On the mainstage at the Bushfire Festival in Ezulwini, Swaziland, Canadian-African spoken word artists D’bi Young and Croc E Moses take turns casting adjectives and adverbs into a dense crowd.
The poetry of southern Africa is a different beast than the one that lives in dark bars and sparse cafes in Canada—it garners an elevated level of respect.
South African indie music has rarely crossed the ocean to North America’s mass markets—but the genre is developing, and the sound is big, bright and bold.
Gazelle frontman, Xander Ferreira, says South African indie music is in a renaissance period: “We believe this is the future for African music, for people to gather a scene here first and then go and take over the world.”
At the world-renowned artist studio Núcleo de Arte in Maputo, Mozambican artist Fiel dos Santos recalls a childhood robbed by military struggle.
“I grew up in civil war,” says Santos, who was 5 years old when his country became embroiled in a conflict that would last 16 years. “In my area the rebels were coming two times a week, every month, every day — but I’m here.”
“What day is garbage day?” I asked my landlord upon arriving in Malawi.
Expecting her to mention a day of the week, or perhaps direct me towards a calendar affixed to the refrigerator, I was confused by her silence and contemplative blinking. After a few moments of discomfort, I soon learned garbage day doesn’t exist.
In Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial hub, only 30 per cent of the city has access to waste collection—which, as it turns out, doesn’t include my current home. Our garbage doesn’t disappear from the curb like it would in any Canadian city; like most Malawians, we deposit all of our household waste into a metre-deep pit in our yard.
It began with a lecture.
At Chancellor College in Zomba, political science professor Dr. Blessings Chinsinga told his public policy class that Malawi’s shortages of fuel and foreign currency could ignite political uprising. To make his point, Dr. Chinsinga drew matter-of-fact comparisons to the mass protests that toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
Though such discussion of current events may seem commonplace during a university politics lecture, Dr. Chinsinga’s words have since sparked an unprecedented country-wide battle over academic freedom.
In their respective villages, Cecelia Muliya and Esitere Chabwera are regarded as cultural leaders.
The two have worked in girls’ initiation camps for decades, tasked with the role of introducing young girls to womanhood.
Upon reaching puberty, more than half of all Malawian girls participate in some form of initiation ceremony, ranging in length from days to an entire month. Sent away to rural camps, this traditional rite-of-passage is meant to teach girls to take care of themselves, to dress like a woman and to show respect to elders.
From the minibus to the newsroom, life in Malawi can be pretty dramatic.
“Everything in Malawi is theatre,” explains playwright Tawonga Nkhonjera. “The raising of the voice, the tones, the excitement—Malawians will always play with you. Even on the bus.”