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2. Interviews with African artists who performed at the Festival de Marseille (2014-2019)

Hlengiwe Lushaba: Giving the bodily archive a chance to testify

Interview by Fanny Robles (AMU)

Texte intégral

1Not Another Diva… was presented in the 2019 edition of The Festival de Marseille, a city well-known to the show’s co-creator, Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula. He came to Marseille in 2016 to perform a dance solo at the Mucem (Hamida et les brouillards), and came back to the Festival in 2021, with both a performance (Banataba, the choreographed journey of a Iengola statue from the New York Metropolitan Museum back to the Congolese village from which it was stolen, on the shores of the Congo River) and a documentary (Lettres du continent, 21 video letters from African choreographers experiencing lockdown). A major voice in contemporary choreographic creation in Africa, Linyekula boasts a career which is a great illustration of the many ways artists originally based in different (and sometimes distant) locations on the continent collaborate artistically. He is, for example, the co-founder (with Opiyo Okach and Afrah Tenambergen) of the Gàara Company, which came to be known as the first contemporary dance company in Kenya, where he was living in 1997. His longtime artistic partnership with Hlengiwe Lushaba is another such example of fruitful transnational collaboration. She is the “Diva” of the eponymous piece – and definitely not just “another” one. The Johannesburg-based actress and singer is a multidisciplinary artist, known for her acting roles in South African TV series Gaz’lam (2005) and Tjovitjo (2017), and South African science fiction blockbuster District 9 (2009). Moreover, she is widely known for her prolific career as a dancer and choreographer, for which she was distinguished by a Standard Bank Young Artist Award and a Gautenc MEC Award for Contemporary Choreography and Dance in 2006 (for Ziyakhipha… come dance with us). She has performed at the MoMA in New York, the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown South Africa and at the Salzburg Festival, among others.

2Co-produced by the Festival de Marseille and premiering in France, Not Another Diva… was performed at the Théâtre de la Sucrière, an open-air amphitheatre nestled in the François Billoux public garden in Marseille’s 15th arrondissement. The choice to locate one of the highlights of the Festival in this unfairly overlooked venue of the city’s Northern suburbs (“Quartiers Nord”), was part and parcel of the decentering (or re-centering) strategy of the Festival. Belying the stigma of poverty and violence for which these districts have sadly come to be known in the media, Hlengiwe Lushaba and her co-performers gave a joyfully political concert in which both the usual (mostly inner-city based) Festival goers and the locals (after purchasing one-euro tickets) gladly joined.

Performance of Not Another Diva… at Kaserne Basel

Performance of Not Another Diva… at Kaserne Basel

© Gregor Brändli

3Not Another Diva... strikes us as powerfully political: you start with a rhetorical question and the song “How do I warm up the soul?”, and then comes “Good night”, in which you strike a symbolical match to set your country on fire and rebuild a nation from its ashes. How has the show been received in South Africa?

4We have not been able to showcase a full version of Not Another Diva… in South Africa due to financial challenges but we have had the opportunity to perform versions of Sis’Phumla’s song in Cape Town for the Open Society and in Johannesburg for the UNICEF online anti-discrimination and anti-racism conference. It does feel like people are craving to be seen and these two encounters have given us an opportunity to attend to this very urgent need. Not Another Diva… is created as a communion performance hence the circle that extends to the audience, so when we speak we speak both to ourselves and those we are communing with. The country we speak of is not just my country but spaces and systems that weigh us down as humanity. Here we say goodnight to poverty, corruption, to foreign aid, Xenophobia, Hate Speech, Sickness, Mortality, landlessness and set these alight in order to rebuild from a space of love. It is unfortunate that these ailments exist beyond just my country of birth and weigh down far too many people. So before embarking on such a mammoth task, what’s the appropriate warm up? It seems the physical warm up goes only so far, it is the soul that needs to be warmed up so we can attempt to take off and fly in order to speak to these things from a space less heavy.

5Do you believe that art can trigger political change? What is your take on the current cultural and political landscapes in South Africa?

6Art can change everything... Art is everything...

7It is sad that our lives have been reduced to politics and that politics have become our spokesperson/middle man... it seems I cannot move freely inside this boogeyman called “politics”. I need to be Hlengiwe (human) first before I am a political subject.

8

Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)

Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)

© Themba Madonsela

9Your presence on stage and the political import of your lyrics are reminiscent of other divas, such as Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone. Who are your influences, past and present?

10Of course, the Divas you have mentioned have offered me great courage in the sense that it’s possible to speak your heart/ mind /truth as a woman... But I also come from a long line of Strong Women and my being is an extension of their being. My Mother, who features in the performance, is my greatest influence as well as my children. I also am in love with women from all walks of life who decided and continue to decide in a world that sometimes offers them no choice, to choose and forge their own paths like Sis’ Phumla who I talk about in the “Sis’ Phumlas song” she chooses to say “No thank you”.

11A friend recently shared that sometimes it’s ok to show ingratitude especially when what is offered is not in line with ones’ own truth... I think that this is powerful especially in the context of who I am as an African young Woman. There is a tribe of such women and I am blessed to meet them more often than not on this life path.

12In your performance at the Théâtre de la Sucrière in Marseille, you mentioned the British-Rwandan artist Dorothée Munyaneza as one of these inspiring women. She has been based in Marseille since 2011 and regularly works with the Festival. Could you tell us how you two met and in what sense your personal story and work as a woman artist echoes hers?

13Dorothée Munyaneza is my dear sister given to me on this journey. I met her in 2011 when we were working on Alain Buffard’s Baron Samedi. When she was 12 during the Rwandan Genocide, I was also 12 looking forward to the “New South Africa”. When I met her I wondered why I wasn't aware that just further North of Durban where I grew up there were other 12-year-olds massacred, hiding, fighting for their lives, yet I was very much aware of the OJ Simpson trial and Bill Clinton’s affair all the way across the seas...

14We are both beautiful women, strong women who have inherited a responsibility and who have a desire to see our continent of birth thrive in all its glory.

Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)

Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)

© Themba Madonsela

15During your performance at the Théâtre de la Sucrière, the spectators were provided with a translation of some of your songs, which was very helpful to grasp the political weight of your lyrics. Yet, when introducing “Sis Phumla’s Song” you mention the IsiZulu saying according to which one can never really translate a language. What did you mean by that?

16Well, we only translate the text that is in English... I’m never quite sure how to translate IsiZulu; it’s poetry, a way of life, a philosophy and more, and it sits deeper than just in my mind, so this is our indirect way of asking the audience to trust with their bodies even if their minds cannot grasp what is being said.

17“Sis Phumla’s Song” is a wonderful song about slavery, colonialism, race relations, religion, land spoliation, reparation and, (maybe) ultimately about the weight of all this on women's bodies and mental health. And yet these tremendously serious topics are treated with irony, and this is probably the most entertaining song of the show. How do you manage to strike such a good balance between heavy content and theatrical delivery?

18Is this not life, though? completely juxtaposed... Because I have to continue living and giving life; slavery, race relations, colonialism, etc. cannot be the dress I choose to wear, I am more, much more. I am beautiful and my beauty is a much stronger attribute to share. We choose to tell our stories with much dignity and elegance, choice being the operative word. Is that not what Divas do anyway?

Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)

Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)

© Themba Madonsela

19Regarding the mise-en-scène of Not Another Diva..., there seems to be a central half circle created by the musicians, at the centre of which you are singing, and a smaller circle, located at the back of the stage, on the left, where Johanna Tshabalala sometimes retreats and is at some point joined by Huguette Tolinga and yourself. Is there a symbolism behind this organisation of the stage?

20Sometimes the big circle can be overwhelming, the smaller circle is the place where we go to for realignment, to recharge before attempting to be part of the larger circle, it's basically our filling station, a space imperative to retreat to as artists, as women, as a continent.

21You have been working with Faustin Linyekula since 2012, when you presented Black Music Anyway / Self Portraits at the MoMA in New York. How did you happen to work together, and how do you usually work as an artistic couple? Regarding Not Another Diva... in particular, to what extent did the musicians and dancer contribute to the creation of the whole piece? What part does improvisation play?

22I’ve known Faustin since 2004 when he invited my work to his carte blanche at the Centre National de la Danse to be held in 2005. He saw my work at the 2004 Dance Umbrella and believed, a powerful gift that can be given to any young artist (belief). We have since worked on a number of collaborations…

23We began the Not Another Diva… journey from a desire to dream, a question always present in our conversations and my desire to sing again… after numerous telephonic conversations I then paid him a visit in Kisangani where we continued our conversations in Studios Kabako’s backyard. From these, very strong materials erupted and we started to imagine further than just an album, which is what we had initially set out to do. We then extended the circle to other trusted brothers and sisters... Of course Franck (Moka, machines), Huguette (Tolinga, percussionist and singer), Zing (Kapaya, guitarist) , Heru (Shabaka-Ra, trumpeter), Pati (Basima, bass player) Johanna (Tshabalala, dancer and singer) and Virginie Dupray play an integral part in bringing these backyard conversations to life and also breathing their life experiences into this backyard conversation.

24I’m not sure how to talk to the question of improvisation as in my understanding anything that comes from the body comes from a processed and well documented space. It’s not haphazard but rather carefully channeled. We need more of these moments where we give these archives which is our bodies a chance to testify.

25You are one of the co-founders of The Plat4orm, an experimental space for artists and performing arts in Johannesburg. Could you tell us how the idea of such a space came up and how The Plat4orm works as a venue and producer?

26Princess Zinzi Mhlongo and I needed a Platform to showcase our work outside the red tape (often in conventional theatre) spaces so we decided to create one, we extended it to other independent artists. It was beautiful to create from a place of no fear. I had to leave to pursue other interests but she continues as the director of the Plat4form.

27You are a singer but also an actress, on stage and on screen: what are you currently working on? What are your next projects?

28Yes I am an artist, involved in very diverse projects, however one very close to my heart is KWAMDALI, “a place where the Creator Resides” where we spend time with young people from Bapong North West Province, through various projects we collectively figure out how to dream in spaces where it feels impossible to do so and how to be fully sustainable from the fountain of our own gifts and talents. Not Another Diva still offers us the hope of sharing with different backyards around the world but it has also sparked a feeling of wanting more and more to attend to our own personal backyards, find time for the work to work us. This Covid period has given us an opportunity to pause, recalibrate, breath and listen a little more in order to find strength in spaces we had forgotten.

29I work with Ntsoana Contemporary based in Johannesburg on various projects, recently on Iwundlu the wedding a multi series of work that explores the format of weddings at a time when funerals are so prevalent. In all of that I'm a Wife and Mom to four beautiful children a full-time occupation.

Hlengiwe Lushaba with children from the community outside Daluxolo Primary School in KwaMashu (the school she attended from grade 1 to grade 3)

Hlengiwe Lushaba with children from the community outside Daluxolo Primary School in KwaMashu (the school she attended from grade 1 to grade 3)

© Themba Madonsela

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Table des illustrations

Titre Performance of Not Another Diva… at Kaserne Basel
Crédits © Gregor Brändli
URL http://journals.openedition.org/erea/docannexe/image/12819/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
Titre Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)
Crédits © Themba Madonsela
URL http://journals.openedition.org/erea/docannexe/image/12819/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 400k
Titre Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)
Crédits © Themba Madonsela
URL http://journals.openedition.org/erea/docannexe/image/12819/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,0M
Titre Hlengiwe Lushaba in KwaMashu Township (her birth place)
Crédits © Themba Madonsela
URL http://journals.openedition.org/erea/docannexe/image/12819/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M
Titre Hlengiwe Lushaba with children from the community outside Daluxolo Primary School in KwaMashu (the school she attended from grade 1 to grade 3)
Crédits © Themba Madonsela
URL http://journals.openedition.org/erea/docannexe/image/12819/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 659k
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Référence électronique

« Hlengiwe Lushaba: Giving the bodily archive a chance to testify »E-rea [En ligne], 19.1 | 2021, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2021, consulté le 26 janvier 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/erea/12819 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/erea.12819

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