Xhosa praise poet, Bhodl’ingqaka, continues to soar to greater heights

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By ZIKHONA NYUMKA

“My life has been dominated by art mostly”. I always say I and my art, we are feathers of the same bird [Singamaphuth’ ahlathi’nye], Bhodl’ingqaka said.”

Bhodlingqaka whose real name is Akhona Mafani, is a locally renowned Xhosa praise poet and creative artist who hails from the dusty streets of Vukani location in the City of saints; Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown). The poet is a product of Shizzo Manizo productions, a respected local record label that is owned by Lonwabo “Dezz” Gwente and Siphelo “Nqontsonqa” Dyongman. The record label has also given birth to several local artists from
the Vukani location.

His love for the spoken word was conjured by the free poetry shows which he attended at an early age at the National Arts Festival. In 2011, Bhodl’ingqaka, garnered enough material, courage and confidence to start performing publicly. “I had a conversation with my notepad. I felt like I needed to put the words that I harboured inside me from a young age on paper. In that moment I felt no more inferiority complex, no more taking myself down”, he explained.

The rising star has showcased his talent in a variety of festivals throughout the Eastern Cape and beyond, such as the Puku story festival, held annually in Makhanda which is aimed at promoting and preserving indigenous languages since its inception. In 2018, he performed in the Gcin’amasiko festival, a festival hosted by Mam’Gcina Mhlophe in Durban. Bhodl’ingqaka also collaborated with her in a production called Ivili. In the same year, the
star graced Port Elizabeth community at the Ndlambe Music Festival.

In previous years, the praise poet performed izibongo in praise of James Matthews, the late Saba Mbixane, Xhosa novelist Professor Peter Tshobisa Mthuze and even the Xhosa king, Zwelonke Sigcawu. Bhodl’ingqaka has also shared a stage with prominent South African storytellers, comedians and music groups such as The Soil, Loyiso Gola and Mam’Gcina Mhlophe, to name a few.

In 2017, he released a 10-track musical poetry album, entitled Iintonga Zetyendyana which in English translates to “the sticks of a young boy”. The album was recorded at the world renowned International Library of Music at Rhodes University. It provides a narrative of his life in Vukani, with reference to social injustice, local community issues and lost love. He has collaborated with afro-soul songstress, Nombasa Maqoko on a song that is making waves in local musical charts entitled sasingobani.

Poetry is not this young star’s only forte, as he is also making waves in the dramatic arts realm. He wrote a play entitled “Befile nje basathetha” which won an award for the Best play in the Makana Development Festival which was held at Rhodes University. Bhodl’ingqaka gives credit to his late former English teacher from Nathaniel Nyaluza High School for guiding and mentoring him in honing his dramatic arts and poetry skills, Steader
Nkwinti. “When I met him, I would say that was the part in my life that I feel was enhanced and it was given fruits and encouraged to grow more in many platforms”, he further explained.

Whenever the poet steps on stage he always leaves a lasting impression. However, according to the Daily Dispatch, the praise poet caused an uproar during a Word Fest which is currently known as the Literature festival at the National Arts Festival, in 2017 after reciting a political poem which criticised former President Jacob Zuma’s corrupt practices. This saw the rising star being banned by the Eastern Cape’s Arts and Culture former MEC Pammy Majodina from participating in provincial arts and culture events for life as she felt that he was
disrespecting the president.

According to the star the line that got him banned was “sizenzile masingakhalelwa kuba sawuyeka umhlaba wazama-zama wazuma eshosholoza ngomtshini wakhe namhlanje usibethe ephangweni”. “No one approached me and asked me what does the line mean”, the poet said in his defense. Bhodl’ingqaka further added that his aim was not to be disrespectful towards the president, however he wanted to address or show that the reason why the country was in turmoil was because of the former president’s corrupt ways.

“I was speaking directly to the president as a poet as I have the authority to say, to demand and command that this and that cannot happen because we were given a license as poets to speak about issues”, Bhodl’ingqaka explained.

Dr. Mhlobo Jadezweni from the School of African languages and literature at Rhodes University shared his thoughts on the matter. “Traditionally, a praise poet has the right to speak using izibongo and figures of speech in a tactful manner to address issues of the nation that have or need to be rectified,” Jadezweni said. “This is because praise poets are the voice of the nation. Although they have this right, it does not mean that they should use it to speak harshly or in a harsh manner,” he added. He went on to explain that praise poets should speak in a tactful manner that shows respect and to show that they respect their language and their nation.

According to Bhodl’ingqaka, they (him and the Department of Arts and Culture) have since buried the hatchet as the Department invited him to perform at the opening of the National Arts Festival in June last year.

The ban did not stop the rising star from spreading his wings as he is currently working on his second album entitled Mandingathuli, produced by Elijah Madiba at the International Library of Music (ILAM). The album touches on social ills and environmental affairs. “Many people have died through the chains of silence”, said Bhodl’ingqaka. He explained that with this album he aims to raise awareness about the importance of breaking the silence about socio-political issues and issues of love.

To honour his mentor, Bhodl’ingqaka started a theatre company called the Steader Nkwinti legacy that is aimed at developing and nurturing young and upcoming artists in the creative arts. According to the poet, the company is planning on showcasing four productions in this year’s National Arts Festival including We have no choice, Befile nje basathetha and Ingoma play that won the Standard Bank encore award highlights the beginning of the youth uprising in Grahamstown in 1975 at Nathaniel Nyaluza High School. These three plays were written and directed by Bhodl’ingqaka. The fourth production that they will be showcasing was written and directed by the late Nkwinti, entitled Yima, bheka ubone.

According to the poet, he also wants to “play a part in social cohesion” by uniting people through art and to combat crime and substance abuse in the community through the development and nurturing of young people’s talents or skills. He is hoping to achieve this through the Vukani festival which he established in December 2018. The festival features storytelling sessions, poetry, music, and dance workshops. “I hope to grow this festival into a large landscape”, he explained. He is appealing to companies for assistance in achieving this goal.

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