Andrew Manyika says: “I posed the question to myself: “Would you write if there was no one there to read it?” When I realised the answer was “yes” I was reassured that I was living out purpose.” We caught up with him ahead of his showcase on the Word N Sound stage on April6.
WORD N SOUND: You’ve showcased on the Word N Sound stage before, tell us about that experience.
ANDREW MANYIKA: Ah, my first showcase; it was also in the first weekend of April last year and it was great. I remember I had flu that day and was a little worried it’d impact the show, but when I got on and the nerves settled, I just had so much fun. It was a great audience and they allowed me to bring to the table everything I wanted to and we all had fun.
How have you grown as an artist since that performance?
I’d like to believe I have. I continued in the Word N Sound Open Mic Poetry League for the remainder of that year and the self-imposed pressure of having to come up with competition-worthy material every month forces one to hone one’s showmanship. Also, I don’t like to repeat myself on stage, so I had to keep bringing fresh concepts. Doing so has put me in a position where I can say that at this point, I pretty much live outside the box.
How would you describe your writing style?
Broad and adventurous. My mission statement as a writer is to “create and capture, moments and memories”. I try to keep the subject-matter diverse. My aim is to look for the unusual angle on whatever my subject might be. So you’ll find with a poem like “Consequence” I use the allegory of a hapless bird to describe a love struck girl; then with Cedars of Lebanon, I use trees to symbolise relationship. And with “Make Up (Your Mind)” I was really speaking about self-esteem. I’m trying to learn to get comfortable with a range of styles.
How much preparation goes into your performances?
Yho! I tear myself to pieces trying to make it work. I approach a show like I approach a poem; with an initial idea of what needs to be in it. Then on the basis of one simple theme, I’ll start building around that. So, in this show for instance, my initial idea was “what am I gonna wear?” and everything built from there. Considerations include: a set-list (which may or may not require the writing of new material); wardrobe; props; music; stage design; rehearsal and collaborators. I didn’t know this about myself cause I was so shy growing up, but it turns out I loooove to put on a good show. That’s why I get incredible nerves before. So I guess the final preparation is reminding myself to breathe.
Who/what are the influences behind your writing?
My favourite genres of literature are Science-Fiction and Classical Literature. They have their influence. In high school we studied an Anthology called “Many People Many Voices”. I find that even now, more than 10 years down the line, my mind refers back to some of the things I read in there. Greek mythology plays a part, as I really enjoy those stories and that storytelling. I allude to many concepts from there (which you’ll hopefully get to see if I perform my poem “Structural Integrity”).
What inspires you to keep writing and performing?
Two people who perhaps unwittingly inspired me to keep writing are my homie Ashley Ushamba, and my cousin Tawanda Madzikanda. When I was in high school, Ash just had this entertainment spirit in him that was contagious, you felt you could be more and do more around that guy. When I stopped writing for a few years in High School, it was the discovery that my cousin also wrote that got me back into it.
My inspiration to keep writing? I had an epiphanal moment in 2008 I think it was, when I realised this is what God made me to do. Recently, I posed the question to myself: “Would you write if there was no one there to read it?” When I realised the answer was “yes” I was reassured that I was living out purpose.
My inspiration to keep performing? I wanna put on extravaganzas of shows and I have so many ideas that can play out on stage.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the poem “Make-Up (Your Mind)”?
Ah, THAT poem, haha. I’d just come off a Word N Sound Experience in Durban, and was watching an episode of CSI at my place. So, the victim in that episode was a porn star with heavy make-up on, and before they could perform an autopsy, they had to wipe it away. One of the agents remarked that “she was a girl-next-door” underneath all the stuff. So, the idea came from there.
Early drafts of the poem had the lady taking her make-up off, but um, that changed. It was important for me to get ideas of self-esteem in there cause I’ve noted that many people lack it, and make themselves difficult to love as a result. Those were the core ideas that went into the 12 day writing process.
Can I just reiterate that I have no problem with make-up, I rather like it actually, my problem is with external loci/ measures of self-worth.
Do your religious beliefs shape your poetry?
They do. I believe in Christ, and have accepted him as lord and saviour. I also believe there’s a high standard of life and afterlife that he wants all people to experience and if you go through my works you’ll find that to be a thread that’s present (sometimes prominently, sometimes subtly) in them. If my writing can lead people to Christ, then my work is done.
Who are the poets that you look up to or aspire to be like?
A long time ago there was a man named Aristophanes, I’ve not read his work, but I liked that he was a comic-poet and that’s something I aspire to do. To be honest I don’t watch or listen to a lot of poetry. I know how my head can be, and there’s a very real danger that if I let too many voices in, I may lose my own in the ensuing melee, and originating concepts are very important to me. When I’m consuming a lot I’m not producing much, so I have to learn to strike a balance.
However, as part of Word N Sound, I believe I work with some of the best poets in the country, so I have a bunch of inspirational people around me. That being said, Thabo Manoto (Ellipsis) is definitely one of my favourite writers. I also respect the works of guys like Mutle, and Fragment.
Here’s something only a few people know: my first introduction to Spoken Word material was the Inaudible album “Definition”, and I think that joint is classic. So the fact that I’m showcasing with the same cats that made it, that’s special for me.
What should we expect from your showcase?
*insert cheshire grin here*. You can expect me to tear the roof off! The theme for the show is “Suit & Tie”. We’re gonna have music, laughs (stand-up), and models. Poems both new and familiar, and a major announcement about plans for 2013.
I’m preparing very hard for this show and I want everyone (self included) to have a memorable time. Cause I’ve said it time and again, Word N Sound is the premier poetry showcase in Joburg, and I just wanna show you a few of the reasons why I say so.