Poet Sinazo Peter says winning the Open Book Poetry Slam in September this year was humbling. The Eastern Cape-born artist, who writes and recites poetry only in her native Xhosa language, was one of the contestants at the annual literary festival, which takes place at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town. The 22-year-old says she’s inspired by her love for the Xhosa language and its clicks.
I first saw Sinazo, who lives in Philippi, Cape Town, at the 2013 Hip Hop Kaslam Awards, where she gave a stellar performance and was crowned Best Vernacular Poet. She has the ability to show confidence and maintain composure while engaging the audience with her words. This is how Sinazo explains her creative process: “A fire starts burning up inside, as though it is trying to break free from the walls of my mind. It keeps ringing in my head until I take pen to paper and write until I’m left with no words.” It’s hard to say how long the writing will take, says Sinazo; it could be a few minutes, weeks or even months, depending on the topic.
Growing up, Sinazo had no idea that she would be a poet, even though she performed some audio drama pieces with Soldiers of Informative Arts, an arts and culture development centre in the Western Cape. She only started noticing her ability in storytelling in 2006, when she had to write scripts for her school theatre group. At the time she also kept a diary in which she wrote what inspired her. It was in 2008, when her mother died, that Sinazo felt the need to express herself more, and started attending poetry sessions. “I wrote a piece called ‘Bam’bulele (They Killed Her)'” says Sinazo. It was the first poem she ever recited in front of an audience, at poetry and hip hop sessions in Gugulethu, Delft and Mfuleni. “It remains my favourite poem.”
Sinazo first got recognition for her talent in 2012, when she entered and won the Vukani Spoken Word Competition. The cash prize she won made a huge difference at home, she says. Sinazo is the first from her family to finish high school, a fact she’s very proud of. In her poetry she deals a lot with the issues that South African youth are currently facing. In “Kubi Ntozobawo” (It’s hard, my people), she talks about HIV&AIDS and drugs on the streets.
Sinazo says she reads a lot of Xhosa novels that help her improve her vocabulary, and she relates to and looks up to actress, writer, facilitator and fellow poet Primrose Mrwebi, who also grew up in a township and worked hard to get where she is.
Sinazo is active in her community too. She works as a facilitator at Our Fertile Ground Organisation at Red Cross Memorial War Children’s Hospital, where she plays with kids suffering from HIV and AIDS, Cancer, TB, and encourages parents to be open with their kids about their status. Sinazo also volunteers as a youth community advisory board member at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Emavundleni Site, Crossroads.
But, of course, her main focus is poetry. She’s currently in the process of recording her first spoken-word album; a digital storytelling documentary called I Rise and writing the first draft of her book.
Find her on Facebook: Cynazo Black-Chick Matyhopho Peter
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