Home / Word on Wax / Volume II
“Ang’hlose ukumbulala umadam, ngifuna ukumthatha ngebomvu ibhathu, ngizume emva kwesibuko erobhotini, ngimsikaze ngehlo elimdaka, ngimkhumule amaketanga, ibag namagadgets kube ngakimi, ngimvonce, ngikhethe ezemali yami endleleni, ngimshiye enqunu emakuleni, avuke elazi usizi lok’phelezela abantwana abalambile es’kolweni …..” Makhafula Vilakazi
When we say an artist’s work is life-changing, it can also mean that we do not want to imagine life before encountering their work. It’s not because we want to indulge in the erasure of everything we knew before, but because we cannot comprehend how someone had not gone “there” before them.
Such is the uniqueness and force of their voice that it is as primordial as creation itself.
Makhafula Vilakazi conjures entire worlds, not mere words, when he spits. The fact that his persona (his birth name is Matodzi Gift Ramashia) grew from a poem he wrote goes some distance in explaining how much he embodies.
I first encountered his work through the crackle of a cellphone speaker, held to my ear by fellow wordsmith Common Man.
How was it possible for someone to relate the bottomless pit of township life with such cinematic clarity, and yet emerge unscathed to tell yet another tale?
What shortcut had he taken? Whose style had he bitten? Which of his gents had he sold out? How much was he keeping to himself?
Makhafula shatters the myth that we should celebrate township life because it is life as we know it. “I think the fact that some people make the best of it should not be seen as anything positive in the greater scheme of things,” he says. “I try not to cast judgment in my writing on things that might be perceived as wrong, because wrong in that environment might be different to wrong in a normal environment.”
The fact that people can sometimes evade and circumnavigate systemic oppression does not normalise it. For Makhafula to consistently foreground this is not an act of madness but of deep “love for society”.
Makhafula Mushrooms is, in some sense, a self-portrait of the artist. The location (Spruitview), the live recording, and the presence of an audience, is, to some degree, a returning of the gaze that forces a heightened air of responsibility on both the artist and audience. It increases the tension between the performed and written aspects of his craft. There is a sense that all of history depends on this, while at the same time this recording could only be a curated snapshot of a moment.
Over solemn dirges such as Tschaikowsky’s Symphony No. 5, Moses Molelekwa’s Bo Molelekwa and Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Makhafula draws from an existing body of work while threading a theme (titled Isicathulo Esibomvu) throughout the recording.
Iscathulo Esibomvu, is a tale of a robbery gone awry told in real time. Because Makhafula has set up the environment and the circumstances of the protagonists in the beginning, by the time one of the robbers meets his demise in the backseat of the getaway car – with dreams of wedding his baby’s mother in heaven in a three-piece Versace suit and with a hollow-point ring – our sympathies are with him and our condolences with his seed. As Peter Tosh probes in Equal Rights, Makhafula is asking us to consider who the real criminals are in this society.
Ngifuna ukuba infecta, delivered here to Rachmaninov – Prelude in C Sharp Minor, works in reverse. We do not get to fully understand the justification for the protagonist’s vengeful rage until the end. In the beginning, we are merely told, “You don’t know me. Ungangijaji ujahile bhuti angizanga ne AIDS.”
The variations in pacing and structure suggest a man versed with the emotional impact of storytelling beyond flashy phrasing and punchlines.
In this recording, Makhafula uses both tsotsitaal and English but his proficiency is clearly in the former; the polyglot lingua franca of South Africa’s mass concentration camps.
“With English, my writing could only be as good as much as I had read, but in tsotsitaal, it became more of storytelling,” he says. “My only obligation now is how creative my storytelling is.”
Meeting Botsotso Jester Ike Muila (the featured artist in Scamtho Shrooms) in 2004 signalled Makhafula’s “breakaway from English”. What was a loss for Glen Dlamini’s Queen Elizabeth, was a baton safely passed from jester to township chronicler.
The cohesion of this set is startling; the overall solemnity suggesting that instead of Sophiatown, it is these dastardly locations that we have gathered to see demolished. But for now, we struggle on, for Jericho did not fall in a day.
Recorded live at the Votos Logos Car Wash in Spruitview on 1 November 2014
On the Word : Matodzi Ramashia aka Makhafula Vilakazi
On the Wax : Radio Robert
Vocals : Nosisi Ngakane and oNe:Drous oNe*
Host: Kool oNe Ebony
Audio recorded and edited by Bobby Quick
Audio mixed and mastered by Tshepang Ramoba
Liner Notes by Kwanele Sosibo
Cover Design by Rasik Green
Live Graffiti piece by TMac1632
Photographs taken by Akona Kenqu
De La Rey
Filmed by Naledi Chai & Mpumelelo Mcata
Film edited by Nhlanhla Mngadi
Features footage from a documentary released in 1938 titled “Die Bou van ‘n Nasie“
Filmed by Naledi Chai & Mpumelelo Mcata
Film edited by Naledi Chai
Additional editing by Nhlanhla Mngadi
Features an excerpt from the track “White Nile”, by Kelan Phil Cohran & Legacy.
Curated by Andrew Curnow & Nhlanhla Mngadi
This show is dedicated to the eternal life force of Tonderai Makoni ……. aka Kingpinn ……. we holding that torch, Brother….
- Extract from Peter Tschaikowsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E [Major]
- Roland Kirk – The Inflated Tear (Atlantic, 1968)
- Lester Bowie – Lonely Woman (Muse Records, 1974)
- Nina Simone – Dambala (RCA, 1974)
- Kelan Phil Cohran and Legacy – White Nile (Captcha Records, 2010)
- Rahsaan Roland Kirk – Seasons : a. One Mind Winter/Summer and b. Ninth Ghost (Atltantic, 1973)
- Donald Byrd – Cristo Redentor (Blue Note, 1964)
- Duke Ellington – The Single Petal of a Rose (Pablo, 1976)
- Moses Molelekwa – Bo Molelekwa (B+W Music, 1996)
- Serge Vassilievich Rachmaninov – Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Op. 3 No. 2, performed by Ilana Vered (Decca, 1974)
- Jean Wiener – L’enterrement de Ferrier (from the film soundtrack for “October Revolution”) (Philips, 1967)
- Extract from Maxim Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 2 (“October Revolution”), performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Igor Blazhkov (His Master’s Voice, 1967)
- Extract from Moussorgsky’s “Pictures at an exhibition” (orchestrated by Ravel), performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Herbert Von Karajan (Columbia)
- Extract from Saint-Saens’ “Symphony No 3”, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (RCA, 1960)
- Extract from Max Roach’s “Prayer/Protest/Peace” (Candid, 1960)
- Extract from Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” (Orchestra under the direction of Gil Evans) (Coronet Records, 1960)
- Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess” (Orchestrated by Eumir Deodato) (CTI, 1973)
- Donny Hathaway – I Love the Lord; He Heard My Cry (Parts I & II) (ATCO Records, 1973)