Live Mag

Imbawula – storytelling reimagined

by: Aluwani Ratshiungo - 2 March 2015

Upstairs in the coffee shop, people were enjoying the music and mingling with a glass of wine here and a bottle of beer there. By 19:25 they had already filled up the basement of Bean Republic ready for the second instalment of Imbawula which started at 19:30 as promised. The event which is meant to be intimate and cosy has attracted so many people, there were people standing and the spillover had to watch the screening upstairs proving that people have been yearning for this sort of initiative for a long time.

For the musical element of the storytelling event, Melo B. Jones the resident performer, serenaded the crowd with her acoustic performance of originals and covers. Livity Africa founder, Gavin Weale, who was one of the speakers at the event played a surprise four hour DJ set featuring old classics from Fela Kuti, Al Green, Janet Jackson to ODB, Boom Shaka and J Dilla, just to mention a few.

Live SA sat down with two of the speakers, writer Nandi Dlepu and social entrepreneur Gavin Weale to find out what they had to say about Imbawula and storytelling.

 

Livity Africa x Imbawula 2.0_ Feb2015_ ©Siya Mkhasibe  001

Who is Nandi Dlepu?

I am a creative, feminist and mother.

What is your relationship with storytelling? Why do you think it’s important?

One of my fondest memories is of my cousin telling my siblings and I stories about uJakalashe nomVolvo (The Jackal & The Wolf) . All stories started with “Tsom tsom ngatsom” which loosely translated means tale of a tale of a tale I think, hahaha! Anyway the trick to telling these stories was that they were made up. They were always about The Jackal and The Wolf but you made up their adventures. Pretty neat don’t you think? Anyway, those were some of my fondest memories with storytelling so I’d say my relationship with storytelling is a sentimental and personal one. With the amount of literature I consumed as a child I inevitably fell in love with the relationship between words and started writing poetry as a teen.

I think anything that encourages you to harness your imagination is vital. We are nothing without our imagination. This world was built on imagination.

Do you have any memories of sitting around a fire or imbawula sharing stories? If not, what was the equivalent?

We spent a lot of our Christmas’s eBofolo. We sat in the dark while my cousin told us intsomi. I don’t think we had any electricity back then so it was just us kids, the jackal, the wolf and the glow from a single paraffin lamp.

Who is your favourite storyteller? (Author/Musician/Poet/Filmmaker)

I don’t have a favourite storyteller. I like a good story sometimes I can’t even remember who by and where from.

If you were to host your own Imbawula and had to pick four storytellers for the night (famous or ordinary, dead or alive) who would make the list?

Oh man. I’m geeing out at all the possibilities. Nina Simone, Che Guevara, Nandi Zulu and I have no idea who that forth person is! hahaha. Honestly I am stuck.

Africans have a beautiful history, but because of colonisation, slavery, famine and genocide, the narratives we see are always predictable. Why is it important to find other stories to tell?

Storytelling should embody every aspect and perspective of life. As African people we are not limited to the atrocities committed against us. Our experience of life is and has been varied and our stories should reflect that truth. But to be fair there’s no escaping history and history is context. I personally am at a point where I’m one with the bias or skew because our struggle makes up a huge portion of our most recent history. Its top of mind and will thus exist in our stories.

Do you think the art of storytelling is fading and if so, why do you think that is?

 I really don’t think so but that could juts be in my “world”.

How can people contribute to the preservation of storytelling and in turn, literature?

More of Imbawula, more events inspired by Imbawula, more spoken word festivals, more book festivals and more workshops. I don’t believe there’s a lack of interest just a lack of activity.

What was your story about, for those who were not at Imbawula?

This past Thursday I spoke about love. How I have come to define it and its revolutionary & transformative nature.

 

Livity Africa x Imbawula 2.0_ Feb2015_ ©Siya Mkhasibe  002

Who is Gavin Weale?

I am a journalist, originally, now I run a business and I get referred to as an entrepreneur but I’d never call myself that.

What is your relationship with storytelling? Why do you think it’s important?

I’ve always been a writer. Ever since I was probably 4/5 I’ve always enjoyed writing stories. One of my ambitions in life is to be a novelist. I have written lots of fiction and a book that has not been published yet and two other books that are half done. Storytelling is part of what I do everyday in my business. For example, applying for funding is about telling a story to someone about something you want to achieve but haven’t achieved yet and making them believe it.

Storytelling is important because it’s part of all us. It’s part of every culture and tradition in the world. Stories are what have carried history and they’ve helped people communicate before there was any kind of written media or social media. Stories are part of the fabric of being human.

Do you have any memories of sitting around a fire or imbawula sharing stories? If not, what was the equivalent?

I remember having uncles and cousins who were good storytellers but for me it’s always been about the written word. At school – creative writing – that’s where storytelling happened for me.

Who is your favourite storyteller? (Author/Musician/Poet/Filmmaker)

Kurt Vonnegut who wrote Slaughterhouse 5. He tells beautiful, strange, very human stories and he’s funny as well. Film directors would have to be Stanley Kubrick and Terence Malick.

If you were to host your own Imbawula and had to pick four storytellers for the night (famous or ordinary, dead or alive) who would make the list?

  • Kurt Vonnegut cause I think he makes amazing speeches.
  • Kurt Cobain cause I’d like to find out what went through his head before he shot himself in the face.
  • My grandparents, one from each side cause I never met them and would like to know more about my family.

Africans have a beautiful history, but because of colonisation, slavery, famine and genocide, the narratives we see are always predictable. Why is it important to find other stories to tell?

From my perspective as a foreigner, there’s so much more to Africa than what the world sees and it’s very easy to assume stereotypical narratives about Africa and African people which I probably believed when I moved here but it has taken me a while to realize that there’s so much more complexity to life here. I think what happens here in South Africa is genuinely unique and exciting and valuable in the world especially given its history so I just wish people would get a chance to get to understand this country in more detail and not just jump to the same old boring conclusions.

Do you think the art of storytelling is fading and if so, why do you think that is?

I don’t think it’s fading. I think it’s probably as alive and well as ever. You could argue that there are more interesting ways of it happening these days through technological advances.

How can people contribute to the preservation of storytelling and in turn, literature?

Buy books. Read, generally. One thing that I don’t love so much about modern society/culture is the shortening of the attention span and the devotion to a device. Young people don’t read as much as we did and that’s a shame because I think some of the most moving and valuable stories you can hear are on the written page and they require patience and time to absorb. I hope the art of long-form reading doesn’t fade as technology changes.

What was your story about, for those who were not at Imbawula?

People often find themselves in the position of feeling like an imposter, that they don’t belong where they are whether in their lives or their careers. I talked about how I learned to embrace and enjoy that feeling ever since I was called an imposter by my headmaster at school.

As the cheesy but very true saying goes, “a reading nation is a leading nation” and with initiatives like Imbawula and World Storytelling Day(20 March) encouraging literacy, you can’t help but be excited about the future.

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