Spoken like a true slam poet

Siphokazi Jonas.

Spoken word artist Siphokazi Jonas said she would love to see more support – from audiences and businesses – for her artform.

“With corporate performances, its easier to book artists such as musicians and dancers, but I don’t think people have caught on that spoken word could also have the same impact.

“It would be great to see the city opening doors for poets.”

But despite the challenges poets in the city face, Siphokazi has managed to make a name for herself, having travelled to Los Angeles to perform spoken word poetry there, in between writing productions, theatre work and private gigs.

In her latest work, Siphokazi will join Dizu Plaatjies on the Artscape stage in a production called Road Trip, on Heritage Day, Sunday September 24.

She will narrate the musician’s journey through poetry.

“My role in this was to write the outline of the script, and also I’m using poetry to narrate his life story.

“Dizu is an amazing artist – very humble. This production has been a beautiful collaborative effort with music, acting, dance and poetry. It’s going to be much more than what people think it will be.”

Siphokazi grew up in Queenstown, and in high school, had had her mind made up that she wanted to be a doctor.

“In Grade 10, I saw my biology teacher’s text book and it freaked me out, so I decided to become a scientist instead. I moved to Cape Town and studied biotechnology at UCT, but before the year was over, I already knew that it wasn’t for me.”

She then switched to English and drama, and obtained Bachelor of Arts degree, and later, her Master’s degree in English literature.

While she did her Master’s, she continued to perform, much of it, spoken word poetry.

Asked why she chose this form of art, Siphokazi said: “I think poetry chose me. I wrote poems since high school, and that should’ve been a sign that becoming a doctor wasn’t for me.

“I just wrote, until I was introduced to spoken work poetry when I came to Cape Town.”

She said when she was younger, she wrote about what was happening in her life and in the world.

“I still write about this, but I find that I’ve been writing a lot about women in rural areas, where my mom is originally from.

“That has become an interesting topic to me because it’s a story that is not told a lot – the history of our grandmothers, our mothers, our aunts.”

Siphokazi’s big break came when she attended the annual Music Exchange conference at the City Hall.

Here she met many stars and producers who inspired her, but, most importantly, the conference equipped her with what she needed to make a living from her art.

“The conference talks about art in business, and that changed my life. And with this knowledge, I learnt how to build a brand, how to represent myself, and basically everything an artists does off stage.”

She said performing spoken word was different from writing a poem and reading it.“I have a theatre background, and I still do theatre. I don’t think everyone can perform spoken word. Some people are fine with reading poems rhythmically, but not everyone has the instinct. Spoken word is more of a performance than a poetry reading.”

She said the city centre was home to two of the biggest local spoken word poetry events – the Cape Town slam and InZync Poetry Session.

Both take place at the Fugard Theatre as part of the annual Open Book Festival. “With the Cape Town Slam, we do three preliminary slams across the city, and the winners of those slams compete at the Fugard Theatre.

“At this year’s Cape Town Slam, I was on the panel. The InZync happens at the end of the Open Book Festival, and it is just a performance of poets – it brings poets from all over the city together.”

While Siphokazi has worked at a few corporate events around the city, she said not enough people know about it.

“I would love to see people in the city and the City of Cape Town supporting poetry. It’s often at the forefront of social change and talking about issues that are relevant and reflecting the moment.”

“Poets are available, its just a matter of those opportunities opening up and giving us a chance to collaborate with other artists.

“When applying for funding for projects, spoken word is not even on the list of arts. Poetry has still not been seen as a conventional art form.”

Siphokazi said while the city centre was one of the most beautiful CBD’s she has ever seen, she felt it carried a heavy history, as it includes parts of District Six and features like the Castle of Good Hope and the Slave Lodge. “The way in which the past and the present are trying to work together makes it a very complicated space to live in.

“It’s like there’s a ghost of an unresolved past, and I don’t know if the past and the present are at peace.”

She said there was also a sense of exclusivity, where people who come to the city don’t really feel like the space belongs to them.

“Most people just see the city as a place to be to work in. The city needs to open itself up more. I see it happening, but more can be done.”