(I interview Chirikure Chirikure)
At a literary evening organised by Pamberi Trust and hosted by the Spanish Embassy on the 25th of June,2012 Memory Chirere (Zimbabwean writer and poet) interviews Chirikure Chirikure who was in the country for three weeks from Germany where he currently resides. Later on,Gerald ‘Synik’ Mugwenhi, Ticha Muzavazi, Chiwoniso Maraire and Okay Machisa performed with Chirikure Chirikure.We bring you here the full interview transcribed by Batsirai E Chigama. ++ A version of this interview also appears on:http://www.batsiraichigama.maumbile.com/blog/chirikure-chirikure-anga-ari-pedyo
MC: Good evening to you all. Many thanks to those who invited me to interview Chirikure Chirikure, with the view that my contribution may add value to this programme.
Our guest tonight, Chirikure Chirikure, was born in 1962 in Gutu. He is a poet, writer, actor, cultural consultant and translator. A graduate from the University of Zimbabwe, Chirikure is also an honorary fellow at the University of Iowa, USA. He worked with one of Zimbabwe’s largest publishing houses, College Press as an editor for 17 years until 2002. Chirikure has been based in Germany for the past year after being selected to be part of the DAAD Artist in Berlin fellowship which has seen him performing across Europe and lecturing. Chirikure went on a two week poetry caravan tour of Indonesia, with poets from all over the world as part of the DAAD exchange initiatives. His poetry in Shona is now translated into languages which include Indonesian, Chinese, German, Dutch, Spanish and French.
His works include the shona poetry anthology, Rukuvhute(College Press, 1989), Chamupupuri(1994), Hakurarwi published in Shona with English translation(1994), a children’s book Mavende akiti(1989). Chirikure has also written Zimbabwe Junior Certificate Revision book (1989), co-authored Zvirimuchinokoro, published by ZPH in 2004. He now has a new poetry anthology Aussicht auf eigene schatten with poetry in Shona, English translated into German. The book comes with a recorded poetry on CD.
One of Chirikure’s recent achievements is the decision by the Vienna airport, Austria to display one of his Shona poems “Kuenda, Kudzoka” in their departure lounge with effect from June 2012.
He has also been involved in music and his musical recordings include Napupekeni(2002), a fusion of mbira and poetry. He was also involved in the Ray of Hope compilation, a Rooftop production. Chirikure has worked with many artists in Zimbabwe including Oliver Mtukudzi, Chiwoniso Maraire, Albert Nyathi and bands like Uya Moya and Detembira. His latest cd is called Chisina Basa.
I first met Chirikure exactly twenty years ago. I had accompanied Ignatius Mabasa (from our student base at the University of Zimbabwe) to the ZBC radio 4 in Mbare where Ignatius was going to read his poems for airing on Chirikure’s programme, ‘Vanyori vamangwana’. I ended up reading a few poems of mine as well at the instigation of Chirikure. He invited me to submit poems for an anthology he was compiling, which later got published later on as Tipeiwo Dariro. Since then we have become familiars. Today we exchange roles and I will interview the man who interviewed me on air during our first meeting.
Chirikure, how has been your stay in Germany? What have you learnt in Germany and what have you taught them in return?
CC:I was stationed in Berlin. It has been 12 months, the program is well arranged and designed and quite flexible. They network for you such that you end up doing more travelling than staying in Berlin, travelling in Germany and surrounding countries like Austria, Switzerland and sometimes to the UK as well. The good coincidence is I had the book published in June for which the contract was done before I was even awarded the fellowship. By the time I got to Berlin the publishers were in touch with DAAD, so from the onset the publishers and DAAD were working together arranging the program for me; readings, lectures, performances, collaborations with Zimbabwean musicians based in Europe as well as European musicians and musicians from other parts of the world. It was quite an experience in that you are on the road for two, three weeks in a row, moving from one hotel to another, one country to the next to the extent that you end up getting confused as to where you are exactly. My son who is at university in South Africa kept on sending emails saying I was living like a rock star which is quite a unique opportunity in performance poetry. Also I got the opportunity to collaborate with artists across all the genres; I had opportunities to contribute to films, documentaries and audio recordings. I did a beautiful collaboration with a German beat-boxer fusing poetry and beat-boxing, we recorded one of my poems from the new book, a 4-minute recording. Quite interesting and fascinating experiences is when you are invited to a hip-hop festival and you are asked to perform with hip-hop artists and initially I would say, O my God, so you go on the internet and try to listen to hip-hop, trying to see how best you can be meaningful to the young audiences…
MC:…and what have you taught them?
CC:Teaching them is a very difficult thing to say…
MC: I mean; What did they say they like about you and the way you work?
CC:What I tried to do, first and foremost was carry the Shona language as much as possible and carry workshops talking about the Zimbabwean Culture but I also did a few things with young children, primary school kids doing story-telling, tsuro nagudo, but also got the opportunity to perform with mbira and do my humble dance just to share the rhythms of southern Africa and Zimbabwean culture. You wouldn’t say you are teaching as such but you are sharing a little bit of what you can carry on your shoulder as a son of Zimbabwe and I think it’s up to the listener to say they have picked one or two things out of it…
MC:I asked that question because more often the impression when one goes abroad among some people is that this person who is coming from Africa to Germany, is just going to benefit, just imbibe what is there and there is nothing he is going to teach and leave behind… which can be dangerous…There is a title poem, from your book here, Rukuvhute (reads the poem). Chirikure, is there anything about yourself that you think is left out whenever you are introduced to an audience?
CC:The internet has come in a very dynamic way in the sense that sometimes you feel very naked and highly exposed like the saying they have, is it in the Ibo language…the higher the monkey climbs the more it exposes…(applause)
MC:…itself , the parents are here…
CC: (laughs) So in a lot of ways people have so much information about you but the funny side of things is that most discussions end up drifting into the political environment of Zimbabwe and very few people really bother to ask the simple things like how many meals you have a day…simple things.
MC:Chirikure Chirikure, what is your relationship with this name? (applause) What have you lost or gained through it? What have you noticed through this name?
CC:My mother is here as my witness, the name I have is a genuine name. (applause) It was given me at birth, but, like the average human being, when I got into my teens, I was ashamed of the name and I adopted the name Carlos.(laughter all round)
MC:Carlos who? (laughs)
CC:Carlos Chirikure, it was cool, really cool. (laughs)Later on as you get to university you get to appreciate the honour bestowed on you by your parents to be given your family name as your first name; you feel you are carrying the whole family. It gives you stamina, not just intellectual stamina but identity. A lot of people think it’s a stage name and most of the times you get invited to festivals they say, please confirm whether this is your real name before we send your ticket. Now I feel it’s an honour to carry this name and I am proud.
MC:Chirikure, what would you put down as the Chirikure Chirikure brand.
CC:To use the Shona language to talk, day to day, international, local and immediate issues instead of using the Shona language as a cultural relic where we use the Shona language to do traditional praise poetry; those things are important and part of our lives but I think we are living in a society which is on a constant transition and our language should be able to interrogate all the issues any other language of the world can interrogate. I have tried my best to use my poetry in the Shona language to interrogate issues…
MC:Why have you made this huge investment in a language that is only spoken by ± twelve million people in the whole world?
CC:I think the language itself has invested so much in me that I’ve to pay back. It’s not a free loan, by putting as much as I can into the language, into the culture, I am giving honour to those who taught me this language as well as my society. To share that with the rest of the world gives dignity to my people, to myself and make others appreciate our language.
MC:Do you feel pity for the Shona language?
CC:Nooooo, not at all…
MC:What do you mean?
CC:Pity means probably the language is dying…
MC:Why are you carrying this cross, some people would ask. You go to Germany to perform in Shona, you do well and you go to London and perform in Shona and you do well… what is the problem with Chirikure, some people may ask.
CC:Germany and London saw me doing things I do in Harare, in Gutu, Masvingo and that is what they loved, then the connection goes on and in a lot of ways it’s a mark of respect of the work that I am doing.
MC:They loved you for your performances in Shona and therefore you want to carry on?
CC:It’s much more than the language itself, I think it’s a lot of what you talk about with the language and also the respect you have for your language that makes other people respect your language too…
MC:…and in turn respect you as well…
CC:I don’t feel like I am carrying a cross as such or rescuing a language, I am giving honour to something that I was given by my fore-bearers and I am celebrating the beauty of the language, the beauty of philosophy in my own language, the beauty of the rhythm. I don’t think it would be a mission to rescue something, it’s a mission to give honour to something which already has honour, a mission to say hey, look at what we have here…
MC:Rukuvhute, the anthology, is generally about a sense of belonging. Do you still feel like that? Don’t you feel like a man of the world,now that you’ve travelled a lot?
CC:I’ve travelled a lot and it’s a big honour…
MC: (recites)‘Handisi dombo, huku kana mhepo kwete,’ powerful first line from the title poem. Do you still feel like that?
CC:If you are travelling and are not living from any particular base I don’t think you can travel very far because you need to have a reference point and say, I left from Harare airport and people ask where is Harare and you explain. It’s unlike coming from the blue…I don’t know if I am making sense?
CC:In a lot of ways one cannot forsake their own background and if one makes that mistake, I don’t think you can go anywhere in life. One has to continue respecting where you come from, continue honouring those who gave you the skills, those who gave you the opportunity to be what you are. I think people wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting you and working with you if they feel you don’t belong anywhere.
MC:Are you boasting?
MC:Tinobhomba, I like this one, I read it and say why didn’t I write this one.
CC:You know what can I make a request Prof, we had agreed with Chiwoniso and friends that…
MC:…I am not going to read it now. It’s in your latest book and the question related to Tinobhomba is this one, get ready: Although you perform, one could sense the literary tone behind your work in that it lends itself to being studied. I also note that you are very much connected to the spoken word artists here in Harare. What relationship do you have with them? I remember Musa Zimunya, who also writes, being asked the same question a year ago at the Book Cafe. Chiri, do you feel threatened by the young spoken word poets? What is your relationship with them?
CC:That’s three parts there…
MC:Yes. Although your poetry can be performed, it also lends itself to being studied. It can also be read quietly and therefore; what is your relationship with spoken word artists, do you feel you are complementing them? Are you competing against them? I don’t remember how Zimunya answered the same question a year ago.
CC:It’s quite a big honour when you can put down words. I remember when Rukuvhute came out we had a few problems with some professors who were saying it’s not the kind of poetry that can be taught in schools or colleges because it didn’t fit into the pattern most people had been taught about what poetry should be.
MC:They were lying because so many articles have written about Hakurarwi…
CC:…but that was the first few years in the 90s when Rukuvhute came out but with time, people realise what you are trying to do and the connection between performance poetry and the written and published poetry. It’s also good that the books are being studied now which is a good opportunity. In terms of the spoken word environment in Zimbabwe, I have worked with so many fellow colleagues in the spoken word field and also try to connect most of them with other international and local initiatives.
Threat? I don’t feel threatened at all because if one can be honest I’ve pretty much done my fair share and probably started at a more difficult phase of our historical development as a country, with limited resources, limited connections and a lot of intolerance in terms of the environment as well. Now I think things are much easier. It was a big honour for me to take poetry right in front of an audience so it’s so much of a big honour when I see younger poets coming on stage and we work together in the Poetry Slam for example at the Book Cafe for which they have been generous enough to accord me as the patron of the program. I work with a lot of them through the HIFA poetry spoken word program so it’s much more complementing each other than being threatened. It’s that when you are building a wall you lay down the foundation and someone comes and adds two rows of bricks and cement and you see things growing and I hope things will continue that way, that we continue working together and complementing each other.
MC:What is the real value of poetry in a society like ours? What is the real value of poetry beyond reading for the exam? Can a poem build a house? Can a poem build a blair toilet?
CC:I think a poem builds the brain which then builds the blair toilet.(laughter all round)In a lot of ways, I think poetry is a very crucial part of our society. Art in general helps us shape our minds, shape our vision, share our sorrows, dreams and our passions. It makes our society much more cohesive and it opens doors for discussion. Look at the past ten/fifteen year in Zimbabwe for example, we were so very politically divided it was either you belong here or there, as artists we have always tried to open platforms for people to debate, to negotiate and share your own feelings and I think any society that doesn’t communicate with itself is doomed and I think Zimbabwe was heading in that unfortunate direction. You look at poetry performance the world over, in primary schools in Zimbabwe, at festivals, people move out of those shows discussing and debating and I think it’s a contribution to the global growth of a society and I think Zimbabwe needs as many spoken words as possible to help the nation move forward. We need a lot of healing…
MC:Chamupupuri came out in 1994, and it has short-sharp poems. the title poem refers to British Prime Minister MacMillan’s words during his address to the South African parliament on 3 February 1960. The speech acquired it’s title from the now famous quotation embedded in it. Macmillan said “the wind of change is blowing through this continent whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a fact.” Chirikure, what did you want to achieve with Chamupupuri both at the level of style and content? Did Chamupupuri blow up the people? Chiri paiko chamupupuri ichi?
CC:That was 1994, do I remember what was happening?
MC:ESAP was beginning to bite and so on…
CC:Like you said, the reference to the British Prime Minister’s words and analysis within the context of a continent which is evolving and addressing a South African parliament at a point where we were also hitting hard against the British society, politics and colonial baggage was also a risk and gamble on my part in the sense that you are…you know what I am trying to say. On the other hand the bottom line is where there is wisdom we should accept words of wisdom whether they are coming from a mad man or not or whether they are coming from your enemy or not and try and learn something from whoever is saying something meaningful. In terms of my vision I also saw our society going beyond what MacMillan was referring to, he was talking of the winds of change in terms of moving from colonialism to independent Africa but I tried to look further, the majority of African countries after independence lot’s of other issue came in, more like the whirlwind. The winds of change turning into whirlwinds, picking up more speed and destroying their own more than the enemy so I tried to stretch Macmillan’s vision into a more futuristic…in terms of style; how does the poem go I can’t quite remember…
MC:I like the poem 'Pfungwa dzebenzi', are you going to perform it tonight? You can read any other that you are not going to perform tonight.
CC:I am very honoured to see that the University of Zimbabwe has this book(referring to Chamupupuri that Memory Chirere was holding).
MC:Ja, we have it and you can read it now. Tell you waht,I like that poem a lot.
CC:(Reads Pfungwa dzebenzi)
MC:Maybe a young poet would be sitting out there in the audience saying, 'Well you (Chirikure) are a poet, a musician, and the question is Chiri, what have you achieved through your artistic work? Ungoriwo rombe here? Chii chinobatika chaunoita namabasa aya?'(applause)
CC:In terms of material things?
MC:Just shoot in any direction because the youngsters are always asking this question, whether you are a musician, whether you are a poet. They are always asking us, 'Chii chamakazowana pazviri?'
CC:Ah, ndozonetswa mumbhawa ndichinzi tenga doro. (laughs)
MC:I want you to volunteer whatever you want to volunteer. It’s very important. You are actually a role model and some of the people here are the youngsters who admire you. They want to know kuti zvinombopei? Shamwari dziri pano, vabereki vari pano. just be careful.
CC:I will be as careful as possible, I have been fortunate in that I’ve always had other jobs, full time jobs. I was working as a publisher for years. I was working just down the road for HIVOS up to last year as a Programme Officer for culture. And the writing and performance side of things were always coming in as things I would do after hours but the artistic side of things has opened so many doors for me including being invited to do copy for advertising. There, I would get quite a bit of money, doing translation work for NGOs like UNICEF over the years, doing a lot of stuff for radio and television and newspapers. This is all because people identify that you have a bit of ability to work with language and in the process I have managed to give the family at least three meals a day for all the past years, which is a big honour…
MC:That’s an achievement.Sadza rinonetsa.
CC:Sadza rinonetsa and also to pay school fees for the children and buy uniforms and once in a while bring my father and mother a packet of sugar. My son is at university at Rhodes. I have never been given the opportunity to be given the Presidential Scholarship to send my son. I have been paying from my poetry and from my work as a publisher.
MC:Mazvinzwa here imi, mamwe marombe imi? Hurombe hwedu uhwu, kwanza hunobhadhara! (laughter all round)
CC:Also I have friends like you, Tuku, Chiwoniso, Machisa and others who are here tonight. We work together, collaborating, contributing lyrics and through that you also get a little more than what you would get from performing. You know when we started performing at the Book Cafe, Chiwoniso here is my witness, we would be given a plate of sadza and two beers then we would go home. But after years, people started appreciating what we were doing and slowly agreed to pay to get into our shows.
MC:Zvaingonzi sadza nehwahwa izvi, zvonzi- hamba?
CC:I think the bottom line is the passion and the drive, I think eventually if you keep holding on you will get something out of it. Shimmer (Chinodya)my good friend over there can be my good witness, Chiedza Musengezi, Virginia Phiri. You work so hard over night, sleepless nights, it’s very easy to give up actually. You look at others driving nice cars, they did accounts at university and you decided to do Shona and Divinity and you say ok, where did I go wrong. Eventually when you see things adding up like that you also enjoy the little you are making and the things you are doing. It’s a big, big blessing to make a living out of what you enjoy because a lot of people I know go to their offices and curse themselves everyday, jump into a combi kuenda kubasa and when the day is done they go kubhawa to get past the fights they had with the manager manje isusu naChiwoniso tikaridza apapa tonakidzwa hedu whether we make a cent or not, basa redu kufara nekufadza vamwe whilst enjoying.
MC: Thank you Chirikure. Thank you all. Please, do not go away because Chirikure and friends are now going to perform.