There is so much to celebrate when we consider our country and our people and the arts have a huge role to play says DIANE DE BEER:
Watching the first season of The Voice SA some time back, the overwhelming feeling was surprise at how specifically the format impacted this country.
It wasn’t that race or colour was an issue, it was precisely because it was taken out of the equation, with the judges turning their backs on singers vying for contestant status, that the magic happened and just kept rolling in.
With this current season and a change of judges with an unexpected dynamic, the impact seems even more emotionally driven. Lira is the only one from the first round and she is joined by Ricky Rick, Riana Nel and Francois van Coke. The fact that she speaks Afrikaans adds another dimension, but it could just as well have been Riana speaking Zulu, a similar impact would have occurred. As South Africans we know these cross-cultural exchanges are still too rare and always hugely appreciated and acknowledged.
The audience shows that all the time and just seeing South Africans come together with such gusto is such a treat – especially now. It’s a reminder of who we are which isn’t always the message out there.
I haven’t calculated or counted but it feels as if the majority of contestants are either of colour or Afrikaans-speaking and that also makes for some fascinating stereotypes biting the dust. And the reaction of the judges as well as the audience which is as mixed as it should be, reflects the importance of reconciliation – still.
There’s huge reaction when a black contestant for example translates a popular Afrikaans song into Zulu because she loved the song but didn’t understand the lyrics, or when a prospective contestant chooses a judge and that choice seems at odds with their race. When someone singing in Afrikaans for example, goes for Ricky who doesn’t understand their home language, it is powerful in the context of our country. And then Francois van Coke remarks on the lyrics of a Zulu song obviously understanding the language. It’s lekker!
Mentioned in any other context, all of this would be difficult to understand, but in a country with our past, small gestures still have massive impact and what should be expected is still unexpected. Yet the goodwill is overwhelming and in our current climate of political chaos and upheaval, like a breath of fresh air on a Sunday night.
When people are in a creative space and left to their own devices, it seems to result in only good things even when there’s a competitive edge. Especially in this country where the arts had such impact during the struggle years, we should not be surprised by the healing impact that is possible even in these random spaces.
Hugh Masekela used to say that white people were also deprived during the apartheid years because they were cut off from the creativity of most of their countrymen and when you listen to the music and how it is interpreted by different language groups and the impact that has on everyone, it reinforces the strength of diversity. Music in all its different forms (like sport) is a universal language which is again so clear as this one plays out.
It’s such a neutral space for people to come together to play and that’s where South Africans show how their diversity comes together powerfully and why people are truly the strength of this country. When we get together and embrace, we can truly be proudly South African – and are.
The arts are in dire straits in this country because funding has been impossible in these dire times. Yet even with these odds, artists will find a way to perform and get the message out there. That’s also in spite of arts coverage which has dwindled disastrously in traditional media. So strange that because I would have thought especially die-hard newspaper readers would want more of that.
Watching two recent performances from two young coloured men at consecutive Afrikaans art festivals, both dealing with what felt like very personal stories if not of them individually, from the community or perhaps both, the power of storytelling and eventual healing for both performer and audiences was rewarding.
Both Jefferson J Dirks-Korkee with his luminous Rooilug at the US Woordfees and Carlo Daniels with the innovative Klippies van die Grond at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) announced their strong presence in this artistic space with stories that were self-written or with some help.
The talent though was evident in these two young men who entered a world outside their comfort zone, though one that had flung open its arms to encourage new voices from a wider South African community to tell their stories. This is how we get to know and understand one another. That’s always been the most positive strength of the arts in this country.
It is in our stories that we find common ground and empathy for the other’s circumstances. That’s what especially these Afrikaans festivals have done almost unwittingly. Because there’s a real desire (growing stronger in this past decade) to be inclusive, people get to hear from one another and more often than not, it is the similarities rather than the differences that come into play. But it is also the chance to acknowledge the humanity in us all that adds to the insight.
Living in a country so fraught with racial inequality – still – where one group remains empowered to a much greater degree than another, it is in the arts where we can stand still, tell our stories, reach out and start understanding and embracing the lives of others.
Embracing diversity is not encouraged in our world today, but our past has handed us some insight and the gift of understanding how easy it is to turn our backs but how rewarding it is to celebrate the diversity.
With yet another Freedom Day on the horizon, it’s about time.
Viva the Arts Viva!