Mandisa Mabuthoe – a poetic standard-bearer (Botswana)
Having grown up in Botswana a landlocked country with an estimated population of about two million people we find a poet of note who was featured in this year’s Shoko Festival Spoken Word and Hip-Hop Festival. Her name is Mandisa Mabuthoe, and she won the Shoko Festival’s Poetry Slam last year, but she has also been exponentially increasing her fanbase because of her prodigious vocal skills. Mabuthoe is a Tswana native who has also managed to grow her reputation in various art circles because of the passion she has for her work, which is evident when she performs.
By Naboth “Rizla” Rimayi
Growing up in Botswana’s capital Gaborone was no doubt challenging for Mabuthoe. Even cursory research on Gaborone shows a sliding unemployment rate of around 12% that is measurably higher for young people. Despite this fact over the last 10 years, Botswana as a country has transformed from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the fastest-growing economies thanks in large part to its mineral wealth and concentration on the finance sector.
Still, life in Botswana is slow and poets and artists alike find inspiration in the cultural richness richness of the country. Mabuthoe, for example, attributes the storytellers within her family as a huge source of inspiration to her own work.
Besides poetry Mandisa is also a playwright, performance artist, and an art teacher for young people. World Hip Hop Market has this exclusive interview with Mandisa Mabuthoe – poetess supreme.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: Fill us in on growing up in Botswana and who your earliest poetic influences were back then?
MANDISA: Gaborone, where I grew up, is warm, and dry, and small, and slow, that alone is enough to create poetry with. I’d say my earliest influences was the music my family and friends listened to, the story tellers in my family, and later on, creative writing at school where certain teachers stood out, like my 6 grade teacher, in whose class I wrote my first poem, I was eleven, and it was about going to the sky collecting clouds, storing them in a jar and bringing them down to the ground with me.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: How did you get into poetry and what does poetry mean to you?
MANDISA: Probably thinking, feeling and dreaming a lot, and I used to draw a lot too, so self expression wasn’t difficult for me. There was lots to share, and I wasn’t really a talker so I scribbled bits of the feeling in a sketch or a story. I also used to play a lot with the lyrics from some of my favourite songs, look for favourite words in them, and collect themes and characters I related to from story books and movies, like Pinocchio and The Wizard of Oz… etc. I think poetry gave me a relationship with the world that allows me the freedom to actually experience God.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: What has been your most treasured piece to date and why?
MANDISA: I don’t really have one, sometimes I attach to whatever one I’m writing at the time because its usually the one that has stories or lessons for me to think about at that moment, but I don’t really have a most treasured piece… maybe my first poem because it marked the beginning of my work as a poet.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: For people who have never heard your poems what would you say your poems are mainly about and how would you describe your style of writing and delivery if ever you have one?
MANDISA: I would say my poetry is a bit dreamy and sometimes abstract; I think it talks about my human experience, both real and imagined, the spirit world, things that burn, like fear, and things that heal, like love.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: What challenges as a female poet have you faced and how have you managed to overcome them?
MANDISA: The challenge I have is insisting that I am an artist, insisting on making a living this way, and being part of a small growing industry, trying to educate myself and the consumer of my art about the value of art -I mean as a product or service -the cost and the price of it, and what makes it worth that much, and all that industry stuff. It hasn’t really occurred to me during my movement that being female has much to do with it this whole equation. I work towards improving my art, and creating opportunities for other artists to share with us and develop their own technique. That’s a daily challenge I think, can I be better than myself today, can I learn or teach one more thing today?
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: For people that have never been to Botswana and wonder what the poetry scene is like how would you describe it to them?
MANDISA: The scene in Botswana is small and slow like our country and its people, but the movement is alive, there is passion and talent and the levels of awareness and support are growing.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: You were the winner of the inaugural Shoko Festival Poetry Slam in 2011. How has your career been ever since clinching that title?
MANDISA: It’s actually been really amazing, it added something to the way I introduce myself in the context of art, and people like to hear things like that when they are considering you for a gig, but for me, it was my first out of the country festival. The whole event opened my mind, showed me what I can do on a much broader level, so I could go back home and do it fearlessly – more confidently.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: We were glad to see you come back to the Shoko Festival Poetry Slam this year? Fill us in on your participation in the Poetry Slam as well as the Shoko Festival as a whole?
MANDISA: I had an awesome experience at Shoko this year, and I’ve fallen in love with Harare. I collaborated with a Zimbabwean musician, Tariro, for my main performance at Alliance Francais. We had a wonderful time preparing for that and we were well received. I also participated in discussions and workshops throughout the festival, and began the week as the sacrificial poet at the Poetry Slam.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: What projects are you currently working on and were can people find more info about them?
MANDISA: I’m working on a theatre production as well as an album. They are both in early stages of the process, more information about them will be available as soon as I have it.
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET: Thank you for this opportunity. Any last words to the readers?
MANDISA: Eat sleep breathe art!