakathi kolwimi lebele, isiNgisi kanye nokuhumushiwe – yini ephindaphindiwe noma esusiwe? Kungabe kunendaba ukuthi siyabala, ukuthi sigcina izibalo, ukuthi siyabheka ukuthi indatshana, lena esibizayo, esicefezelayo, isicela ukuthi siyinike umzimba negama, ixoxwe.
Roy’s Lecture begins by her detailing a book reading in Kolkata, a week after her first novel The God of Small Things was published, where a member of the audience stood up and asked, if any writer ever wrote a masterpiece in an alien language? In a language other than his mother tongue? In reflecting back on that night she shares that she hadn’t claimed to have written a masterpiece (nor to be a “he”), but nevertheless understood his anger toward her, as a writer who lived in India, wrote in English, and who had attracted a massive following. “Nabokov,” she responded, and the man stormed out of the hall. Reflecting on that night she expresses, “The correct answer to that question today would of course be “algorithms.” Artificial Intelligence, we are told, can write masterpieces in any language and translate them into masterpieces in other languages. As the era that we know, and think we vaguely understand, comes to a close, perhaps we, even the most privileged among us, are just a group of redundant humans gathered here with an arcane interest in language generated by fellow redundants”.
Inkulumo ka Roy iqala ngaye echaza ngomcimbi wokufundwa kwencwadi eKolkata, emva kwesonto ekhiphe inoveli yakhe yokuqala ethi The God of Small Things yakhiqizwa, ilungu lezethameli lasukuma labuza, ukuthi ukhona yini umbhali oseke wabhala incwadi ehlabahlosile ngolwimi olungelona olwakhe? Ngolunye ulwimi ngaphandle kolwimi lwebele? Ekubukezeni lobo busuku wabeka ukuthi akakaze athi incwadi ayibhalile ihlabahlosile(noma ukuba i-‘he’), kodwa ke wakuqonda ukumcasukela kwakhe, njengombhali ohlala eNdiya, obhala ngesiNgisi, futhi owadonsa abalandeli abaningi. “Nabokov,” waphendula, lendoda yadlwathuzela yaphuma ehholo. Ebuyekeza lobo busuku uzwakalise, “Impendulo elungile kulowombuzo namuhla ithi “algorithms.” I-Artificial Intelligence, sitshelwa ukuthi, ingabhala imibhalo ehlabahlosile nganoma iluphi ulimi iphinde iwahumushele kwezinye izilimu ngokuhlabahlosile. Njengoba isikhathi esisaziyo, nesicabanga ukuthi siyayiqonda kancane, siya ekupheleni, mhlambe thina, noma labo abanenhlanhla phakathi kwethu, singuquqaba oluphelelwe isikhathi sihlangene lapha ngokuthanda ulwimi olwaqalwa abasebephelelwe isikhathi nabo.
Question to self: could I publish an entire book of poetry in isiZulu or isiXhosa?
Answer to self: In a few years maybe and it would require being committed to embarking on deep spiritual and linguistic work, as I would first need to unravel and wrestle with the English conditioning that has been lodged into my brain and tongue by years of colonial teachings and a syllabus that favoured everything except what was spoken at home.
Umbuzo kimi: ngingakhipha incwadi egcwele yezinkondlo ngesiZulu noma ngesiXhosa?
IMpendulo kimi: Eminyakeni emibalwa mhlambe futhi kuyodinga ukuzinikela ekuhambeni indlela yomoya ejulile nokusebenza ngolwimi, njengoba ngiyodinga ukuziqaqa nokulwa nemfundiso yesiNgisi lena esibophelene engqondweni nasolwimini ngenxa yeminyaka yezimfundiso ezi-colonial kanye ne silabhasi eyeseka konke ngaphandlle kwalokho okufundiswa ekhaya.
In the short behind the scenes documentary, Modiga also mentions, “I’ve been plagued with the questions surrounding identity; what it means to be a woman, what it means to be black, what it means to be a storyteller. It took me back to my grandmother’s place that I used to visit, and the idea of her laughing at me because I would stare at cows for long periods of time during the day. Identity is always something that has happened that you need to look back at and I suppose this is me looking back and being appreciative of where I come from and what has brought me to where I am.”
Kule-documentari emfishane, uModiga ubale lokhu, “Bengihlushwa imibuzo mayelana nokuba yimi impela; kusho ukuthini ukuba umuntu wesifazane, kusho ukuthini ukuba mnyama, kusho ukuthini ukuba iciko elixoxa izindatshana. Kwangithatha kwangibuyisela endaweni kaGogo wami engangijwayele ukuyivakashela, nokuthi wayenokungihleka ngoba ngangiye ngigqolozele izinkomo phakathi nosuku. Ukuba nguwe impela yinto eseyenzekile nokumele ubheke emuva ukuyibona futhi ngiyacabanga lana yimi ngibheka emuva futhi ngizibongela lapho ngiqhamuka khona nalokho okungilethe lapho engikhona.”
As Modiga chants “Lento, isegazini, isegazini” I wonder what is made public or private when we language the things that inhabit our blood and our bloodlines?
Ngenkathi uModiga ehaya “Lento isegazini, isegazini” Ngiyafisa ukwazi ukuthi yini esiyibeka emphakathini futhi yini esiyigodlayo uma sinikeza izindatshana zethu ulwimi, ukufuna, ukulangazelela, amaphupho, nemicabango ngolwimi lwethu lwebele noma izilwimi esezibe ngomama kithina, noma izilwimi esizebolekayo, noma sizigobe, nomasiziphice, noma sizifundisa.
I wonder which language our tongues would speak if it were only given one word to tell its story.
Ngiyazibuza ukuthi iluphi ulwimi olwaluyokhulunywa izilimi zethu uma bezinikwe igama elilodwa ukuxoxa indaba yazo.