Ghosts of the oral tradition danceNonkala Mbali What is the Alternarrative?
everywhere. Beckoned – they obey an’
abound in the alternarrative-stance.
My verse a séance…myriad presences.Lesego Rampolokeng Head on Fire
THERE IS NO fireside-as-stage here. The nouvel-fangled folk fiction is taking place and being page-played elsewhere, in a changed atmosphere. The prescriptive (and proscriptive) ways of yesteryears have resigned and given way to new pathways of alternative and ungovernable algorhythm. In this side of the townships [wherein even the library is a luxury] the neighbourhood storytellers have submerged underwater or gone underground: they are no longer in the line of nocturnal narration as a scheme of sharpening our imaginative capacities and cultivating our conscience. The children of Kingstown or Khayamnandi, Daleview or Reservoir Hills, will testify this terrifying truth. Shebeen or tavern tale-telling culture aside, for a moment, though we shall witness its prevalence and potency in our picky reading of Lesego Rampolokeng’s thirteenth text Bird-Monk Seding.Lesego Rampolokeng, Bird-Monk Seding.
Intsomi as a romanticised around-the-fireside-or-by-the-hearth-moral-imparting activity, or artefact, pigeon-holed as belonging to, oft-told by, the grandmother figure, has long reached the cul-de-sac. If everyone fundamentally agrees that intsomi as we have come to take it at face-value has no fixed measurement or limited scope;We are thinking of two folks whose tales introduces us to what we call a nouvel regime of semiotic surreality. Nongenile Masithathu Zenani did not write her theory and tales. Amos Tutuola wrote down his. Think of Harold Scheub relating his experience of witnessing Nongenile Masithathu Zenani narrates intsomi enye that went on for a full-blown 21 days, which is 150 hours long. Think of Amos Tutuola whose iintsomi are recorded, collected, combined, and collaged and aesthetically worked into book length narration. In this sense we come to understand intsomi has no length-limit. To Zenani and Tutuola intsomi is not an artefact, but an aesthetic presence. it should be clear that it refuses to be redefined today in strictly traditional terms. It is our right and obligation to trail in the tracks of those who have claimed it from the clutches of this romantic and nostalgic notion. We are one with those who have failed to toe the line outlined by the agents of received and regurgitated realities. Proceeded to germinate and generate a niewe-and-nou type of tale typifying a nouvel regime of semiotic surreality:
this type of Fixion, in this (con) text, as we shall witness, is defined as
the fluid and flexible Black Family Form.
this type of Fixion infuses and diffuses aspects of the aural/oral archive,
and the written given, moves with mosaic-montage logic,
samples, splices/cuts up, mis/matches, re/mixes, the inherited
and the unheard. Intertwines fixed and flexible elements,
rendering a disarrangement of fragments that are subsequently worked into a nouvel narration.
this type of Fixion cannot afford straightforward and stringent storylines,
morally motivated moments, moving,
step by step, forward,
towards the last line that is also known as resolution, the
rushing-to-the-finish-line coercion-and-closure aesthetic,
that underwrites South African narrative fiction.
It should remain unhinged, frenetic, cinematic, episodic, OPEN, and
on-going, for us to embrace it as a re/generative model that
enables thinking creatively dangerous and dangerously creative
about the dyad world/word.
this type of Fixion dictates and demands to move from the aural/oral, to the page-stage, and do the demotic, disorienting, and deranging dance.
Its unpredictable alternarrative outburst cannot afford to be premised on customary principles that are characteristic of the stable structure of intsomi or ibali articulated by K.S. Bongela in Amagontsi
and S.C. Satyo and Z. S. Zotwana in Sasinocwadi Kwatanci.K.S. Bongela, Amagontsi and S.C. Satyo and Z. S. Zotwana Sasinocwadi Kwatanci. Two insightful texts. Imperative, even. BUT. We have passed high school. We are past that kind of the fire fable or fireside intsomi. GIVE US, OR RATHER ARM(AH) US WITH A TALE THAT GOES ON FOR A THOUSAND SEASONS. THAT is OUR definition of intsomi.
this type of Fixion takes intsomi as a palimpsest proper.
Or, at least, as the blackboard upon which the inherited
and its anachronistic arrangements are dusted out,
unheard alternative grammars and rearrangements are
chalked out and outlined in thick strokes.
this type of Fixion is an open space or FIELD that
allows the performative aspect of narration, the
sounding/shrieking of the song, the seeing of the
theatrical, the hearing of the onomatopoetic.
We would like to demonstrate how Bird-Monk Seding is onomatobebopoetic in its textual impro-factor: thepredilection for unorthodox combinatory play, dissonances, and asymmetricities, kickstarted by Bird’s bebop as an instrumental break from the nounization of Swing and its conventional and commercialised harmonics, and furthered, in a radically alternative spirit, by Cecil-Taylor-Ornette-Coleman’s free jazz, which was initially known as The New Thing.We come to think about black music and experimental writing in this instance via the work Amiri Baraka – his Black Music and Blues People – and Nathaniel Mackey’s collection of essays Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality and Experimental Writing and his other collected work of essays Paracritical Hinge.
In the essay The Changing Same, R&B and the New Black Music Amiri Baraka writes that the content of the New Music, or The New Black Music, is toward change. It is change. It wants to change forms.Black Music
In the essay The Changing Same: Black Music in the Poetry of Amiri Baraka Nathaniel Mackey traces and tracks down the influences of Black Music in the work of Baraka. Nathaniel Mackey briefly explains the emergence and reception of The New Thing in relation to the poetics of Amiri Baraka’s poetry. On the unorthodox musicality of the writing particularly the poem in discussion The Bridge Nathaniel Mackey writes:
On a strictly musical level “The Bridge”
evokes the tendency towards deconstruction
or defamiliarization among players of what
was then – the poem was written sometime
between 1957 and 1961 – beginning to be
called “the new thing.” This tendency
involved a departure from – even outright
abandonment of – bebop’s reliance on the
recurring chords referred to as “the
changes” of a particular piece. Rather than
basing their improvisations on the chord
structure of the tune’s head, the “new
thingers” began to venture into areas not so
patly related to the harmonics of the piece
being played. To listeners accustomed to
recurrent reminders of a tune’s head in the
form of the soloist’s confinement to the
changes, the new music seemed
structureless and incoherent. These
“nonchordal” excursions were often put
down as unmelodic or as evidence of the
There is no bridge. It has been crossed (out) and collapsed.Fred Moten, In the Break, The Sentimental Avant-Garde. He writes: You wonder how to play without a bridge, how to navigate what is no longer song but carries song . . .You better know that the bridge collapsed. Don’t just enter the music but descend into its depth. That is the bridge that blocks the influx of nouvel-fangled and flexible forms. Of constant changes, movement, and improvisation. There is no relying or returning to the bridge, the main melody, that invites recognition and acknowledgement. In this context, the eternal return is not the grammar spoken by this type of musical moment. Monk’s Move… the thing done once, and no other thing again to be done.Frank London Brown, Jazz (Wong! went the piano, and now the Monk himself was taking a solo. He played in the low keys, and he played things that by passed the daily bread and the constant tick of the clock. Things that took time into another quarter, where it could not continue its constant repetition of the ancient archetype of beginning, middle and end; time of all times, blood of all bloods, image of all images. The thing done once, and no other thing again to be done. To Ernest, Monk moved history forward, took it from the cold grey grip of the eternal return, the repeating of things done and said, and hence the cyclic circularity of history, and of the future of man, and the end of the bad things, and the beginning of the good things. Forward! Monk’s off chorded notes said. Never to come this way again! There are still secrets to be known. New secrets, not old regurgitated ones of crosses dark with the blood of too many saviors gone wrong.) We must embrace and emphasise Nathaniel Mackey’s two significant terms: departure and abandon; they may prove significant in our reading of Seding. The latter evokes the same fleeing and freeing tendency described above, this act of assaulting usuality with unaccustomed textual tunes. Breaking away from narrative fiction’s mainstays and main ingredients.
Words and ideas are chords in the hands of Lesego Rampolokeng.
Same Birdchords that Amiri Baraka in Classical American Music admired as hands-on and sound-breaking commenting on Charlie Parker’s sensibility, he said and we quote: Bird reorganised the same materials, using the chordal base of popular song as one resource for improvisation and composition.Amiri Baraka DIGGING: The Afro-American Soul of Classical American Music. And in The High Priest of Bebop Barakacalls Thelonious Monk’s unorthodox piano pounding alternative, the “escape” (from where?) from the obvious gray corniness.ibid i
Thinking about the emergence of bebop, its big break or radical rupture from Swing, for obviously political motives and aesthetic problems, including, among many things: individual artistic mastery, self-rule and regulation, independent of external impositions of any degree or grade. We want to display how the makings of the new dream, by breaking away from the inherited and heard, the desire to make a new dream the narrator refers to in Bird-Monk Seding, echoes The New Thing. We are interested in how the new dream is pursued, actualised, or performed, and what consequences such dream entails or involves for South African fiction.
I explain myself by citing all my relationships to other things. What I know I got from others. What I say others have said before. Sometimes my combination of the ingredients of universal knowledge produces a new species or genre of answers.Taban Lo Liyong The Education of Taban Lo Liyong
We may start by asserting that the text adopts a type of bebopoetics and later abandons it for the adventurous play and aesthetic associated with The New Thing Nathaniel Mackey, drawing from Amiri Baraka’s Black Music and Ira Gitler’s Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s, writes about.We are thinking of his insightful essay Other: From Noun to Verb. He writes and we quote: The white appropriation and commercialization of swing resulted in a music that was less improvisatory, less dependent upon the inventiveness of soloists. The increased reliance upon arrangements in the Fletcher Henderson mold led to a sameness of sound and style among the various bands. In Blues People Baraka quotes Hsio Wen Shih’s comments regarding the anthology album The Great Swing Bands, a record Shih refers to as “terrifying” due to the indistinguishability of one band from another. It was against this uniformity that bebop revolted. “Benny Goodman,” Howard McGhee recalls, “had been named the ‘King of Swing’…. We figured, what the hell, we can’t do no more than what’s been done with it, we gotta do somethin’ else. We gotta do some other kind of thing.” (“Some other stuff,” a common expression among black musicians, would become the title of an album by Grachan Moncur III in the sixties.) Mary Lou Williams said of her first meeting with Monk in the thirties: “He told me that he was sick of hearing musicians play the same thing the same way all the time.” Monk himself summed up his music by saying: “How to use notes differently. That’s it. Just how to use notes differently.” It is no accident that bebop was typically performed by small combos rather than big bands, as was the case with swing. It accentuated indi-vidual expression, bringing the soloist and improvisation once more to the fore. Baraka emphasizes nonconformity in his treatment of bebop in Blues People, stressing what he terms its “willfully harsh, anti-assimilationist sound”. The cultivation of a unique, individual style black music encourages, informs, and inspires his attitudes toward writing. In his statement on poetics for the anthology The New American Poetry, 1945-1960 Baraka echoes Louis Armstrong’s ad-libbed line on a 1949 recording with Billie Holiday, calling it “How You Sound??” The emphasis on self-expression in his work is also an emphasis on self-transforma- tion, an othering or, as Brathwaite has it, an X-ing of the self, the self not as noun but as verb. Of the post-bop innovations of such musicians as Albert Ayler and Sun Ra, he writes: “New Black Music is this: Find the self, then kill it.” To kill the self is to show it to be fractured, unfixed. The dismantling of the unified subject found in recent critical theory is old news when it comes to black music. Or rather, it moves between the two, depending on one’s own reading and reception of the text in relation to the music whose sound sensibility it patterns itself after. We could claim that the writing is playing in the interstices of Bebop and action/ free jazz, like the sensibility of Pianists Richie Beirach and Onaje Allen Gumbs, who according to Thomas Owens, developed thick-textured dissonant styles on the border of bebop and free jazz.Thomas Owens, Bebop: The Music and Its Players After all, it comes as no surprise when Bavino Sekete the narrator, drops references and allusions to Amiri Baraka of Blues People and Black Music, establishing the text and texture of Bird-Monk Seding’s affinity with the improvisation and experimentality associated with music-moved-and-motivated writing, patterned after the freedom and mobility inherent in Black speech and music. In this ideational vein then, one of the pillars of conventional narrativity, especially that of repetition and recurrence of the initially introduced individuals, personas, or personalities, characters in the narrative – the bridge or the mainstay of storytelling in SA writing – is abandoned, or bulldozed, so that in each episode, or section, new individuals are introduced or encountered, as the story, happening
in the shebeen, progresses. Fitting setting, for in the shebeen though there may be regulars, there is no register.
In Bird-Monk Seding, the alternative algorhythm is predicated upon the level of the syntactical, structural, narratological,
in a way that invokes a disconcerted textual musicality, emerging from this adventurous combinatory play whose outcome escapes the tyranny of typology and orthography.
THERE ARE TEXTS
that bear certain elements that invite us to think of them as ghosts of the aural-oral exemplified in the flesh and enmeshed in newances and idiosyncrasies. Fixion with its playful combinatory and collaborative disposition is the metonym for the aural-oral-ridden written word. Terming it ghost of the oral is not a misnomer; neither is it an implication that the oral tradition is passé, or transfixed in the past, with no intervening influence, on the creative strategies of
distilling and narrating the incoherence, contradictions, antagonistic relations underwriting the Mandela-and-Tutu-baptised notion and narrative of the new nation.
We shall try to tease out the everyday dissonances in our picky reading of Lesego Rampolokeng’s Bird-Monk Seding. We propose being playful and expressive in line with Bavino Sekete who rightfully revels in the playful pleasure of – to borrow Borges’ apt phrasing – out-of-the-way erudition.Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings We shall avoid being final or foreclosing and move away from, and drive beyond, the South African anti-generativity appraisal-model of retelling the plot of the text, caught concentrating on the triviality of summarising the story, or stoop so low as to plagiarise the back cover blurb, as opposed to identifying and thinking about not (solely) the typology but morphology and the happening, the verbing/the acting/doing of the text; how is it doing that specific act? What are the poetics and politics undergirding it? What discourse is the text invoking, or what indispensable contribution, at what level or line, is it inserting itself in the said discourse? In Bird-Monk Seding the country’s contradictions, commonplaceness, complacency; the refusal to confront and affront the ghosts of the past is taken to task, through a type of Discrepant Engagement, with the inherited and heard, figures and forms.
The inherited and heard are altered and rearranged to create a literary patchwork stitched together utilising unalike aspects of the given genre archive.
Bird-Monk Seding, then, as we shall try to demonstrate, precipitates, or participates in (and performs) the literary eccentricity and eclecticism emerging from discrepantly engaging the inherited and unheard – what Bheki Peterson, in a slightly different context, has called archaeological and intertextual gymnastics.We lifted this beautiful phrase from Bheki Peterson’s insightful and incisive discussion of the poetics and politics behind Kwaito as a marking moment in Black South African youth culture in his paper titled Kwaito ‘Dawgs’ and The Antinomies of Hustling
THE LIVE NARRATIVE TIME AND PLACE
Bird-Monk Seding is set in Groot Marico, Leseding township, located in the North West province. Analeptic scenes interject the present narration, beaming us back to certain moments in Sekete’s childhood and youth days in that botched Pavlovian slave-labour camp called Soweto of 70s and 80s;Bird-Monk Seding i round about midnight gorging on Kung-fu flicks, Vietnamese-American war films, Spartacus, Lee van Cleef, Clint Eastwood, Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer heroes of the so-called spaghetti westerns – slapstick comedies, thrillers, punctuated with porn, at Mofolo Eyethu Cinema.
The sight of Lifebuoy the red coloured soap of champions rouse flashbacks of football soccer legends and champions of the day (Percy Chippa Moloi, Scarra Sono, Kaizer Motaung ); Chiawelo scenes reminiscent of youthful fist-fighting duels with the coloured kids on the way home after watching Bruce Lee-Silver Fox spinning or roundhousekicking doing the martial art dance across the bioscope screen; White City violent childhood days of witnessing vicious killings of loved ones. The violent catalogue of childhood flashbacks is never-ending. The text is present/ed in achronological narrative sequences, not straight, but straited lines. The way thoughts, ideas, consciousness, and remembrance is experienced as joined and jointed, Bird-Monk Seding is orchestrated, functions, flows and follows this sensibility of stream of psychonarration, intermittently punctuated by the encounter with different Marico personalities and their narration of narratives, the proliferation of multiperspectives on the page, to probably slay the perception that positions Bavino Sekete as principal protagonist. The personalities in the streets and shebeens of Leseding appear or are referenced once. The narrative trope of recurrent characters and sustained characterisation common in South African fiction is kicked out the door.
These are encounters, not characters.
It is Saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Thelonious Monk and poet Mafika Gwala – who brought the narrator Bavino Sekete to Black consciousness – whose excellent artistic doings and tragic dyings are referenced and refrained throughout the pages of Bird-Monk Seding. They are part of the bebop quintet Sekete refers to as a four-pronged attack spelled Bavino Bird Mafika Monk (Johnny Dyani provides the Bassline upon which the word is laced).
Danyela Demir in her Fragmentation, Space-time Collapse, and Melancholia: Reflections on Lesego Rampolokeng’s Bird-Monk SedingDaniela Demir first published untitled reflections on Bird-Monk Seding on the 14 September 2017, in the now defunct Con Mag and then later updated the piece and delivered it as a paper or talk under the titled quoted in the text. is correct to identify three narrative strands apparent in the text. However, it is a misreading and a misleading mistake to merely recognise the third constituent as an abstract narrative made up of lyrical passages as she suggests. Considering the essay sections as Rampolokeng’s (Sekete’s) masterful lyrical jazz solos is partially true only if the very segments are interpreted as Sekete’s individual freedom within the collectively and concertedly improvised context of the Bavino Bird Mafika Monk Dyani bebop quintet –the groundsound and bedrock of the book’s bebopoetics. We are thinking a Jam Session: the literary, critical, cinematic, musical, visual all evoked in one narration. It is in this sense that Demir’s statement cannot be left unchallenged, since such a statement miscues the point particularly of a text drawing explicitly from the collaborative and improvising aspects of the very sound whose sensibility is transported and transposed to the poetics of the text. Russell Grant elevates the error to an egregious level, when, for instance, in the Mail & Guardian, in his rather suspiciously titled piece Seding word stew is tough to chewPublished in the Mail & Guardian on the 4th May 2018. Reading Russel Grant response to Rampolokeng’s text recalled two things. First, Kelwyn Sole in Aesthetics and impasse of South African poetry criticism has harshly lambasted the reception of Rampolokeng’s text – extreme ignorance and deprecatory language in which the view of his detractors have been couched. Bearing this in mind, reading Russel Grant and encountering terms such as tiresome/indulgent/complexity/self-gratifying/hypermasculine describing the text recalls another example of this ignorant grammar of detraction. Second, Kwanele Sosibo’s misplaced and miseducated response to Rampolokeng’s discrepantly engaged and engaging text Head on fire: Rants, Notes & poems 2001 -2011, published in the Mail & Guardian, under a curious titled Fragments of Obscurity, on the 11th May 2012. Encounter references to the work being daunting. References to feeding and chewing all related to the annoying complaint about the difficulty of the text. Although Sosibo admits that the text reaches, lands landscape unseen, uninhabited by the mainstream mould we refer to as the SA literary coccus; Sosibo’s tone in his notes under the subsection Untouched habitats of language taken together with the entire mood of Fragments of Obscurity points out and exposes an intellectual coward frightened by the notion of following the footsteps leading to these landscapes he claimed are untouched, uncharted, unexplored by contemporary SA literary cartography. Perhaps Sosibo’s case is the worse example of the false engagement called out by Sole, for it takes the focus almost completely off the page, directs it on the man and plays foul on the flesh with his ad hominem angle. Rampolokeng himself is being accused of self-indulgence and being obsessed with his own intelligence. Essentially Grant is echoing the same insipid sentiments expressed by Sosibo, yet as Kelwyn Sole argues in the above quoted essay, the rejection and dismissal (whether explicit or implied) is never intelligently argued through. reduces the segments to simply random thoughts or unrelated digressions of Bavino Sekete or Lesego Rampolokeng (echoing Demir’s misreading), erasing any literary elements that prevent the author from being mistaken and mis/re/presented as the narrator. This is phrased alongside his vexed admission of his anxiety of not knowing whether to refer to the text as a novel or not. This type of thinly sauced engagement is intolerable because, among other things, it fails to rise to meet the intellectual demands required by the re/generative and eclectic experiments of Rampolokeng. Grant’s elementary argument unconvincingly claims that it is impossible to separate author Lesego Rampolokeng from his work, his personality, or character, from the narrator Bavino Sekete. The claim is stated in a tone suggestive of substituting narrator Bavino Sekete with Lesego Rampolokeng in our reading of Bird-Monk Seding. Hilarious to contemplate how Rampolokeng’s subversive usage of the author surrogate technique to satirical effect is evidently lost on the readers conditioned to SA’s nestum and nembe narratives.
The dialogic dichotomy that divides Herman Charles Bosman from Oom Schalk Lourens, Lesego Rampolokeng from Bavino Bachana or Bavino Sekete, is dismissed or undetected. It is as if the reading public influenced by the complacent writing community is insisting on its right to be spoon-fed every morsel of data and detail, with no chamber for imagination spared. Though Demir and Grant admit it is reductive and unsophisticated to treat the text as memoir or biographical, they nonetheless, proceed to subject us to biographical bulletins juxtaposing the narrator and the author simply because the latter humorously fictionalised minor aspects of his life. Grant and Demir’s engagements belong to the cultural category of interpretation that impoverishes rather than transformingthe text. To label this type of philistine attitude an indication of literary criticality in crisis is an understatement, especially since, as our literary history has it, there is hardly any seriously considered and continual critical engagement with the versatile, experimental, nuanced oeuvre of Rampolokeng.
One must be careful about classifying a …story, tabulating, and cataloguing it as belonging to a certain sub-section of a particular group – indexing it and labelling it as conforming, in respect of characters and plot and incident, to a well-known and clearly recognised pattern.Herman Charles Bosman Old Transvaal Story
IN BIRD-MONK SEDING THERE ARE INDEED THREE APPARENT NARRATIVE ARRANGEMENTS.
These components can be summed up in the following manner:
i) Bavino Sekete’s present day Seding point of view,
ii) the flashback to past Soweto – Chiawelo, White City, Phefeni moments, and
iii) the on-going notetaking and writing of a Jazz essay in Seding shebeen/tavern yards.
We must be careful, though, about establishing definite demarcations dividing the three threads. Consider how Sekete can be in a Seding shebeen and reminisce about a moment in a Soweto shebeen in a move that blends and blurs the timeline of the two events. The narrative lines overlap, intersect, intertwine in a complexly collaborative and combinatory play that SHITS on the logic and lexicon of unidirectionality and emplotment, expected, even demanded, by nembe narratives that chart out and follow a chronological progress(ion) of events in futile attempts to evoke or even recreate our lived materiality. If plot spells and signifies sustained characterisation, characters caught up in a central conflict, usually outlined in a linear movement that needs solving at the end of the narrative, then Seding’s antagonistic alternarrativeis toppling the prioritised canons of propriety, for refusing resolution. No God from the machine of fiction to bring forth closure. Since we have soi-disant literary critics who have difficulty differentiating between the author and narrator or storyteller, the author of Bird-Monk Seding is Lesego Rampolokeng. Bavino Sekete is the narrator. Meet the latter, the man, the writer, essayist, improvisor, of Bird-Monk Seding, Bavino Sekete, in the streets of Johannesburg, journeying to the Bushveld, not only in search of – or as it is written – quest of Bosman’s Ghost, but to source stimulus, as he says, in his own words:
[..] to write an essay. On Jazz. The links
between the Atlantic bone-rat, the flesh-
slash slave-wave-surge & this south’s
noises, down the line. I am dabbling
scribbler and write, a lot. Of things, and
ways. Forms, too. Straddling the line
between poetry, prose and all that comes
with. I put things on stage. Life’s theatre.
And in the dust too. Street-corner and
academic podium. No matter. I am a
sentient being, derelict, no abode fixed in
space.Bird-Monk Seding ii
This is not the real or at least not the sole reason for Bavino to head Bushward. Take the flashback scenes later in the text to account. To account for our claim, consider the shebeen scene in Soweto wherein the pharmacist Moferefere Mehlolo used a surgical scalpel to stab Lehlohonolo the hip-hop MC of socialconscience because of a simple misunderstanding. Heavyhearted and heatheaded Bavino Sekete re-counts the story that occurred in a Soweto shebeen:
Offended he had called me ‘grootman’,
saying ‘why call him that, do you know
what that means, grootman is a baboon’.
Then he cut him up. & the shebeen queen
took centre-stage shitting me out of her
establishment. Pea-henning among the
drunkards, queen for the night, first time
since…blaming me…because he “came
here with you, i saw it” & i hung my
heart out. & haemorrhaged. I did not see
Moferefere leave, but you could hear his
war-mobile high-power cough in heavy
rev, throat deep, sleeked to smooth flow
breath. Turboed up right to its veins, &
plane-march away. Meanwhile
Lehlohonolo’s life-juices were flooding
up the floor-tiles. Goo-forming. I went
up to the shebeen queen, my walk tear
charged. She was sitting on a couch, the
level low. So i had to kneel. & try tell her
my hurt. She not once looked at me. Her
friend, next to her, spoke. Saying how i
did not even witness it happen. I had
been talking poetry with another. But the
queen, all eyes on her, was wallowing in
the relish of it, my persecution. I got off
my knees, they were hurting anyway,
walked away. & no longer want young
talent around me. & revoked my
shebeen-licence. & that was when I hit
the road, bushward.ibid ii
Clearly the shift from Soweto to Seding is not primarily due to a writer’s retreat as our self-styled SA literary critics who have commented on the book suggest. Enough of these skimmers and skippers of the text. Back-pedal – back to the Jazz. Mista Vibe Jazz editor requests Bavino’s bio, for his readers, which he receives. It is perhaps in this bio segment wherein the earliest challenge posed to conventions and expectations is first evident. After the familiar mini selftroduction, the bio erratically sprawls into a polemical lecture against the anthropology of hate and the psychology of race;We lifted this line from A Half Century Thing, a lecture titled Writing the Ungovernable – another example of Lesego Rampolokeng’s exercise of Discrepant Engagement. a mocking confession about Bavino’s catholic upbringing and baptism at Regina Mundi by Father Coleman; the dehumanising and demeaning process that was Bantu miseducation; certain ’70s moments that led to the Soweto Uprising and the ramifications that ensued and were felt thereafter. Reflections on early experiences with home-and-street-bound violence and harrowing accounts on how he got his penis sexcumcised by the vagina; got his back knifed and almost lost his eye in a scuffle with classmates and buddies who were trying to gang-rape the woman he was bedding in a buddy’s backyard room. Moments of growing up under the same roof with Joe Mahlangu who turned out to be Soweto Lovers’ Lane serial Killer and Vincent Sekete who turned out as one of the Sasol 3. Here, no Joycean, but Seketean epiphany:
I grew up between a guerrilla and a serial killer. If I did not write I would have been either one.Bird-Monk Seding iii
Bavino Sekete’s guerrilla reading in the context of Bantu miseducation knew no boundary or restriction. He confesses to having consumed photocomics and pulp magazines such as Grensvegter, Tessa, Die Wit Tier…on and on goes the list. The list of musicians, fine artists, painters, poets, and prose writers is too countless to recite here. But the point is the subversive and inventive element in applying the bio form in the narrative as an effective way of introducing Bavino Sekete the Jazz essayist to us and the readers of Mista Vibe Jazz editor’s publication. The bio form is utilised to contextualise the violence that is to be narrated. He gives us a history of South African horror films produced and directed by the architects of apartheid while giving us glimpses of his guerrilla reading practice of fishing inspiration from across the world’s creative OPEN FIELD. Cheating the isolated and parochial, miseducating and impeding Apartheid system. The violence and vulgarity of which plays out on the bodies of Blacks on a daily basis is what Bavino refers to while pointing out certain historical instances of Black resistance and resilience. After referring to certain calamities of the 70s, Bavino’s bio ends promptly and he concludes by saying:
Anyway. I am (still) here. What more do you want to know?
Giving Mista Vibe Jazz and his implied readers the impression that he is being interviewed. Without any announcement, the narrative switches from the overtly political and social upbringing and becomes a biography of Bavino Sekete’s autodidacticism and intellectual development in the context of Bantu miseducation. In the fashion of the three zigzagging narrative movements of the book the bio is itself multidirectional, multidisciplinary and polyreferential.
Bavino Sekete notes in this intellectual bio:
No writer influences me. I draw inspiration
from across the entire spectrum of the
world’s literature, fine arts, music… painters
Fikile Magadlela, Dumile Feni, Lefifi Tladi,
Thami Mnyele have always been crucial to
my writing. Visual artists with social
conscience. And writers who cut out and
stomp on whatever literary conventions
enslave, from Lautreamont, Artaud, Pasolini
The South African Blue Notes musicians
(Johnny Dyani, Mongezi Feza, Dudu
Pukwana, etc) and where they took the music
of this land, revolutioning the euro-jazz
scene. Franz Fanon is my father. The ‘Wole
Soyinka’ of Ogun Abibiman. I came to black
consciousness via Mafika Gwala. Burroughs
is central as daddy formal innovator, plus. I
carry Aime Cesaire in my head. That is the
company I keep.Bird-Monk Seding iv
A few paragraphs down we are tipped that Bavino has been working for months on his Jazz essay. Emailed a draft to the editor, who, according to the text, sent it back saying it is too involved and convoluted for the readers of his publication who are not very smart. Philistine editors and readers aside for a second. Let us stick to the sound and significance. What is the signification of Bavino Sekete’s seeking out Bosman’s Ghost in relation to his politics – poetics of writing, not only the essay on Jazz, he came to write or complete in Groot Marico; but the very narrative black board, upon which, using his white chalk, he metafactionally mocks, intrudes, interrupts, undermines, and subsequently, detourns and disjoints the very trajectory of narration?
Ghosts of the oral tradition danceNonkala Mbali What is the Alternarrative?
everywhere. Beckoned – they obey an’
abound in the alternarrative-stance.
BOSMAN’S GHOST – a never-ending recall, a re-emergence of repressed gestures, an undying memory, a living perpetual past, alive in the everyday spoken sounds, speech, practises, and act/ions of – to borrow George Lamming’s appellation – the necrophily living. Seding is a haunted and a haunting text whose flouting of the very politics and poetics that underwrite classification and categorisation recalls Bosman’s caveat in the epigraph that expresses the dangers of boxing and binding narratives to the violence and violating vulgarity of misrecognising, misnaming, mis/re/presenting. As we shall demonstrate that to refer to the term novel not as a noun in relation to the book Bird-Monk Seding is to recourse or resort or refer to the root word and to re-emphasise the book’s heretic, hermetic and eccentric status in SA literature. An anomaly. Ungoverned. It is nouvel, this newanced novelty that boasts the aesthetics of the new thing, that is to change forms, alternating and navigating different forms, gathering, and combining different ingredients ala Lo Liyong, searching for a more newanced writing idiom. In Bound To Violence: scratching Beginnings and endings with Lesego Rampolokeng Stacy Hardy has rightly pointed out in her discussion of A Half Century Thing that Rampolokeng’s textstyle is created through a combinatory play that explodes the forms it encounters into fragments only to repurpose and reformulate their shattered essences and collage them into a multiformal formation. One of the founding fathers of the bop sound Dizzy Gillespie writes that the main ingredient of being bebopoetic is to take the essence of our music and transport it into another art form.Dizzy Gillespie, Gertrude Abercrombie: Bop Artist, Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora Edited by Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley In this case Lesego Rampolokeng’s Bird-Monk Seding represents a new thing that regenerates and resuscitates the deadened imagination and redirects the course of contemporary SA writing.The piece referenced is collaborated essay-email-interview discrepant engagement exercise that appears in book Ties That Bind: Race and Politics. eds Shannon Walsh and Jon Soske.In her treatment of A Half Century Thing, Stacy Hardy notes: This is recombinant poetry propelled by the refrains and returns of other artists, the sounds and words of fellow musicians and writers that are evoked and manifested, drawn into the movement of new concepts and rhythms, and thus reformulated, re-animated, re-connected, re-booted… diligent about collecting the fragments of the forms he explodes, and always repurposes their shattered essence with humility and laughter Lesego Rampolokeng refuses the nounization of the novel, which spells immobility and stagnation. It has creaked and cracked under the weight of attempting to narrate the ungovernable. In Other: From Noun to Verb Nathaniel Mackey recalling Amiri Baraka in Swing-From Verb to Noun who describes the movement from verb to noun as marked by white appropriation of Black art or music, for in the context of Jazz, the verb, which is the continual doing, inventing, improvising, is privileged. In short, the movement from noun to verb for Baraka and Mackey means the erasure of black inventiveness by white appropriation.Nathaniel Mackey, Other: From Noun to Verb Baraka and Mackey are referring to the nounization which is the commercialisation of Swing Big Bandism, of which Bebop was a radical rupture, a move or movement, that reclaimed the doing, not the done deed/did, privileging the improvisatory and incantatory aspect of Black Music. Though Baraka’s essay is focused on the movement from the doing to the deed, Mackey’s essay turns its attention to the opposite movement of reclamation. Baraka and Nathaniel Mackey make use of examples embodied in the permutation and compounding of terms. Valuing and valorisation of the verb found in the playing and especially title songs of Jazz artists such Bird and Monk. As examples Nathaniel Mackey counts the following two Monk song titles Rhythm-a-ning and Jackie-ing. From noun to verb, deed to doing, ruled out from the Jazz grammar book. In the same essay Mackey recalls Baraka referencing Parker as having spoken in celebration of the verb process, the doing, the coming into being of the new improvisatory grammar of being and expression.ibid iii We are thinking of Bird-Monk Seding as participating in this practise that privileges the verb over the rigidity and stagnation embodied in the term novel in the South African literary landscape.
JIM CAME TO JOBURG SO BAVINO GOES TO MARICO –
Bavino Sekete not only unsettles and subverts. He defecates on the old-aged worn-out Jim comes to Joburg trope in his topographical alteration. The damning and devillish references to the rottenness of city life do not in turn dialectically deify the periphery. There is no reactionary romanticising of the margin either. The margin is criticised and held accountable as every other space Sekete occupies. His shift radicalises the storytelling aesthetic to the point of altering the direction of SA writing, shifting the literary landscape, this is expressed more pronouncedly in the outrageous critic-may-care experimentality of the paratactic prose and unpredictable narrative moves we have already identified and established. He is refusing to write the world from the so-called “African metropolis”. He has a different project that projects a differing literary discourse totally undercutting narratives that overly favour and focus on the Cityplace. The Jim Comes to Johannesburg trope has been repeatedly explored and exploited in South African cultural expression. Experiences extracted from the mouths of migrants and miners. The films African Jim (1940s), Trouble in Constantia (1990s), Velaphi (1990s) readily jump to mind. The experiences of migrants and miners have been sketched in stories and songs. But Jim seems to have been at home more in South African fiction than in any other literary art or cultural medium. Unfortunately, the tight frame and narrow focus of this meditation do not allow us to spend much time on this matter. However, it’s imperative to mention that Stephen Gray in Third World Meets First World: The Theme of ‘Jim Comes to Joburg’ in South African English Fiction (limited in terms of literary cartography as it appears)has done insightful detective groundwork tracing and plotting the meanderings and eavesdropping on monologues and dialogues of Jim in the fictional world. If time allowed, we would comparatively break down some of the texts in IsiXhosa literature that deal with the said theme, in a rather perverted perspective that positions industrialised city centres in the opposite light; but that is a project for another night. Various critics and creatives have responded differently to the Jim Comes to Joburg trope; some have gone beyond tracing Jim’s movements and imagining his interior monologues. They have assumed a position that openly rejects and repudiates the politics that kickstarted the very narrative containing such a figure who is taken to exemplify the supposed backwardness of rurality; ridiculing rural figures while upholding, extolling, and positioning the industrialised Cityplace as the unchallenged centre or citadel of progress and modernity. Thabo Jijana in Rented Grave: Looking Beyond the Rural-Urban Dichotomy has poignantly problematised the negative and negating portrayal of rurality and its figures in Mandelafrican fiction figured in the context of the metropolitan cities like Johannesburg or Cape Town. His project interrogates and problematises the Jim figure who is always portrayed and positioned as a one-dimensional and backward country bumpkin, ibhari, ulwatha – all derivative and remnants of how the notion of ubuqaba has been loaded with a demeaning meaning denoting the state of being less than uncultured. Thabo Jijana makes his point by referencing certain instances in Mbulelo Mzamane’s Mzala and Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy to recite the typical suspects whose cringe-worthy moments Jijana has already taken to task.Thabo Jijana Rented Grave: Looking Beyond the Rural-Urban Dichotomy. In his findings, Stephen Gray counts R.R.R. Dhlomo in his An African Tragedy as among the earliest black writers in English to tackle the theme of Jim journeying to Jozi. Suggesting that before Dhlomo it was mostly white writers writing about the natives’ migrating to Jozi for golden grasslands. Gray counts Douglas Blackburn (Leaven: A Black and White Story); W.C. Scully (Daniel Vananda); and Frank Brownlee (Cattle Thief: The Story of Ntsukumbini) as the earliest South African white writers who dealt with the said subject in their fictions.Stephen Gray Third World Meets First World: The Theme of ‘Jim Comes to Joburg’ in South African English Fiction The most significant part for our thinking in Gray’s findings is his reference to Charles Herman Bosman’s abandoned and unfinished Jim Comes to Joburg novel whose fragment under the title Jim Fish is published posthumously in his Selected Stories. The story is essentially focused on the external movements within the city of Johannesburg and the reflective internal monologue of Mletshwa Kusane, known in Jozi as Jim Fish, as he navigates the cityscape. Bearing this in mind, in Bird-Monk Seding the margin – Jim’s place of origin – is rightly not positioned as a point of departure, a deserted and deserving of desertion type of place. Jim came to Joburg so Bavino goes to Marico Sekete announces in the narrative. Sekete decides to leave Joburg for Groot Marico – where the late prolific short story writer, Herman Charles Bosman, in the 1920s, spent six months teaching; an experience that provided him with material for his Bushveld stories, whose recurring narrator, Oom Schalk Lourens (Dumisani Slinger dismisses as an outright racist), is largely notorious for his racially-charged and controversial usage of irony, satire, humour, to critique the Anti-Black racism of the Boer community, of which, essentially, he was part of, in the Bushveld. A ghost-motif that looms in every turn of the obscene scenes and scenes of obscenity, of scatology and scarcity, of the socio-political grosstesqueries of everydayness, Bavino Sekete, like the everyday people of Leseding, collectively inhabits, navigates, and narrates.
In this text, which is to say Seding, to evoke the ghost, or the ghostlike, is not only an attestation to the returned of repressed wishLifted this line from David Marriott’s Haunted Life: Visual Culture and Black Modernity. In his treatment of John Wideman’s work in the chapter titled Spooks, in which he calls Wideman’s memoir, The Island: Martinique, a genuinely haunted black text. or fantasy, but an actualisation of the fantasy framed and followed through as evidenced by Sekete’s decision to shift from Joburg to Marico – from the metropolitan centre to the margin – to look or search for Bosman’s Ghost; another manner, in this moment implying the location of the alternative in the margin. Not in a romantic urge, but in the revolutionary insistence on the possibilities outside the overrated and overvalued metropole spaces. We are thinking of Achille Mbembe’s and Sarah Nuttall’s Writing the World from an African Metropolis especially the insistence on working with new archives – or even with old archives in new ways. Wilson Harris musing about the margin liberates the place in In the Name of Liberty when he remarks that extremity or marginality, lifts the medium or diverse experience to a new angle of possibility.Wilson Harris, In the Name of Liberty We shall see how in the text the figures of the fringe are in the frontline and by this fact, they subsequently, prefigure the fringe as the loci of thorough and interminable possibilities. Of seeing, affecting, apprehending, and shouterpreting the world and surrounds, from a renewed and newanced perspective that escapes platitudes. Upon arrival in Groot Marico, the unhinged and unleashed wish – the fantasy of finding Bosman’s Ghost takes a corporeal form, donned in different masks. Involved in different tasks. Bavino Sekete meets multifaced Ghosts of Herman Charles Bosman. More than twenty years into the so-called new democratic dispensation, Sekete is faced with the same Boer Community, same rural and racist Afrikaners that thrive on exploiting the Black sentient beings of the rural township called Seding, truncated from Leseding – a place of light; yet as Sekete tells us, it is a society shaped and battered by AWB racist Rabidity.
Sekete breaks down the setting of Seding:
Surrounded by farmland in all
directions, it is a settlement of about
700 households crammed in tiny
structures. Average 7 souls per hovel.
It used to be made up of ramshackle
corrugated iron shacks that seemed
tossed down regardless of aesthetics.
Then the new administration’s
housing programme kicked in.Bird-Monk Seding iv
The social life of black people in Leseding is haunted. Haunting and horrifying. A community literally haunted by Bosman’s Ghost. Horrified by the ghosts of those Bosman satirised, caricatured, and had their rabidity exposed vicariously through his literary ventriloquist Oom Schalk. These ghosts or spectres of our sorried past Head on Fire loom liberated and large in Groot Marico, and by extension, in the country, like THAMI MNYELE’s killer that lives on a farm down the half-tarred road about 4 kilometres from the centre of town.Bird-Monk Seding v PIET MAMPOER who distils and sells his poison potion (80 percentaged alcohol) that sickens the tourists in Leseding landing their bodies in hospital beds with burning innards is both unaccountable and unaccounted for like the White man being police-begged to drop his gun and stop his habit of climbing and occupying a hill to revel in taking shots at passing minibus taxis and wounding and bleeding commuters. Or the racist Boere that chopped up and braaied LEE THE TRANSGENDERED GAY COLOURED BOY-GIRL HUSTLER vlakplaas-style. Inequalities and inequities inherited from Apartheid’s Anti-Black past shape the daily lives of Black people in Leseding in unspeakably violent and violating ways that exceed conventional forms of novelistic expression. The fractured and fragmented nature of the nation as narrated in the pages of Bird-Monk Seding is enough evidence to dispel Mandela-Tutu’s grandest fiction of the harmonies of the rainbow nation.Lewis Nkosi in Luster’s Lost Quarter, under a subsection titled The Rainbow Nation writes: …If this is simply a description of our multi-coloured ethnic communities rather than a harmonious, equitable share of resources and living space, the ‘Rainbow Nation’ may after all turn out to be Mandela’s grandest fiction! Perhaps this fragmented history and the daily deprivation, degradation, and denigration of Seding’s sentient beings may partly inform or account for the forms that are consolidated throughout the text but are never concluded. Black people’s relations to the Boer and Indian communities in this dehumanising dispensation depict a society invested and entrenched in Anti-Black entanglements. The exploiting and exhausting of the margin/alised of Marico; the evocation of the margin, marginalisation, and the marginalised, is the leitmotif in the text; and though these figures of the fringe are defiant in spirit they are however never relieved of the daily despotism of subjection and subjugation.
Leseding is a place of infrequent figures. The marginalised of Marico are taken on their own terms. Bavino does not boasts and beat his chest about chronicling and re/presenting best the lived realities of the dwellers of Marico in his narration like Schalk does in Mafikeng Road. Such hyperbolic claim is dispelled by Bird-Monk Seding through placing Sekete in the shebeen and letting the people expose the untruth. Lourens is no best tale teller around here with his kaffir figures that are flat, incapacitated, and show no affect or intellect or psychological profundity.Lewis Nkosi, The Transplanted Heart, Herman Charles Bosman: In Search of the ‘True’ Afrikaners! Bavino knows this best for he frequents the shebeens of Marico and can attest to the spontaneous storytelling culture that disputes Schalk’s overambitious claim of being the best storyteller in the Bushveld.Herman Charles Bosman, Selected Stories, Makapan’s Caves Bavino refuses and repudiates pulling an Oom Schalk Lourens syndrome by pretending to be the mouthpiece of the people. The marginal characters figure in different grades or degrees of being at odds with the order of things in this dispensation. This is to emphasise the reality of how Sekete is a narrator whose decision to blend everyday people’s opinions and points and perspectives is to provide a sense of the complex community that is Madikwe as opposed to Schalk’s monochronicling tongue that pigeonholes the poorest of Leseding. A way of saying Fuck You to the parochial idea of centralising protagonism as primary ingredient in narrative and narration. Thus, from the dissenting and outspoken POGISHO and ABEL, to the coin-pleading outsiders THE R5 MAN and BRA JOE, among many others, we encounter figures not typically found in the frontline of the storylines privileged and proliferated by the dead-end imagination critiqued by ABEL. In this logic and line, we are given nouvel narration – that is a new type of tale about Groot Marico by the marginalised of Madikwe themselves. Not from the front rooms of the Oom Schalks of the day. Consider mystical figures like the SHAMAN:
Wagter says he walked with him
[SHAMAN] in the Kgalagadi and at
odd points he could not see him even
though he was by his side. He would
be present but just not there, in a
corporeal sense.Bird-Monk Seding vi
See SAMPOKANE of Setswana lore,
unhooked and unleashed to haunt the streets of Marico –
The night-soil-man locked down in
Setswana lore. Feared. No bogeyman,
him. You see him, each dying day.
After you’ve dug heels in, moved
bowels, purged, dropped the filth
nothing about you wants, wrenching
it out of the system, the rot that
makes you shudder to look at, that
your nose shrinks from the smell, that
you want no part of you touching,
that disgusts you should the tiniest
piece of it stay stuck to you. The
essence of death, in all senses.
SAMPOKANE thrives on that,
LIVES off it. He comes to collect it,
takes it away, out of your presence,
far from your sight. SAMPOKANE
subsists off it. After that what could
he back away from? SAMPOKANE
will kill and eat it. Whatever it is.
SAMPOKANE is scare-walking.ibid iv
It is in the shebeen where the anecdotal folk tale, hearsay and homilies are kept animated. It is in the shebeen where the bulk of Bird-Monk Seding is being narrated. People come and go, true to the tavern tradition, most encounters, in Sekete’s narration are seen once and never again. Flashback instants refer to bygone shebeen moments in Soweto. The point is each flashback is an anecdotale of sorts that recounts a violent or harrowing experience of either Bavino or folk close to his person. The alcohol hits and gets individuals nostalgic and emotional like the case of Sis’ Betty, the supposed has-been-beauty, who burst into tears and breaks down when she reminisces of how she used to be attractive and beautiful; bragging about how she used to have all the men from Marico to Joburg run after her like horny dogs. Bustards, damn right, no doubt. Those are bygone days Sis’ Betty. Let them fade. In the fashion of shebeen storytelling, in no time, the drinking room is filled with spellbinding rumours of witchcraft and bewitchment. Bavino Sekete is eavesdropping again, overhearing conversation that would cringe the shit out of the customers of nembe narratives. Take the case of the woman gossiping about someone otyise okanye odlise indoda yakhe in Leseding.
‘She got him bewitched with that ancient
cunt of hers. I bet you the cobwebs she
has in there have him believing she is a
virgin when everybody knows even the
Madikwe river baboon has had a piece of
Township anecdotale is hijacked and continued by another folk:
‘Talking about witches, they call that stuff
Black Science, you know? But here is the
story. He walked with me all the way to
my gate and we were yapping, well i was
talking & he was just grunting & laughing
funny, & i know i have jokes so…anyway,
all the while i thought he was just a dwarf,
this guy. I mean even when my woman
opened the door, looked down at him &
for a moment stood like a statue, eyes
jumping out of her head & running away,
& then screamed like she was giving birth
right there and slammed the door so hard i
am still looking for the wood to fix it, prop
it back onto the frame I did not get it. I just
thought she was drunker than i was
&swore at her. Meanwhile this guy was
not just some small man wanting talk, it
was a thokolosi, you know, some people’s
creature of the night.’ibid vi
Another folk hijacks the anecdotale and runs off with it:
‘Well, me, the other one, did you hear what
she said when she saw me, the only thing
she could get out was ‘hm, wena’ and she
could not even look at me. She was so
ashamed. And then she snuck away like
some stray raggedy black cat, did you see?
You know what i caught her in my yard the
other day. Midnight. Naked. Just standing
there, staring at nothing. See, I couldn’t
sleep so I went out to get air. & there she
was. Standing transfixed like someone had
superglued her to the spot. You know i
have ‘tightened’ my house, mos? My
traditional doctor does not play games, he
goes up to the mountains & under the
water, he is strong that guy, don’t mess. &
you know they say you must not speak to
them when they are caught like that, like
mummified? She was bent over forward so
i did not have to do anything like position
her or whatever. So I just whipped my
piece out and stuck it in hard, very deep,
my friend. You should have heard her
shriek like a demon had its tail on fire. I
worked it in & out & you could have sworn
i was stabbing the fucking life out of her
good & solid. & long. I splashed &
drowned that kitty and then I let her
The people and their perspectives on the subject proliferates as the drinking and storytelling culture progresses and what has been unsaid in Bosman’s Bushveld stories, the absence critiqued by ABEL, comes alive in the flesh at shebeens and streets of Seding; for here the people share their own tales without any moral restraint and language restriction. The way Johnny Dyani in his interview with Aryan Kaganof talks about the history and function of the shebeen as formally considered a cultural house where Blacks met to share and discuss (musical) ideas over beer takes full form in the pages of Bird-Monk Seding. We are thinking here of how certain African-American writers consider the barbershop as the place, a cultural house, wherein, as Ralph Ellison says, it is the realm of the imagination all people and their ambitions and interests could meet.Ralph Ellison, The Poetry of It, Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora Edited by Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley In this sense the shebeen as depicted in Seding displays the spontaneous poetry and storytelling of Black speech. Shebeens and Taverns of Groot Marico is where the ordinary and everyday Leseding dwellers gather. Madikwe is the margin of the minors compared to the larger South African society. At least this is what we get from careful consideration of certain instances in the text. Sekete does more than reverse, subverts, and perverts, the Jim to Jozi trope, he pees and SHITS on its assumptive logic that underlies its narratives. Sekete’s act of centring the marginalised in Madikwe is significantly marked by his refusal to speak or transcribe their worldviews. He is part of the margin. It helps to remember that the name Bavino denotes and evokes the everyday majita, magenge, majimbozi or ouens convening at the corner. The corner itself being a micro symbol of the macro margin/ality marked by precarity which is the township figured in the idleness of its conveners, unemployed or unemployable. Exception is those moments of creation and centring of the corner in a different light, hustling – ukuphanda. The name, Bavino, beyond being the narrator’s Orlando Western street-corner male endearment term,Bird-Monk Seding vii is a literary spectre, a figure of the margin/alised with an element that borders on the self-mythological and hauntological dimension – Bavino is an author surrogate recurrent in Rampolokeng’s oeuvre. He is a spectre in the sense of Langston Hughes’s Jesse B. Semple, Kurt Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout, Charles Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski, John Fante’s Arturo Bandini, or Roberto Bolano’s Arturo Belano. We are thinking of Bavino Bachana in Whiteheart: Prologue to Hysteria and Blackheart: Prologue to Madness,
or the Bavino of street sermons and hymns in Head on Fire. Bethink Bavino dot Bachana the Facebook figure who selected and collected his status updates over the years and published them as the chapbook Facebook. the poet. It is almost difficult to precisely position and plot the wanderings or meanderings of Bavino. Almost every moment in the textual world in which Bavino shows his face and opens his mouth he is speaking from within the position and perspective and perception of the margin/alised. Seding, in this plane, is no exception, except to say the multi-marginalised voices take the frontline of the storyline. Madikwe’s marginalised folks are telling their own tales. Take the folk Pogisho’s tale. He works at the bottle store and has news to tell about his exploitation at the hands of his racist employers; or according to his own words the beetroot coloured pig-faced guy he has been working for since he was a little boy, when he should have been at school.ibid viii
Let us hear the folk Pogisho speak with integrity, which also bespeaks his intergrittiness:
‘[…] Oh, i loved my father and mother,bless them. They left me to this, they
died. I would have been dressing in a
suit and sitting in an office otherwise, i
would have gone to college but they
died and i came and worked for this fat
fuck. I am nearly 40 now. He pays me
R400 per week. 400. And you know
what, let us say on Saturday he will
give me R100, on Tuesday another R50
and so on until it is R400. No, fuck this.
I am not working today. I sat there
earlier today with my head between my
knees, just sitting, not working. His
daughter brought me a plate of food and
i took it and tossed it on the ground. I
am sick of these people. He came and
found me still sitting and said: is jy
gesuip? I just sat there for a while. Then
he asked me aha, het jy weer twak
tabak gerook? And i said meneer, jy is
nie my pa nie, my pa het my nie eens
daai ding gevra nie…i was waiting for
him to try his baaskap on me, i was
going to hit him in his pig-face so
hard…and look, i know everything in
this place, prices and all, the stock,
everything. I have spent my life here
but when he and his wife cannot run the
place, like he drinks a lot, you can see
by his face, and he conks out
sometimes. And his wife falls ill to
death a few times but they will never let
me run the place or sit behind the cash
machine, they go and get some
Afrikaner person who cannot even
count or use the machines here and has
to ask me…what is that? Like because i
am black i will steal? No, i am going to
bleksem him moertoe! My wife worked
here too, you know that, for some years.
She has got a terrible ailment. Her
belly-button started swelling up badly,
ah it is bad, and what happened? They
just threw her aside, not a cent, nothing,
to hell with them! He thinks he knows
me, okay i will show him something he
doesn’t know…’ibid ix
Or LEE, who revels in telling bedroom tales about Groot Marico’s manly butch rugby bier en boerewors aggro-types who are always the first to throw their legs over their heads.ibid x
Let us hear the tale of our folk LEE:
[…]’it works for me because even
though on the outside I am a boy-girl,
in the bedroom I am the alpha male…at
home they are expected to be strong,
overbearing, providing, very manlik…
but inside they just want to be fucked
by big black cock, and me well, I am
not black enough but what can they do,
you know? you would be surprised
how many of them fantasise about just
spreading and taking that swartpiel… I
have not been without lovers in
Madikwe…that man who owns half the
restaurant on the N4, he is married and
everything, to that fat ultra-racist
woman, well…he was my lover for the
first three months I was here…in the
mornings they drive their wives to
work, eyes straight ahead stuck on the
road but afternoon when they come
back you should see how slowly they
cruise past here, hoping to see my arse
in high heels in the garden…party, and
we are not serving koeksusters here,
doll…well, it starts with brandy and
coke and then somewhere down the
line someone accidently does
something and by then your senses are
swimming around and then someone
puts something in your mouth…and
hoo, can you imagine my legs up high
on the wall and high heels and I shag
deep, baby hoo…you know for the
boers with all that macho stuff it is
easier to come out as gay than as a
vegetarian, odd, hey?’Bird-Monk Seding viii
What is revealed and laid bare is not simply black bare life, not the horrors of history, but history as horror, horrifying and horrid, as constituting of constellations of different configurations of horror. It is the Joycean nightmare that is the present day, from which there is no waking or escaping, the horror of yesterday is inhabited daily by the poorest of Madikwe. Nothing has changed. What transition? Except if we are talking the changing same. A horrific and haunting past that returns like the repressed to persistently interrupt the present. This is to assert that there is no, or rather, this is no mindless romanticising of the shebeen, a far cry from idolising the space; for like all spaces under a society stricken with extreme forms of violence, injustices, inequalities, inequities the space is subjected to the same condition. There is no talking of a safe space under a society built and entrenched in extreme forms of violence. The point we are nearing here is the highlighting and underlining of the spontaneity and vitality of the word, the poetry of storytelling in its shebeen setting in Seding. If we read further, we see Bavino Sekete, as one among many storytelling figures in Madikwe. In Seding as apparent in the Bosman’s voorkamer stories, in which the form takes the conversational forum formula of presenting and providing many points of views, Bavino Sekete’s shebeen narrative offers us the same sensibility. From the streets to the shebeens the story goes, the logic underwriting Seding’s prose flow is Apha Naphaya. At every corner he ends up on there is a storytelling figure, or anecdotalist, involved, or prepared, at the click of a tongue, to get it started with their art of soliciting ciggies, coins, for a tale or two. Sometimes for the fun of taletelling, with no monetary expectations. After all, Groot Marico is what gave Herman Charles Bosman his material to write 150 Bushveld stories. Is this one of the reasons our friend Bavino Sekete is in search of Bosman’s Ghost, to get kickstarted with his Jazz essay? Maybe. The point is, Sekete is a writer that goes on the streets in search of the story; a writer and narrator that not only listens but lives and partakes in the everyday activities of Marico. He experiences the materiality of Marico existence. Takes the everyday folks’ tales seriously and never seems to mute their shrieks or dilute their vulnerabilities in the narrative. He eavesdrops, like everyone does, in the taxi ride, en route to Marico, when he overhears two women talking about a man they are frightened of for the manturns himself into a neckless chicken when the police come looking for him, on account of his dagga-peddling activities.ibid xi Bavino, we believe, thrives as a storyteller through his inquisitivity, his generosity with time, conversation, his curiosity to listen and eavesdrop. To the speaking voices in the periphery. Articulate and uncompromising in their conviction and expression. Take the folk or figure ABEL.
Let us hear Bavino Sekete, ABEL:
‘ABEL is the potential salvation of
this place. The only person i meet i
can talk books with. He writes, &
very well too: ‘out of place. In the
township. & at that water resource
spot where i work. You know when
you want to discuss things people
don’t get. & don’t want to, no interest.
& you start feeling like you are forcing issues…so i just lock myself up. Read my books. & write. Talk to myself. But now i have you.’ibid xii
We know from reading the text that ABEL feels disillusioned, isolated, marginalised, even exiled by the literary establishment. He is home in exile. Exiled at home. For exile or to be exiled one does not require fleeing or flight. Discourse can create the condition of exile while at home. Like Bavino Sekete the vagabond wordman Abel is homeless, at home. Both share the pleasures and displeasures of being bold enough to speak their mind and accept the consequences. Exiled at home for he speaks and represents an unacknowledged discourse. And man, ABEL speaks, or rather, he shrieks the loudest, as though he enjoys the dis/pleasures of exile. He speaks and indicts mainstream publishers and presses that, according to him, manufact[ure] ‘writers’ for us, award-winning creatures, you speak to some of these people & it is clear they can’t have written the books that bear their damn names. It is a scam. ABEL is outcast because he represents certain nonconforming qualities that are incompatible with the commercial demands, mundanities, mainstays, or manoeuvres and the imperatives of the market. He is estranged and displaced because his mind and mouth espouse a disagreeing disposition. Speaks the language of the poet who has achieved having his senses deranged. He speaks with lucid critical lexicon on the question of South African literature. We ought to remember that it is ABEL who carries the dissenting discourse that disrupts and offends, in the text, calling into question the norms and forms that, according to his words, deaden the possibility of regenerating South African literature. Scathingly reproaches this thing called SA lit for being uniform in its dearth of imagination even as most reflected [his] lived reality. For as Claude Drevet writes Man can feel exiled because man can speak. Lewis Nkosi is correct to assert that the author of the word suffers of course, but only as someone who pronounces a certain discourse and is the physical bearer of the offending word. Lewis Nkosi (references Claude Drevet) in The Wandering Subject: Exile as ‘’Fetish’’, Letters to my Native Soil These words speak directly to the condition from which ABEL thinks. His activity of thinking from and within the margin, has seen him remain the sharpest and most memorable critic of SA writing in Bird-Monk Seding. Evidenced by his analytic flavoured with a polemic tone that flagellates the under representation of Madikwe in the country’s popular and public’s cultural imagination:
‘Madikwe is so under-represented in
SA popular imagination it is criminal.
In main ways it is the microcosm of
the country. All the forces human &
otherwise are here. Or come to dip
their sticks in these waters. Its
superficial presentation, that is the
tranquil face, hides much that is
beyond ugly. An aged white man in
shorts, the veins standing green on his
pallid legs said that in a queue at the
post office. Overhearing me praise the
quiet, the air that actually does flow
around here, the stars coming down at
night, ones it never occurred to me to
look up at in Joburg. Too busy
checking my surrounds, self-
preservation the prime-obligation.
Madikwe incorporates the country’s
deep beauty & pointless, immediate
ABEL is a stimulating and significant persona. He too plays and participates in the séance, when, for example, he conjures Bosman’s Ghost, only to subject Bosman’s Bushveld writing to a provocatively sharp critique and condemnation. Making a spectacle out of Bosman’s spectrality, holding the spectre accountable. Essentially dismissing his depiction of Black people as plastic, comparing it to Hollywood’s portrayal of the Vietnamese. An analogy is drawn, and certain cinematographic banalities are visibilised as in the point regarding the racist mis/representation of Vietnamese in Hollywood Juxtaposed with Bosman’s Blacks in the negative and negating image-making mouth of Oom Schalk Lourens, who enjoys referring to them as kaffirs.
‘Herman Charles Bosman – bushveld writing
…both Vooorkamer & oom
Schalk Lourens) …. he is my main
man. Brother of Makana, lover of the
land, yes, still… BOSMAN’S
BLACKS, like the Vietnamese in
Hollywood depiction… Platoon,
Apocalype Now, Deer Hunter…are
really just ciphers. Boat-people
outside, almost, of the field of vision.
Never really central, or ‘felt’, even.
Prejudices are bounced against, the
ignorance of the perpetrators thrown at
them, but they are never really
characters, people, themselves, the
victims of such. Even though the
intention is to show up the ‘throwers’,
better yet, the ‘tossers’…can’t you
imagine them standing in wind one
hand pumping…must be why the
flowers refuse to grow in the bushveld,
acid-sperm kills them.’ ibid xiii
Main man? ABEL, Nkosi, we are dealing with Bosman. True, on the folkloric level. ABEL is critiquing the rigidities of the poetics and the politics shaping the narratives of Bosman’s writing. His critique resonates and extends to contemporary narratives that filter and filtrate into the mainstream literary landscape unproblematised; the problematic of the process informing the imagination-representation dyad as depicted in the death-bound literature ABEL criticises. This he problematises. It is blemished. The process is part of the problem. The blemish that remains unproblematic and unproblematised to the lesser perceptive. Bird-Monk Seding is orchestrated, as a prescient response to ABEL’s charge, we presume; it is addressing ABEL’s criticism and calling out of the South African literary impasse. In a weird and wayward way, we would say
the text is talking to itself
out of the ABEL-identified literary impasse. A significant exercise in metafriction – frenzied, fractured, and fragmented forms are in friction. In here forms feed off each other and like the narrative strands, blend, blur, intersect, intertwine; literary criticism, without any prearranged announcement, spontaneously intermingles with a critique of cinematographic culture and how the brutal and bane, the pornographic and the grotesque, the vulgar and visceral, the vile and the violating, in short what Sekete calls the graphic[ality] of lived reality has been sanitised by the censor’s snip and snap. What we frequently get is what the aged white man who speaks to ABEL at the post office, has identified as superficial presentation, the benign image, the tranquil face that hides what is beyond the ugly.Bird-Monk Seding ix Cut out from the film are shady or shyster figures and hustlers, ideological serial killers, bestialists, gigolos, prostitutes, pilferers, perverts, pimps, and politicians populating the Marico periphery.
TAKE TAKALANI the psychopath-retarded looking figure in charge of the water services and who runs the little library attached to the municipal building. TAKALANI is said to get off on showing people gory pictures in magazines, scenes of torture, innards showing, mutilation, while cackling like a hyena, looking at the horror, or disgust in whoever he is displaying it to.ibid xxWe refuse to imagine what the children are subjected to at TAKALANI’s library.
TAKE BABU who is said to have come here in Madikwe wearing beat shoes and frayed pants, but now owns a property, after being successful in selling revolution to the populace. Moved them out of the shack dwellings to the mortared and bricked human settlement brought by BABU’s government programme. Yet now BABU the political-activist-grown-affluent mistreats the marginalised. Consider the scene when he gangs up with the mob to force SAMPOKANE the faeces & piss-man to eat a dead foetus that dropped from the SEWAGE -SEPTIC TANK VAN that always HURTLES through the township streets and leaves a putrid stench dancing in the atmosphere. Cut out from the film too are the images of Madikwe river-beds bedecked with foetal bodies floating and sweetening the water that passes through the reservoir of Middletown and by the time it reaches the township water pipes and gets out of the tap it has changed colour and is the discharge and excreta of other, less melanined humans.ibid xxi
Bird-Monk Seding is more than just a performance of Discrepant Engagement. It is a stratagem, or strategy, to remind us of the problematics or impediments of trying to tell the story of a vagabond, a (literary) tramp, hobo, nomad, or in Sekete’s own confession, a sentient being with…no abode fixed in space – in a progressively linear narrative formulation. In this vein it is reaffirming and necessitating the need to discrepantly engage. Sekete says try it. It is worth it, it might work, that is and might be how our world is worded. The black writer is forced to find another alternative and algorhythm. In Bird-Monk Seding the alternative and algorhythm is for Bavino Sekete to manipulate and manoeuvre fluidly between inherited
forms, not inheriting, but
them to try talk about the daily degradation and dehumanisation of the people of Leseding community. The people made to feel displaced and dislocated in their own land.
Motley artists, musicians, painters, and poets Sekete evokes, or alludes to, the everyday commuters, gossipers, conversationalists, anecdotalists, the ordinary of Seding in Groot Marico are themselves, like Bavino Sekete, the marginalised minority. Perhaps the most devastating expression of the neglect and negation of the marginal is the requiem that links different artists of social conscience throughout different historical time zones working in different mediums, yet intertwined and bound in the text by their condition of marginality and social conscience. Ingoapele Madingoane, Peter Makurube, Mafika Gwala are all described and depicted in devastating terms; in neglect and negation they never gave in; abandoned by comrades and the country. After all the y/tears, sweat, blood, and brains they have put into the arts only to be honoured with platitudes and plastic speeches at their funerals or memorials. Bavino Sekete is singing their blues. Their ideas are not only invoked/evoked, conjured as in a séance, consolidated, celebrated, or critiqued; their tales, anecdotes, laments and laughter, complaints or cries, are incorporated into the collaborative, intertextual and intermodal dance, via a creative ritual practise, captured in Nathaniel Mackey’s appropriate appellation Discrepant Engagement. Bird-Monk Seding, is nothing, if not a centrifugal movement, a fugitive fleeing from the celebrated and overrated centre of conventionality, classification, categorization, and the compulsions of narrative completion and closure.
Think of it as a consolidation, a constellation of all the significents [significant elements] hijacked from the ideational archive of the dead and the necrophily living, from across the Black Atlantic cultural spectrum, in order to try to think against the tyranny of isolated and isolating uniform/ity that haunt South African writing of the now; against the insistence on finding and establishing one’s voice (not killing it) that signifies the illusion of having arrived. Against it it is anti-art anti-improvisation. It is annoyed and alarmed by the visceral vulgarity of the regular and the shocking encounter of the unaccustomed. Against it it is an agent hired to regulate and discipline the endlessly erratic and eclectic aesthetic impulse; the unruly imaginative component of anti-uniform/ity, which invites to be read as a subversive and disruptive sensibility, in its multiformal method of consolidating and narrating the margin (and the ungovernable). Seding is nothing if it is not a drive towards and beyond, an actualisation, or musico-intertextual and interformal/modal performance, of the ritual practice Nathaniel Mackey so accurately identifies in the experimental writing of the Black Mountain Poets and Black experimental writing in the USA and Caribbean. Mackey terms this type of dissonant, cross-cultural, experimental approaches to Fixion, Discrepant Engagement, in which:
aspects of conventional
as well as experimental narrative, essayistic analysis,
and reflection, diaristic and anecdotal elements,
literary-critical techniques, and a variety of influences
ranging from mythology to anthropology to album liner notes. The
work’s multiformity, its improvisatory sampling or juggling of
discourses, genres, and forms, involve[s]. . . a practice of discrepant
spurred or inspired by characteristics of the music it sought, so to speak,
to be in concert with.Nathaniel Mackey, Paracritical Hinge
We pour libation to literary idols and insist Nathaniel Mackey is describing Bird-Monk Seding in the above passage extracted from his collection of essays and interviews Paracritical Hinge. We have already established that Seding is onomatobebopoetic. Stacy Hardy, in her consideration of Lesego Rampolokeng’s Half a Century Thing refers to Rampolokeng’s sensibility, his text, as being a live exercise, dancing (or duelling) with, or put differently, in collaboration and in concert with Johnny Dyani’s Black Family Music. . .Lin[king] Mongezi Feza to Miles Davis, via Ddumile Feni, Sony Labou Tansi, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Steve Biko, Amiri Baraka, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Frantz Fanon. Rampolokeng readers undoubtedly recognise that the list is neither exhaustive, nor exhausted. Johnny Dyani’s Black Family Music; we want to read it as a method of finding links and linking resonating findings; being in collabo and concert with the found sound; smashing, and breaking down boundaries, into smithereens, Charles-Mingus-Bulblike. Was it not Rampolokeng himself who, several times over, especially in his talk Encountering Johnny Dyani has claimed, explained, emphasised, that he writes to a Johnny Dyani aesthetic?
Reading Bird-Monk Seding bearing this manifes’sertion, Bavino’s surname, Sekete, which he tells us means thousand in Sesotho, seems to allude to this very dance of ideas and ideals, forms, which intersect and entangle on the OPEN stage; we insist on interpreting this as the Dyani aesthetic; if not, partially, the urgency, to collabo and be in concert with artists of social conscience across the cultural spectrum; across the Black Transatlantic as Sekete’s Jazz essay topic suggests. Something needs to be stated, or at least, an analogy outlined between John Edgar Wideman’s idea of writing as a Séance, George Lamming’s notion of Resurrection of the Dead, Louis Chude-Sokei’s Technology of Orality, Nathaniel Mackey’s Discrepant Engagement, Johnny Dyani’s Black Family Music; Lesego Rampolokeng’s verse-a-séance pronounced and exemplified in Bird-Monk Seding and David Marriot’s suggestive phrasing haunted black text.David Marriot, Haunted Life: Visual Culture and Black Modernity In truth, what is a séance, but an invitation of haunting myriad presences, to sit within a session and converse about the productive possibilities of the present? Something needs to be said too about the significance and generativity of the Black Family Form at play typified by the evocation of what Rampolokeng calls myriad presences. A creative ritual with a hauntological dimension. Jam session of ideas and ideals. After all, Sekete seems to have been commissioned to compose an essay on Jazz, and make links, or a comparative case, between, African, Caribbean and the African-American Jazz idiom. Before we get ahead of ourselves let us consider the significance of what Louis Onuorah Chude-Sokei in Dr Satan’s Echo Chamber rightly refers to as the Technology of Orality – alluding to George Lamming’s notion of the expensive tribal habit of paying for the resurrection of the Dead in certain B.B.C Radio reserves that invoke /evoke and honour the ideas and rituals of the dead ancestors by inviting and allowing those of us who have been called/ to tune in on the forgotten secrets of the dead. George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile, In the Beginning According to Lamming, to be in touch with the past is a way of provoking and generating ideas, it is a dialogue-opening act, a practise that provides us with subjects, for now, and for future conversation.Ibid xxiiLamming’s insight may as well be hijacked and finetuned so that we try to think with the help of Sokei’s reading of the opening passage in George Lamming’s The Pleasures of Exile, In the Beginning; Lamming’s implication – with the help of Sokei’s reading – is that these reserves in the BBC have an immortalising element or potential of immortalising ancestral memory, via Sound-Word culture, through this live and captivating technology of orality, as Sokei likes to call it; a designation we believe sounds and echoes the essence and inspiration behind this preliminary meditation on uncwadi lwemveli – particularly what we designate as the trinity (I.I.U) of oral storytelling; Intsomi, Ingoma, Umbongo – as an ancestral technology that links the living with the dead; that continuously shapes the Sound-Word of the writers whose work we posit as partaking willingly in this séance. We utilise the word séance in the John Edgar Widemanian manner that conceives of writing – the oral-ridden written word – as similar to taking part in a séance, except we do not, contrary to Wideman‘s notion, beckon our invented second selves,John Edgar Wideman, The Island: Martinique but we do, in that instance, conjure the voices, ideas, ideals, signs, symbols, images, moments, totems, associated with the rituals and practises of the dead, the living-dead, the forgotten and unforgettable. Rampolokeng’s oeuvre, but in this instance, we are focussing on Bird-Monk Seding, proves an appropriate paragon, an illustration of having an intellectual intercourse and a dialogue with the ideas and ideals of the dead. We want to think and speak about the significance of the intergenerational and multiformal work that is in collision, conversation, collaboration with the world of the historical, literary, musical, visual, cinematic, mythological, superstitional – flattening out frontiers and discouraging distinctions.
JAZZING IT UP FOR MISTA JAZZ VIBE
Textual evidence shows Sekete going beyond making Jazz links. His mind and pen-flow moves fluidly between bebop, rock, afro rock, Malombo, reggae, dub, to bobbing his head and nodding to underground Hip-hop with social conscience while throwing a jab at the supposed emptiness of House (they call the music. My eyes stray to the shacks. Incessant, monotonous, thump of canned programming) and Fusion (I feel like with Fusion they brought syrup). Beyond the restrictive boundary set by Mista Jazz Vibe editor, who demands Sekete to submit something soft, non-erudite, for his Bantu Educated readers. Through boundary-breakdown a breakthrough, brink or threshold emerges; Black Family Music cannot be contained and chained to parochial geo-prisons of culture; it refuses to be sealed in cartographical cells. Sekete as a bearer of this knowledge is not schooled in the genre of receiving and welcoming the given; he is ungovernable enough to give the readers flashes from his essay. These poetic and reflective parts are nothing close to chronological, after all, Bavino Sekete is verbing live writing, or he simply shares snippets of his on-going research-writing into the topic of his essay. We read and take the passages for windows into his work-in-progress, and evidently the text we are allowed to read is nothing in-line with the demands of Mista Jazz Vibe, who, in some way, could be a figure that signifies the hand of the establishment that seeks to dominate, dictate and detour the thinking trajectory of the writer embodied in Sekete. The thought control towerBavino Sermon so to speak. Sekete starts drawing, no lineal line, but Black Transatlanticyclical. As black music. Bird-Monk Seding x The essay’s movement is not lineal, but musical, ideational. It moves from roots through Black Atlantic routes and reroutes back to Africa to render the past modernlike the descendants of Ratsie Setlhako. From Armstrong to his descendants the changing same is evoked and acknowledged. Indications and allusions in Sekete’s essay abound:
& In the slave-sound air laden crackling
tropical storm the singing Louis Armstrong was
the U Roy’s voice-swing on the flying
beat. Thelonious Monk kept turning
around on the
spot babbling silent. & Lee Perry swung
around & over again same spot arm out
chant. & it all came down…to the same.
coming over AMERICARIB
ART, BIRD…no other course than to
go opposite the public’s direction.
Marrying content & form, what I need
Bird, face to his demise, reaches out for
a Jesus, says: ‘save me, Diz’. & that is… Jazz.
BBC says that’s a slang word for
sex…oh, BANG-noises. (some of its
creators hate the WORD. Davis says
‘call it Miles Music’, same Miles fired
his Sting-historied bassist ‘cos there
were no silences in his playing…no
open spaces. Same time Miles said Bird
was a hog, Trane a pig, so too Rollins,
oink-colossus on the saxophone.
Interpretation: Mark of the genius
McCOY. Both of them the real. Tyner,
Mrubata. Horns to keys, & both sun-
kissed. In brutality’s own equation, the
one lost his daughter to butchery,
otherside the laughter: music’s own
treachery. I wouldn’t barter one for the
other. Cos Facing the overseer-financier
public, (it is) easier to compromise your
art than release a fart. still, some play
the piano of flatulence. & others the sax
of tummy-runs. This language for
me…is neutered. Trying to put the sex
in it…jazz it up.Bird-Monk Seding xi
We know Bavino Sekete draws from diverse aspects of his biography where necessary to communicate whatever point of significance; in the essay he applies the same technique of extracting biographical moments from the musicians he references throughout his paratactic essay. These paratactical segments take the discourse on experimental and avant-garde forms of Jazz and intertwine it with the desire for a niewe and nou vocabulary, method, form, which has not been inherited, to counter the dearth articulated by ABEL’s scathing attack on South African literature. A scathing attack recalling Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Ralph Ellison and others who have observed and remarked on the part of Black literature culture averse to tradition and its refusal to emulate or rather to keep up with the re/generativity and ingenuity of Black Music. The Abel figure in Bird-Monk Seding is here to remind us of this reality. In some way he and Sekete particularly participate in this archaeological and intertextual séance. Sekete himself seems to echo this in his nostalgic reflective moment recalling the ‘50’s Revolution time – which suggest a contemporary urgency to invent a new grammar, in a way, complementing ABEL’s critique. So, the essay is composed entirely of flashes, of reflections, anecdotes, that add depth to the desire to transpose this liberated sense of freestyling and freeriding this freedom found or endemic in Jazz to writing; the very Jazz he is writing an essay on in an ubi sunt tone. The isiXhosa idiomatic phrases Ihambo Iyazilawula and Apha Naphaya best describes the logic and line that undergirds Bird-Monk Seding; the passages that intermittently pop up as we vicariously live, think, listen, drink, smoke, feel, shit, piss, with Sekete and every encounter that appears/ features in the living world of the text. Indeed, ihambo dictates in the text so much that it is the foundation of the text; ihambo iyazilawula is the bedrock, the bebopoetics undergirding Bird-Monk Seding. The motif that runs through the text is the question of compromise or being compelled to compromise one’s art for a demarcated space in the marketplace; the anti-commercialism, anti-assimilationist and anti-compromise aesthetics that characterised the spirit of Bebop. The drive in Bavino Sekete’s essay on Jazz cannot help but follow in the footsteps of ihambo, and Dyani’s Black Family Music; experimenting within the BFM tradition that has Sekete’s thinking cycling the Black Transatlanticyclical line. No metronome-moved swinging sentences. Pen is pounding and pinning Pound’s notion of the musical phrase onto the pages of Seding. Bird-Monk Seding is carried out through what Charles Olson, in Projective Verse, once called COMPOSITION BY FIELD. It is, to steal and repeat Olson’s own wording, talking about the possibilities of what he calls Projective Verse, (it is) opposed to inherited line, over-all form, what is the “old” base… against syntax, in fact, against grammar generally, that is, as we have inherited it.Charles Olson, Projective Verse Bird-Monk Seding is opposed to the old and inherited grammar and genre that has rendered the term novel redundant. No novelty in the novels of the nou. Term them non-novels. We speak of nouvel, this niewe-en-nou type. Spliced. Antigrammatically prosed. Coloured by compounds, back-formations, neologisms, portmanteaus, idiosyncratic sentences, chopped like Birdchords, dissonant, disjointed, like the uncanny cluster chords of the Bebop High priest evoked in the very title of this book. Away from the rigor-mortified structure of narration. Bebop, and subsequently, the ‘50s moment onwards, the narrator recurrently refers to or references throughout his narration and in the essay, is used as base upon which to bounce off new writing approaches emulating the improvising factor of bebop and The New Thing. It is speaking, it is breathing, breath-giving. In a context of an asphyxiating South African culture of uncultured letters. The title Bird-Monk Seding prefigures a form powered and propelled by a type of literary bebopoetics, departing from, or abandoning the old base for the new thing, THE NEW DREAM.
Such conclusion can be easily gleaned from reading the essay passages. Bebop is the base, but then the poetics moves beyond bebop, towards the experiments of the of 50s – Jazzing it up in Revolution line and time ala Sekete. The time of the niewe-en-nou thingers, freeing the form from firm inflexibility. Except for, say, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, whose names are evoked in the title Bird-Monk Seding, lots of the 1950/60s African-American Jazz improvisors and avant-garde artists Bavino Sekete evokes or quotes were not beboppers per se. Post-Bebop. I count, Bassist Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um; Trumpeter Miles Davis, Kind of Blue; Pianist Dave Brubeck, Take Five; Saxophonist Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come; seem to us were (in the words of Bassist Charlie Haden referring to The Ornette Coleman quartet) play(ing) music with this desperate urgency to make something new, that’s never been before.Talking in the Documentary BBC Four 1959 The Year That Changed Jazz They were dabbling and grappling with trying to break away from, or deal with, Charlie Parker’s Bebop; in one radical way, or another, to deal with, as Sekete tells us, The Parker legacy, sir; trying to free Jazz from the heard; from what has become the standard, the normative, dispensing the inherited tradition, through introducing an alternative algorhythm. In the words of Robin Kelly Sekete has inherited
the tradition of dispensing with tradition.Robin Kelly, Pasts, A Sulphur Anthology Ed by Clayton Eshleman
That Sekete celebrates Bird’s impulse to go opposite the public’s direction seems fitting, especially in a text self-conscious enough to enact such a statement. The achronological essay, in its anecdotal pattern, is celebrating the improvising factor and freedom of Jazz cats; the same freedom and improdrive with which the text is propelled. We are thinking of how this presumption is evidenced by the intertextual usage of medley statements, comments, allusions, hints, ideas, quotations from graffiti or BBC reports, overheard jokes, requiems, light verses. Mostly these references and allusions are related to jazz cats. The changing same is acknowledged when Sekete pays homage to Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, Rollins, The Mothers of Invention. Taking his cue from Nathaniel Mackey’s discussion of the bebop tradition of taking popular tunes and turning them into something entirely different, that is improvising on the traditional given, the available material, Sekete refers to as the impro-factor… on the established; we might say that Bird-Monk Seding bounces off this tradition and takes popular literary forms, genres and bend, blend, blur, render them penetrable, permutable; per form is mutable and subjected to a radical redefinition and rearrangement; in other words they are broken away from the suffocating practice of impeding mobility by locking ideas in cells. If we follow Amiri Baraka’s (Black Music) and Nathaniel Mackey’s (Paracritical Hinge) meditations on Jazz and experimental or improvisatory writing; if it is said that the emergence of bebop marked a break from a type of stringent play associated with the Swing tradition, let us establish the fact that Bird-Monk Seding marks a radical pyrotechnical rupture from the SAME which is a euphemism for SA literature. Here language is happening live, and forms are freed to jive, reclaimed from the prison of petrified aesthetics. Bird-Monk Seding xii And then, in no time, Bavino Sekete writes in his Jazz essay that wecannot write in the modern jazz idiom without noting a debt to BIRD. I misquote, but it is for the Improv-factor of things…on the established.Ibid xxiii Or consider this hilarious statement that:
BIRD was so
great, I heard
ching to get
perfect.Bird-Monk Seding xiii
Parker is established as the point of departure in discussion of the modern idiom of jazz that bebopetically broke away from the inherited and heard. The discussion breaks boundaries and is not trapped in one specific geography or in a parochial culture inherited from Apartheid which continues to shape the contemporary cultural (literary) landscape. In Sekete’s essay the archaeological and intertextual dance is Black Transatlanticyclical. Ponder how the African-American pianist McCoy Tyner is juxtaposed with the South African saxophonist McCoy Mrubata. The African-American Guitarist Wes Montgomery is put up against Philip Tabane. Every ear that has heard Malombo’s sounds knows whose Guitar is boss. And as Sekete writes that Tabane is worse in the killing-field. Ibid xxiv What links them has been already established. As Sam Mathe has pointed out in his comprehensive consideration of Bird-Monk Seding that it is impossible to write Jazz without a reference to South African jazz cats who took giant steps. The indigenous spirits won’t dance and rejoice without hearing Malombo drums, the bass, the horns, the devil’s ribs, in-short, the essay is not complete without Ratsie Setlhako, Kippie Moeketsi, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Dyani, Dollar Brand, Mongezi Feza –Blue Notes, Jazz Ministers, Zim Ngqawana, Philip Tabane, Mabi Thobejane, Julian Bahula, Lefifi Tladi, Winston Mankunku – all invited, evoked, to participate in the archaeological and intertextual séance dance on the page.
If texts with narrative plots and wholesome structures are read and written according to discipline and procedures conforming to their configurations, then perforated structures, degenerate formations and plot holes must have reading and writing methodologies of their own.Reza Negarestani Cyclonopedia
WORD DOWN THE LINE
June 1999: Lesego Rampolokeng and Ike Muila interviewed by Robert Berold for New Coin. Among the things they touch on largely are the questions of the technology of orality and aesthetics. Rampolokeng mentions musicians and poets whose work bounces off certain elements inherent in the oral tradition to create something entirely alternative, breaking from the normative, like the diasporic mould of artists Rampolokeng positions and posits as individuals involved in practices that draw from the inherited and heard to help create an alternative to the given archive.
August 2016: Lesego Rampolokeng and a couple of other writers gathered at a colloquium at Rhodes University, under the topic, ‘Teaching Practices in Creative Writing’ in South Africa. His talk and others’ contributions were compiled into an anthology under the title The Fertile Ground of Misfortune. In Outside the Classroom/Off the Page Rampolokeng reminds and re-emphasises the inherent musicality and the poetry of Black speech when he proceeds to share an illuminating anecdote about his upbringing. Here he celebrates the literary outlaws, those who speak from the gutter, the street corner, the shebeen:
The spoken word. . .I got my
first taste of poetry, of the
musicality of the word, in the
inherent rhythms of language
from my grandmother who
could not read or write,
except the numbers 1 to 36…
that’s because she played
FaaFee. I’m not joking when
I say that for poetic flow, for
cadence, for rhythm and, you
know, rhyme, this Eminem
guy or Nas would stand no
chance against my
grandmother…Those of us
who frequent shebeens can
attest to the fact that the art
of storytelling is in there.Stacy Hardy and Robert Berold, The Fertile Ground of Misfortune: Teaching Practises in Creative Writing.
November 2016: Stacy Hardy and Robert Berold interview Lesego Rampolokeng and have their conversation published in Illuminations. Rampolokeng shares insights into his literary trajectory, his development as a thinker and writer, moving from the earliest publications, specifically The Second Chapter, Talking Rain, Head on Fire, A Half Century Thing, and to the text in discussion Bird-Monk Seding. Here we share one of the most revealing moments regarding the relation between bebop and his nouvel:
Like Bebop music as
opposed to Reggae, the one beat –
Talking Rain would have been
that, one beat – does not have a
beginning or an end, it has this
cyclical thing that keeps
coming back. But we can’t
speak of that when we get to
Charlie Parker, when we get to
Thelonious Monk … and that’s
where I think the direction of
my writing has gone. But
having said that, I would say
there’s more music within my
writing now than there was
before. There is more
experimentation; there is more
soloing within that. In the past,
it was dub-music – to echo it to
infinity and come right back to
it. Now, I chase the beat all
over the place and attempt to
put it right down.Stacy Hardy and Robert Berold conducted an interview with Lesego Rampolokeng in the literary mag/journal Illuminations (a special issue guess-edited by Kobus Moolman)
Hey beboppers, be-bopping, beat bobbing heads. Bebop and bob to the musicality of the text that boast of bebopoetics, the poetics of bebop underrides/writes this, hoppers of the hiptext we write. It is this breath-gripping of chasing the beat that births broken syntactical chords, phrases, unfinished sentences, three-dotted prose. Not only the ellipse that is superior than the straight line in the Baudrillardian sense, but ellipsis as the Cèlinean aesthetic remnant, that Ralph Manheim once marked as characteristic of the incompleteness, the abruptness, the sudden shifts of direction characteristic of everyday speech and signifies a declaration of war on the flowing prose period.Lifted from Ralph Manheim’s preface to Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s Death On The Installment Plan. That is the reason for nonreliance on repetition and recurrence or reappearance of the initially introduced individuals. The narrative tropes cherished, maintained as mainstays, and stay main and mundane in contemporary South African fiction. The free discourse that involves the desire to disconnect from the inherited idiom, form or genre, by bouncing off of them and subsequently making use of certain elements; in order to set up a niewe and nou set of vocabulary, is one of the statements that Seding metafictionally explores through its wide-ranging, multiformal narrative mode. Seding is a text, in which we mean it is generative, in Roland Barthes’ formulation, it is an activity of production that calls for reader collaboration, that demands cocreative involvement and effort.Roland Barthes From Work to Text Open and inviting. Roland Barthes, in From Work to Text further describes a text, as among other doings, resist(ing) classification, defer and multiply meaning; generally experimental, flouting or modifying traditional rules.Ibid. xxv In Seding, nothing is as it presents itself at first sight. Consider how, at first the anecdote form is utilised in two apparently antithetical ways; first, to arouse pathos; then, to exaggerate events for a parodic effect. We are particularly thinking of those pithy passages of grotesque and scatological imageries. Think SAMPUKANE the night-soil man. Or the barefooted BRA JOE SEJABANA the Elegant. The ORGANIC intellectual The Dreamer Artist well-versed in hip-hop scholarship and academe. Or MASWEJANA The Pretty Playboy, whose life-story, has elements of myth; Sekete tells us that he was once a hunk, who disappointed his wife and subsequently ended up being disfigured. We read and suddenly it appears that the anecdotal form is used in more than two ways. We cannot tell, in this limited reading, because, as Walter Benjamin once remarked referring to his notion of Literary Montage: I have nothing to say only to show. This is the statement screamed by the following moments we like to refer to as perceptive reflections. They tend to celebrate those elements in contemporary Black Music that not only signify but are pushing and inching towards the Invocation. Calling up the spirits;Bird-Monk Seding xiv the ritual practice of making the past speak to the present and do the musico-intertextual dance. This an example of calling (and recalling) upon the absent to be present, to get involved in an intercourse and have a dialogue with the dead.
We are in the region of the dead.
Tuned in on the channel of the dead, tuned in on this frequency modulation. And the Radio is celebrating:
VUSI XIMBA – maskandi man with a concertina & concerted effort at social-build beyond the Dracula-chest-plate-pierce humorous, dies without respect cos ‘to the stake with the conscious artist’ rattled tribal out of the race-haunted castle.
RATSIE SETLHAKO looming over all this, the father of it all. Setswana microphone killing – Ratsie Setlhako & his descendants (Culture Ambassadors, Culture Spears, Matsieng – music & theatre on vinyl, plus traditional dance – tshwana & tinto) the past rendered contemporary.
JOHNNY DYANI packing Bhaca choirs in the upright bass. Amabutho arrangements. You hear the march in the lines. The time is HERE. Ntsikana’s Bell. El the cat sniff-snuffing across the Bushveld undergrowth. Seeking out man-killing rats. Biped feline. Piano tinkles and ‘reaches the deeps’…no superstars twinkle here. Humility immersed within the heavy humidity. Clothes cling to backs, chests heave, heavy.Bird-Monk Seding xivi
It is a celebration of the pasts in the present. It is not one past; we are past that imprisoning and fatal singularity and we are living in the region of histories.Robin Kelly, Pasts From Vusi Ximba whose music is suffused in IsiZulu folk ways, Ratsie Setlhako’s sound steeped in Setswana folk ways, to Johnny Dyani’s sound submerged in isiXhosa/Bhaca folk tradition; ubuntsomi, ubungoma, isingqi sakwantu, are animated in these musical sensibilities, that shoot sharp old-aged idioms and wisdoms that are radically refreshed and recontextualised to speak to the contemporary socio-economic predicament and drive home whatever political point the song intends. Suddenly, the attitude of the anecdotes radically changes, the mood takes a different turn. Detoured. Ihambo iyazilawula adage dictates. An Apha Naphaya Aesthetic. Moves from its celebratory mood to enlisting a Jazz Bushveld playlist, followed by amalgam of music-related moments, commentaries, quotations. Consider this hilarious moment about the Malombo Man Phillip Tabane:
‘Why you coming to the gig drunk, Phillip?’
‘You, they, all treat me like a machine….
well, machines need oiling otherwise have me play dry and the music
my pistons get gone. Stop your talk, I need medicine.
No, i have to get lubrication…’ reaches for a brandy straight.
& once plugged in & amped, the sounds are fluid. Fire-liquid. Ibid xxv
The page is the stage, or Life’s theatre, ala Bavino Sekete. But the montage line and logic does not stop with mosaic of quotations or commentaries on music; there are polemical passages, moments or short comments on literature, the visual arts of Mzwandile Buthelezi, Thami Mnyele, Fikile Magadlela, Lefifi Tladi, Dumile Feni. What is this practice, if not the embracing of an obligation or duty bequeathed to us by our pasts, so that through the reminders proffered by Robert Duncan and Robin D.G. Kelley, we can rightfully invent or design our own individual hero/heroinescopes? As in all of Lesego Rampolokeng’s texts sound culture is central to his aesthetic; it is no surprise that in all his writings there is always a salutary nod to a pantheon of literary and musical figures and forebears Rampolokeng identifies, or rather, vibes, jams and jives with. Consider It begins with sound in A Half Century Thing, the following salutary verses in Bavino Sermons: The Fela Sermon, To Gil Scott-Heron, Wailers of the world; in Head on Fire: Jazz Rock Rap & the Blues, Basemental Platform on Top, Mission Hymphatic, The Tosh Song Trilogy, The Bass Re-Incarnate. These are a few examples that explicitly allude to and reference music or sound, but Rampolokeng’s work draws, not only from music, as evidenced in Bird-Monk Seding, and other texts, but, from everywhere, outside and beyond, the margins of the page. In addition to Hardy’s observations, let us consider this passage extracted from Outside the Classroom/Off the Page. Lesego Rampolokeng explains his versatile and expansive source of stimulus:
I’ve drawn my own inspiration from
the old Setswana man, Ratsie
Setlhako, an incredible poet, from
whom I can draw a straight line to the
Caribbean isle of Jamaica, to the
person who is seen as the godfather of
toasting, U Roy; from U Roy to the
poet I Roy, and from there to hip-hop
with Poor Righteous Teachers, Public
Enemy, and draw I right back down
there, I use hip-hop music, reggae
music, video clips – I use every single
place where the word is alive. Ibid xxvi
We have hardly scratched and scraped the surface. The line-up is too long to recite every particular figure and name alluded and referenced together with the implications for these ideas here; the focus for now is the point that the word is alive in places that are marginalised and are never considered by conservative critics who cling to their limitations and illusions aroused by their isolated cultural cells. Bird-Monk Seding, then takes us through the taverns, shebeens, the streets, the taxi rides, the interiorities of everyday people, in Leseding township; these are some of the places in which the word, in all its differing temperatures and textures, its horrors and terrors, its playfulness and pleasures, its filth and foulness, is alive and continues to thrive. It is clear it is an informed politico-aesthetic intention to move across and beyond the inherited borders. Rampolokeng himself has emphasised this poetics of the ungovernable, of collapsing and flattening the curves, the narrative arc, bulldozing the edifice that divides, categorises, disciplines, penalises. Dispelling the poetics, and by extension, the politics, of full participation in, or incorporation into, inherited and hackneyed genres, or formulas; Rampolokeng renders these literary conduits redundant and incapable of containing the story ofthe black wandering subject. Rampolokeng’s Seding, then, can be read as a response to the South African establishment that is characterised by a type of Literary Apartheid [that] lock[s] thought in ghettos of non-inspiration. The text is an attack on these received forms whose validity and effectiveness we have ceased questioning; it is a capital
to the South African literary establishment and has a periphrastic posture of performing the insult. The book poses a problematic for easily convinced critics who describe Nthikeng Mohele’s Small Things and Fred Khumalo’s Bitches Brew as Jazz novels let alone the best. We must understand that positioning a jazz character as a protagonist in a novel and colouring the writing with a list of jazz songs is not the same as writing to a Jazz aesthetic. What we mean to say is the writing itself does not have any itching nor shows an inching towards the freedom of Jazz improvising and experimental musicians. Neither novels make use of bebop nor free jazz to break away from inherited and heard. No breaking away from inflexible forms of narrative expression. We hope to settle this matter in another meditation solely focused on these said novels. To jazz it up as Sekete says. Gone iconoclastic to the literary iconography. Bird-Monk Seding, as an experiment exposes the literary establishment’s inexorable entrenchment and investment in inherited forms and idioms. That Sekete tells us that politics is written in the music is telling, specifically considering the conditions and context in which bebop arose; a statement which, among other things, recalls what Amiri Baraka called the grim mediocrity of commercial big band chartism the corporate media sacrilegiously called “swing”. Our literature is deep in the doldrums. In bed and embedded in CAPITAL THOUGHT. In the South African literary landscape what is celebrated is the standard, the doggerel demanded by the market. The mouth is not encouraged to shout outside the line of the given word. We create in a context that encourages conforming to the normative. For Lesego Rampolokeng to go against the inherited form demands and denotes recourse to sing[ing]dinnovators of the form [and] swing[ing] a pisstorm upon the norm. Lesego Rampolokeng, Head on Fire (DEDICATION: For the Critic) Bird-Monk Seding in its bebopoetic element of improvising by incorporating the familiarities of the inherited and the idiosyncrasies of the unheard is refusing to swing in the old-fashioned way of word-playing and writing. Bird-Monk Seding performs what McRammellzee, the Ikonoklast, in Gothic Futurism, calls WILD STYLISM, or WILD STYLE only in the sense that WILD STYLE has no rules; it has its own rules and does not abide by the rules and regulations of the heard and inherited.Ramm-Ell-Zee, Ionic Treatise Gothic Futurism Assassin Knowledges of The Remanipulated Square Point
Rampolokeng’s style is uncontained, adventurous for he understands what Kathy Acker has described as Wildness [i]s writing and writing [i]s wildness.Dead Dolls Humility Seding displays a pleasurable playfulness in disordering, deranging, boulder-breaking, or word-creaking, bringing crisis to the acknowledged mainstays of traditional narrative, story, fiction, or theory. Moving in and out of forms, genres, this forward and backward moving, this discontinuous, rather episodic, nonlinear method of narrating is a type of form, a procedure totally absurd to the uninitiated, whose objective is
to render visible the redundancy of trying to follow a formula,
or fit within an inherited frame, or form; a story of a wandering subject, vagabond or nomad. It is an explicit example of a discrepant engagement, dabbling in different forms; in which certain genres or forms appear
and distorted. The inherited is transfigured into unfinished or halved forms. It is a festival of forms like Jayne Cortez said and everything merges and melts into other forms and everything is transformed.Jayne Cortez, Everything Can Be Transformed, Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora Edited by Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley Bavino Sekete, the narrator in the text, is first and foremost, a figure modelled on this mode of looking, listening, feeling, thinking, and seeing beyond, creative boundaries. A way of being that translates into how Sekete narrates his relations to, and position in the world. Achieved by the disjointed, discontinuous, and deranging motorway movement of the word. The narrative drive along the motorway of the word . . . going in all directions at once.Marguerite Duras, The Motorway of the Word The isiXhosa idiomatic idea of Ihambo Iyazilawula actualised. Starts/stops anywhere, anytime, at any moment it wishes, as if it exists first and foremost for its self-amusement and then for the act of complicating the relationship of the mythic image and the modern moment. Wilson Harris has insightful remarks on the poetics of discovery, of surprise, that is the notion of treating writing as manner of non-maintaining mainstays and going against these very stale methods of which we did not partake in their invention. Sekete masters the act/art of borrowing, reimagining, rearranging, deconstructing, splicing, sampling, subverting, mixing, remixing, and narrating the sound of surprise.
THE ABEL AESTHETIC
– the figure ABEL has a knack for unplotted, fast-talking, fast-paced storylines whose amoral protagonists care less about precepts, prescriptions and predilections of unsuspecting readers committed to the literary taste, tropes, and trends of the Establishment he pees on. What moves him are texts or tales wherein things are happening moment after moment without interruption, or the interruption itself is an event that adds to the order of interrelated moments that are being created. The restlessness of township life fascinates this figure. The life story is moving, people are doing, sermonising, swearing, talking, thinking together, having fun-fucking, telling tales, jokes and anecdotes. It is busy in the township. There is never a dull moment when the dwellers have gathered around the table and arched over beers and dice, dominoes, or cards. These are the flashes of free laughter Mafika Gwala observes in the lives lived by the Children of Nonti Nzimande.
– the figure ABEL’s words are binding as that drunken gossipmonger known for amusing Kingstown and Khayamandi township taverns with outrageously humorous rumours and ramblings about the sexual escapades of married members of the neighbourhood.
THE ABEL AESTHETIC
as the fragmented Fixion in which all the extraneous things other writers use for fleshing up scanty stories have been cut out.
as the writer who understands that readers are busy people, rushing from one phase of life to anotherTaban Lo Liyong, Fixions and other stories and, therefore, should not be bothered with the boredom of cataloguing vain trivialities.
as an automaton being led away from one convention only to be delivered and imprisoned in another cell or enclosure.
– the figure ABEL has listened and watched the old in the tooth tells tales. Although the same intsomi is told repeatedly, there is always a strong sense of change in the gestures, language, tone, texture, the detail, and direction. Though the essence of the tale remains intact, the mannerisms of narration cannot compare to the previous storytelling moment. He seeks to create a narrative that reads, to quote a character in Black Sunlight, talking about certain tendencies prevalent in postmodernist poetry, like a continuous succession of imagesDambudzo Marechera, Black Sunlight of restless township characters.
– the figure ABEL digs and mines narratives that deviate from the nightmare of the real, that which is always, taken seriously, in the toothless mouths of old folk. Believers and dreamers used to visit this hearer’s household to narrate their mis/adventures into emathongweni of previous nights. The tales and idiosyncrasies of the tellers stayed with him. The influences lurk behind every breath and phrasing. Anxiety of influence saturates The ABEL Aesthetic.
– the figure ABEL is inclined to mis/adventure.
It is dangerous to not take risks. From the fleeting moment Fixion desecrates the sacred altar of alterity and abandons its rule and role of remaining outside the national newsroom of uniformity, another alternarrative is anticipated, articulated.
– the ABEL AESTHETIC is following the fashion of Mc Rammellzee’s WILD STYLISM, in the spirit of Kathy Acker’s Dead Dollism, nods to Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes, making the model for Fixion ‘a tissue of quotations’, no conventional referencing or bibliographing, but credits to the collaborators and those in concert with. His Fixion is fashioned in the spirit of the true storyteller’s trinity: refer to the precedings, engage the present, and anticipate the impending (in tuned and entwined with the unaccustomed). Fixion is anything, or nothing, a lesson, or not, in myth and historical reality; like when Nongenile Masithathu Zenani, in A Boy Becomes Pregnant and Bears a Child, narrates the history of origin and conditions that give birth to the first itola – the clairvoyant rain doctor/soothsayer; myth meets history, like when Sondoda Ngcobo narrates of mythical moments, entertaining and terrifying tales of Chakijana the trickster of IsiZulu oral tradition and then within that context recounts the story of the historical Chakijana and his political participation in the struggle of Blacks during the Anglo-Boer War.Harold Scheub, The Tongue is Fire
– the figure ABEL obeys the desire to dislocate, derange, disorient, twist the normality of any received narratives and forms of choosing. His Fixion prods the eyes of those who refuse to recognise and unknot the significance and signification of the poetics of Disjointed Fictions, to steal Richard Grayson’s idea of creating Highly Irregular Stories, in a period that honours the intellect-numbing echo aesthetic that is eating away at the root of whatever we mean when we mouth the misnomer “South African Literature”. To intake the offered, claim and alter the narrative – any narrative – to subvert, to subtract, to add, to cripple/corrupt, to divert and distort it and force it to fit the agenda of the narrator; the proposed narrative, the theme, time and place, the tone and texture, the event, the moment and mood; to cut out and transpose the story into a different context and make the entire text a deranged and disorienting dance. Not in the line and logic of poor poetic charge, imagination, or creativity, but stronger in substance, in subversive and disruptive aesthetic possibilities. The spirit of opening different conduits of narration is imperative precisely because it boasts of the act of amassing and consolidating a variety of voices, eclectic influences, and references.
– the figure ABEL is convinced that orature – hymns, folktales, songs and fables, legends and myths, superstitions, and other tall stories, belong to no one. They are gifts left for us by the ancestors. No single individual or institution owns this heritage. Not the king, not the chief. Forget about ikonde or isanusi. Not the sages nor the cultural custodians can claim authority over these intellectual creations. They are available to and for abantu. They are texts for everyone who intakes, partakes, memorises, analyses, whether one agrees or not with the sentiment, the message, or moral communicated. Indeed, the story belongs to whoever can heed, intake, shape, embellish the fable, the tale, the narrative, and make it their own. And shout it out loud in a polyphonic voice. The hearer becomes the narrator of intsomi in the moment they mould the story according to their own image and mode.
A QUESTION TO ABEL:
What use is Fixion if the objective is not to dodge and problematise the paradigm that has flipped us upside down and turned our cultures and customs into commodities?
That is the area and objective of the model: to mould a narrative that accentuates that we have become caricatures and commodities. Forgeries. Cheap and common deities congregate in the heart of our metaphysics. Cosmetic cosmologies. Comedies on the page, tragedies on the world-stage.
– the figure ABEL is convinced Fixion is a type of discrepant engagement that thrives on mixing unalike elements, registers, lingos, languages, genres, forms, to undermine, among other aims, the artificiality of boundaries and linguistic propriety. The attempt is to gather and mix everything the narrator finds useful. What one critic has termed the ‘usefulness of text’ is the bedrock of the narrator’s creative code. Behold, a different story is told, in a distinct, demotic mode, an alternarrative, areas away from the stifling sameness of the Order. The half story inventor of the day, the alternarrativewriter, subscribes to the aesthetic principles and storytelling tenets of Nongenile Masithathu Zenani: [To] hear an image here, another there… Pick up a detail here, a stylistic device there.Harold Scheub, The Art of Nongenile Masithathu Zenani Bird-Monk Seding is evidence that the most significant statement is not that one incorporates or encompasses the influences or elements of the oral tradition in their literary experiments, but how functional and generative is the discrepant engagement, and what lesson can be extracted from such an experiment, in relation to the cultivation of alternative modes.
– the figure ABEL is convinced Fixion cannot be defined in the language of locks and limits, stifling and suffocating, imprisonments that impede the imagination. The very nature of Fixion, this text, is nothing if not parasitic on Samuel R. Delany’s ideas about the unspeakable – an area that he believes cannot be discussed outside the range of the everyday – which according to him is as much about cruelty as it is about sexuality the unspeakable is, among other things a set of positive conventions governing what can be spoken of (or written about) in general.Samuel Delany, On the Unspeakable The poet Mark Dotty following Delany, designates three planes of unspeakability that speak directly to the mis/adventurous nature of Fixion:
 that which cannot be said because one does not know it, and therefore cannot say it;  that which cannot be spoken because it is culturally impermissible to do so;  that which cannot be named because it is impossible, since language provides no terms, no words to enable articulation.Mark Doty, On Sexuality and Unspeakability in the Leaves of Grass
– The ABEL Aesthetic traverses the interstitial pathways of myth and memory, history and hearsay, personal anecdote, and the collective nightmares of everyday existence, in all its emptiness and newances. Staffriding the train of the demotic and the deranged, an imaginative practise of re/generation, attempting to escape the restrictions of the standardised given grammar of the normative.
– the ABEL Aesthetic is the antidote to the normative; call it alternarrative or nought, the narrator of any piece of Fixion steals what is necessary from the traditional ingoma and intsomi to help create Fixion.
The narrator is heretic to any Literary Order that categorises, enforces uniformity, and inculcates a culture of servitude/certitude.
The alternarrative, or the Fixion, which is always a context-conscious and contingent model, has no partnershit with, sponsorshit for, the principles of a culture that promotes and awards the line-toeing, slimy toes-licking artist of the time. Each epoch and its people deserve detractors from the national narrative of progression, the euphemism for all rotten and repulsive Mandela-Tutu sponsored fictions. Associate Fixion – the structure of telling steering it to the oblique, rambling, and fragmentaryDambudzo Marechera, The House of Hunger nature ascribed to the irregular narrative (idiom) of the old man figure in Dambudzo Marechera’s The House of Hunger. The old man is the embodiment of the narrator of our historical time and place. The storyteller of deterioration, of contradictions, and antagonistic relations, whose words are telling. ABEL, Sekete, like the old man, is the day to day wandering and weary subject of the township: isolated, side-tracked, random, rambling and revealing in a drunken stupor.
For Ziyana Lategan
IN COLLABORATION AND IN CONCERT WITH:I’m taking the idea of being in collaboration and concert with… Authors, musicians or film makers… From Mackey and Moten. As opposed to the formal and conventional (academic) referencing or bibliography . The essay was written by myself… Alone. I was just thinking with those books or music that I listed at the end. Forget that thru out I’m using ‘we think’ as opposed to the ‘I think’. I was trying to stick to the communal voice apparent in the very book I’m meditating on. Seding.
|1.||Lesego Rampolokeng, Bird-Monk Seding.|
|2.||We are thinking of two folks whose tales introduces us to what we call a nouvel regime of semiotic surreality. Nongenile Masithathu Zenani did not write her theory and tales. Amos Tutuola wrote down his. Think of Harold Scheub relating his experience of witnessing Nongenile Masithathu Zenani narrates intsomi enye that went on for a full-blown 21 days, which is 150 hours long. Think of Amos Tutuola whose iintsomi are recorded, collected, combined, and collaged and aesthetically worked into book length narration. In this sense we come to understand intsomi has no length-limit. To Zenani and Tutuola intsomi is not an artefact, but an aesthetic presence.|
|3.||K.S. Bongela, Amagontsi and S.C. Satyo and Z. S. Zotwana Sasinocwadi Kwatanci. Two insightful texts. Imperative, even. BUT. We have passed high school. We are past that kind of the fire fable or fireside intsomi. GIVE US, OR RATHER ARM(AH) US WITH A TALE THAT GOES ON FOR A THOUSAND SEASONS. THAT is OUR definition of intsomi.|
|4.||We come to think about black music and experimental writing in this instance via the work Amiri Baraka – his Black Music and Blues People – and Nathaniel Mackey’s collection of essays Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality and Experimental Writing and his other collected work of essays Paracritical Hinge.|
|6.||Fred Moten, In the Break, The Sentimental Avant-Garde. He writes: You wonder how to play without a bridge, how to navigate what is no longer song but carries song . . .You better know that the bridge collapsed. Don’t just enter the music but descend into its depth.|
|7.||Frank London Brown, Jazz (Wong! went the piano, and now the Monk himself was taking a solo. He played in the low keys, and he played things that by passed the daily bread and the constant tick of the clock. Things that took time into another quarter, where it could not continue its constant repetition of the ancient archetype of beginning, middle and end; time of all times, blood of all bloods, image of all images. The thing done once, and no other thing again to be done. To Ernest, Monk moved history forward, took it from the cold grey grip of the eternal return, the repeating of things done and said, and hence the cyclic circularity of history, and of the future of man, and the end of the bad things, and the beginning of the good things. Forward! Monk’s off chorded notes said. Never to come this way again! There are still secrets to be known. New secrets, not old regurgitated ones of crosses dark with the blood of too many saviors gone wrong.)|
|8.||Amiri Baraka DIGGING: The Afro-American Soul of Classical American Music.|
|10.||We are thinking of his insightful essay Other: From Noun to Verb. He writes and we quote: The white appropriation and commercialization of swing resulted in a music that was less improvisatory, less dependent upon the inventiveness of soloists. The increased reliance upon arrangements in the Fletcher Henderson mold led to a sameness of sound and style among the various bands. In Blues People Baraka quotes Hsio Wen Shih’s comments regarding the anthology album The Great Swing Bands, a record Shih refers to as “terrifying” due to the indistinguishability of one band from another. It was against this uniformity that bebop revolted. “Benny Goodman,” Howard McGhee recalls, “had been named the ‘King of Swing’…. We figured, what the hell, we can’t do no more than what’s been done with it, we gotta do somethin’ else. We gotta do some other kind of thing.” (“Some other stuff,” a common expression among black musicians, would become the title of an album by Grachan Moncur III in the sixties.) Mary Lou Williams said of her first meeting with Monk in the thirties: “He told me that he was sick of hearing musicians play the same thing the same way all the time.” Monk himself summed up his music by saying: “How to use notes differently. That’s it. Just how to use notes differently.” It is no accident that bebop was typically performed by small combos rather than big bands, as was the case with swing. It accentuated indi-vidual expression, bringing the soloist and improvisation once more to the fore. Baraka emphasizes nonconformity in his treatment of bebop in Blues People, stressing what he terms its “willfully harsh, anti-assimilationist sound”. The cultivation of a unique, individual style black music encourages, informs, and inspires his attitudes toward writing. In his statement on poetics for the anthology The New American Poetry, 1945-1960 Baraka echoes Louis Armstrong’s ad-libbed line on a 1949 recording with Billie Holiday, calling it “How You Sound??” The emphasis on self-expression in his work is also an emphasis on self-transforma- tion, an othering or, as Brathwaite has it, an X-ing of the self, the self not as noun but as verb. Of the post-bop innovations of such musicians as Albert Ayler and Sun Ra, he writes: “New Black Music is this: Find the self, then kill it.” To kill the self is to show it to be fractured, unfixed. The dismantling of the unified subject found in recent critical theory is old news when it comes to black music.|
|11.||Thomas Owens, Bebop: The Music and Its Players|
|12.||Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings|
|13.||We lifted this beautiful phrase from Bheki Peterson’s insightful and incisive discussion of the poetics and politics behind Kwaito as a marking moment in Black South African youth culture in his paper titled Kwaito ‘Dawgs’ and The Antinomies of Hustling|
|14.||Bird-Monk Seding i|
|15.||Daniela Demir first published untitled reflections on Bird-Monk Seding on the 14 September 2017, in the now defunct Con Mag and then later updated the piece and delivered it as a paper or talk under the titled quoted in the text.|
|16.||Published in the Mail & Guardian on the 4th May 2018. Reading Russel Grant response to Rampolokeng’s text recalled two things. First, Kelwyn Sole in Aesthetics and impasse of South African poetry criticism has harshly lambasted the reception of Rampolokeng’s text – extreme ignorance and deprecatory language in which the view of his detractors have been couched. Bearing this in mind, reading Russel Grant and encountering terms such as tiresome/indulgent/complexity/self-gratifying/hypermasculine describing the text recalls another example of this ignorant grammar of detraction. Second, Kwanele Sosibo’s misplaced and miseducated response to Rampolokeng’s discrepantly engaged and engaging text Head on fire: Rants, Notes & poems 2001 -2011, published in the Mail & Guardian, under a curious titled Fragments of Obscurity, on the 11th May 2012. Encounter references to the work being daunting. References to feeding and chewing all related to the annoying complaint about the difficulty of the text. Although Sosibo admits that the text reaches, lands landscape unseen, uninhabited by the mainstream mould we refer to as the SA literary coccus; Sosibo’s tone in his notes under the subsection Untouched habitats of language taken together with the entire mood of Fragments of Obscurity points out and exposes an intellectual coward frightened by the notion of following the footsteps leading to these landscapes he claimed are untouched, uncharted, unexplored by contemporary SA literary cartography. Perhaps Sosibo’s case is the worse example of the false engagement called out by Sole, for it takes the focus almost completely off the page, directs it on the man and plays foul on the flesh with his ad hominem angle. Rampolokeng himself is being accused of self-indulgence and being obsessed with his own intelligence. Essentially Grant is echoing the same insipid sentiments expressed by Sosibo, yet as Kelwyn Sole argues in the above quoted essay, the rejection and dismissal (whether explicit or implied) is never intelligently argued through.|
|17.||Bird-Monk Seding ii|
|19.||We lifted this line from A Half Century Thing, a lecture titled Writing the Ungovernable – another example of Lesego Rampolokeng’s exercise of Discrepant Engagement.|
|20.||Bird-Monk Seding iii|
|31.||Bird-Monk Seding iv|
|22.||Dizzy Gillespie, Gertrude Abercrombie: Bop Artist, Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora Edited by Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley|
|23.||The piece referenced is collaborated essay-email-interview discrepant engagement exercise that appears in book Ties That Bind: Race and Politics. eds Shannon Walsh and Jon Soske.In her treatment of A Half Century Thing, Stacy Hardy notes: This is recombinant poetry propelled by the refrains and returns of other artists, the sounds and words of fellow musicians and writers that are evoked and manifested, drawn into the movement of new concepts and rhythms, and thus reformulated, re-animated, re-connected, re-booted… diligent about collecting the fragments of the forms he explodes, and always repurposes their shattered essence with humility and laughter|
|24.||Nathaniel Mackey, Other: From Noun to Verb|
|26.||Thabo Jijana Rented Grave: Looking Beyond the Rural-Urban Dichotomy.|
|27.||Stephen Gray Third World Meets First World: The Theme of ‘Jim Comes to Joburg’ in South African English Fiction|
|28.||Lifted this line from David Marriott’s Haunted Life: Visual Culture and Black Modernity. In his treatment of John Wideman’s work in the chapter titled Spooks, in which he calls Wideman’s memoir, The Island: Martinique, a genuinely haunted black text.|
|29.||We are thinking of Achille Mbembe’s and Sarah Nuttall’s Writing the World from an African Metropolis especially the insistence on working with new archives – or even with old archives in new ways.|
|30.||Wilson Harris, In the Name of Liberty|
|32.||Head on Fire|
|33.||Bird-Monk Seding v|
|34.||Lewis Nkosi in Luster’s Lost Quarter, under a subsection titled The Rainbow Nation writes: …If this is simply a description of our multi-coloured ethnic communities rather than a harmonious, equitable share of resources and living space, the ‘Rainbow Nation’ may after all turn out to be Mandela’s grandest fiction!|
|35.||Lewis Nkosi, The Transplanted Heart, Herman Charles Bosman: In Search of the ‘True’ Afrikaners!|
|36.||Herman Charles Bosman, Selected Stories, Makapan’s Caves|
|37.||Bird-Monk Seding vi|
|42.||Ralph Ellison, The Poetry of It, Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora Edited by Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley|
|43.||Bird-Monk Seding vii|
|47.||Bird-Monk Seding viii|
|50.||Lewis Nkosi (references Claude Drevet) in The Wandering Subject: Exile as ‘’Fetish’’, Letters to my Native Soil|
|53.||Bird-Monk Seding ix|
|56.||Nathaniel Mackey, Paracritical Hinge|
|57.||David Marriot, Haunted Life: Visual Culture and Black Modernity|
|58.||George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile, In the Beginning|
|60.||John Edgar Wideman, The Island: Martinique|
|62.||Bird-Monk Seding x|
|63.||Bird-Monk Seding xi|
|64.||Charles Olson, Projective Verse|
|65.||Talking in the Documentary BBC Four 1959 The Year That Changed Jazz|
|66.||Robin Kelly, Pasts, A Sulphur Anthology Ed by Clayton Eshleman|
|67.||Bird-Monk Seding xii|
|69.||Bird-Monk Seding xiii|
|71.||Stacy Hardy and Robert Berold, The Fertile Ground of Misfortune: Teaching Practises in Creative Writing.|
|72.||Stacy Hardy and Robert Berold conducted an interview with Lesego Rampolokeng in the literary mag/journal Illuminations (a special issue guess-edited by Kobus Moolman)|
|73.||Lifted from Ralph Manheim’s preface to Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s Death On The Installment Plan.|
|74.||Roland Barthes From Work to Text|
|76.||Bird-Monk Seding xiv|
|77.||Bird-Monk Seding xivi|
|78.||Robin Kelly, Pasts|
|81.||The book poses a problematic for easily convinced critics who describe Nthikeng Mohele’s Small Things and Fred Khumalo’s Bitches Brew as Jazz novels let alone the best. We must understand that positioning a jazz character as a protagonist in a novel and colouring the writing with a list of jazz songs is not the same as writing to a Jazz aesthetic. What we mean to say is the writing itself does not have any itching nor shows an inching towards the freedom of Jazz improvising and experimental musicians. Neither novels make use of bebop nor free jazz to break away from inherited and heard. No breaking away from inflexible forms of narrative expression. We hope to settle this matter in another meditation solely focused on these said novels. To jazz it up as Sekete says.|
|82.||Lesego Rampolokeng, Head on Fire (DEDICATION: For the Critic)|
|83.||Ramm-Ell-Zee, Ionic Treatise Gothic Futurism Assassin Knowledges of The Remanipulated Square Point|
|84.||Dead Dolls Humility|
|85.||Jayne Cortez, Everything Can Be Transformed, Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora Edited by Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley|
|86.||Marguerite Duras, The Motorway of the Word|
|87.||Taban Lo Liyong, Fixions and other stories|
|88.||Dambudzo Marechera, Black Sunlight|
|89.||Harold Scheub, The Tongue is Fire|
|90.||Harold Scheub, The Art of Nongenile Masithathu Zenani|
|91.||Samuel Delany, On the Unspeakable|
|92.||Mark Doty, On Sexuality and Unspeakability in the Leaves of Grass|
|93.||Dambudzo Marechera, The House of Hunger|
|94.||I’m taking the idea of being in collaboration and concert with… Authors, musicians or film makers… From Mackey and Moten. As opposed to the formal and conventional (academic) referencing or bibliography . The essay was written by myself… Alone. I was just thinking with those books or music that I listed at the end. Forget that thru out I’m using ‘we think’ as opposed to the ‘I think’. I was trying to stick to the communal voice apparent in the very book I’m meditating on. Seding.|