Aspects, confrontations, challenges and opportunities

While on the road as guest and featured author I happened recently to meet one of the main figures of the spoken word scene in Berlin and managed to sit down and chat with him about the aspects, confrontations, challenges and opportunities that various live platforms offer to this form of art. What came out was fascinating – I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did!

Soar: Who is the writer Naniso Tswai or how would you describe yourself?

Naniso: I am mother’s son, for everything that I have ever done is tilted and determined by that relationship.

Soar: You shifted from academic to fictional writing. How do you cope with this duality? Are there other facets in your writing?

Naniso: I used to be consumed, and unhappily so, with the problem of duality and finding a comfortable space between academic and fiction writing. However over time I have found that space. This occurred organically. And although my writing style and approach will always be informed by my academic background, I can safely say that I am now a fiction writer.

I used to be consumed with the problem of duality

Soar: What is Spoken Word to you?

Naniso: Spoken Word is the creative and harmonious space in which I can express the traumas, celebrations and tribulations of the things I have lived and observed.

Soar: How important are the written words and how important is the performance thereof?

Naniso: I would say that it is 50/50. Spoken word is the perfect meeting point of these two, and one must strive to excel in both in order for Spoken Word to be successful.

As an artist, the spotlight of the stage is a place of remarkable tranquillity

Soar: Is spoken word a form of business (being in the spotlight, gaining fame) or of pure pleasure as compared to the written form?

Naniso: Speaking as an organiser of events and spaces, it does have that business aspect, as very often you are required to manage strong characters and boisterous egos. As an artist, the spotlight of the stage is a place of remarkable tranquillity, where it is possible to both discover and lose yourself within the performance itself.

Soar: What do you feel about poetry slam vs. open mic?

Naniso: I think that both have their place within spoken word. My personal reluctance towards competition notwithstanding, I believe that slams have their value in so much as they allow the artist to see their progress and establish a different relationship with their audience. Both poetry slams and open mics have their place, and offer a particular contribution the spoken word community.

Soar: Which are in your opinion the best themes for spoken word performances: shocking, smooth, trendy, unique?

Naniso: Any theme that encourages the artist to speak their truth in as many and various voices as possible.

Soar: Which are the countries/continents visited where you performed?

Naniso: I have been fortunate enough to have performed on three different continents: Australia, Africa and Europe. Within all of these I have found varying types and forms of spoken word communities.

It’s all about context

Soar: Did you feel a difference in perception of the same piece, maybe due to the cultural and political backgrounds, or your words (emotions) reached equally the same everywhere?

Naniso: It’s all about context. Words exist within context, and as such we are required as artists to be mindful and calculating in our use of different words in each context. For instance, whilst I am always black, what is black changes, shifts and alters within different contexts.

Soar: What was the personal impact from such public/venues? Did you ( have to) adapt your performance to each country/public?

Naniso: I don’t believe that it is possible to repeat a piece in exactly the same way, as though the text may remain the same, the context shifts along with the audience……so we, as artists, must adapt.

Soar: Why is it important for you to travel around the world with your message in a time of high-speed internet and instant worldwide access, when also online live performances are accessible?

Naniso: Online performances cannot compare to live performances as they lack particular dimensions. That feeling of being present cannot be replaced or substituted with a video.

Everything that you are is also on the stage, body and words

Soar: Did you acquire something from Spoken Word?

Naniso: I believe that I improved as a performer. I also learned that I need to write for Spoken word, for my words to be spoken. Everything that you are is also on the stage, body and words; I think that’s very important. I learned a lot from Spoken Word, such as my ability to write narrative writing. I am indebted to Spoken Word for allowing me to find platforms and forms of expressions.

Soar: You are the co-director of Berlin Spoken Word, an artistic outlet in written and live forms, open to an international public. Are there other ways in which you support this form of art?

Naniso: We run a variety of artistic and community based projects that run adjacently to our main weekly event BSW: Live. The common thread that runs through all of them is the desire to support oppressed communities, and raise awareness of social injustices. Our various projects include: Sharing Words That Matter, Berlin Unspoken, Berlin Outspoken, writing workshops.

Soar: How do you see the survival of Spoken Word and its manifestation in the future?

Naniso: I am very proud of Berlin Spoken Word, and where we have come in such a short time. It is my hope and belief that we must strive to share and spread the amazing spirit of the evening, and thereby provide others with a space and voice for their truths.

Soar: Is there anything that you would like to add/comment?

Naniso: Thank you for your time! You can find me here.

Thank you!
Berlin, 12.04.2017
( for IndieRepublik, Germany)