(picture:Memory Chirere interviews Chirikure Chirikure)
At a literary evening organised by Pamberi Trust and hosted by the Spanish Embassy on the 25th of June 2012, Memory Chirere(MC) interviewed prominent Zimbabwean poet Chirikure Chirikure (CC) who was in the country for a three week break from Germany where he is based after being selected to be part of the ‘DAAD Artist in Berlin fellowship’ which has seen him performing across Europe and lecturing. 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.The large gathering enjoyed the interview.
Extracts from the Interview:
MC: Chirikure, how has been your stay in Germany?
CC: I was stationed in Berlin. It has been 12 months. 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. I get the opportunity to collaborate with artists across all the genres. I did a beautiful collaboration with a German beat-boxer; fusing poetry and beat-boxing. We eventually recorded one of my poems from my newly published book, Aussicht Auf Eigene Schatten. 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: I carry the Shona language as much as possible…workshoping, talking about the Zimbabwean Culture. I also did a few things with young children, primary school kids doing story-telling; tsuro nagudo. I also got the opportunity to perform with mbira… just to share the rhythms of southern Africa and Zimbabwean culture.
MC:Chirikure Chirikure, what is your relationship with your interesting 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; Chirikure Chirikure 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 of it.
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. 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 Shona 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: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…
CC:Germany and London saw me doing things I do in the Shona language here in Harare, Gutu, Masvingo and that is what they loved. Then the connection goes on and in a lot of ways, this is 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… I don’t feel like I am carrying a cross as such or rescuing the Shona language, I am only giving honour to something that I was given by my fore-bearers. 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, your other anthology, is generally about a sense of belonging. (recites)‘Handisi dombo, huku kana mhepo kwete,’ powerful first line from the title poem. After having gone all over the world, do you still feel like that?
CC:If you are travelling and are not from any particular base, I don’t think you can travel very far. You need to have a reference point. You can’t come from the blue… I think people wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting you and working with you if they feel you don’t belong anywhere.
MC: Although your poetry can be performed, it also lends itself to being studied. It can also be read quietly. I also notice that you are very much connected to the spoken word artists here in Harare. What relationship do you have with them? Do you feel threatened by the young spoken word poets?
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. It’s also good that the books are being studied now. I have worked with many colleagues in the spoken word field and also try to connect most of them with other international and local initiatives. I don’t feel threatened by them at all because if one can be honest, I’ve done my fair share and probably started at a more difficult phase of our historical development as a country, with limited resources…Now I think things are much easier. I also work with a lot of young poets through the HIFA poetry spoken word program. It is more of complementing each other than being threatened. I hope things will continue that way…
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 mind which then builds the blair toilet.(laughter all round) Art in general helps us shape our minds, shape our vision, share our sorrows... It makes our society much more cohesive and it opens doors for discussion. Look at the past ten years in Zimbabwe for example. We were so very politically divided that 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 their feelings and I think any society that doesn’t communicate with itself is doomed. I think Zimbabwe needs as many spoken word poets as possible to help the nation move forward. We need a lot of dialogue and healing…
MC:Chamupupuri came out in 1994, and it has short-sharp poems. The title poem refers to British Prime Minister MacMillan’s words (about the winds of change blowing through this continent) during his address to the South African parliament on 3 February 1960. Remember, when you published Chamupupuri, ESAP was beginning to bite and so on…What did you want to achieve with Chamupupuri both at the level of style and content?
CC: I also saw our society going beyond what MacMillan was referring to. He was talking about the winds of change in terms of moving from colonialism to independent Africa. I tried to look further. About the time I wrote Chamupupuri, for the majority of African countries independence had been gained but lot’s of other issue came in, more like the whirlwind. The winds of change had turned into whirlwinds, picking up more speed and destroying their very own instead of more the enemy.
MC:Maybe, a young poet sitting out there in the audience is saying, 'Well, you (Chirikure) are a poet, what have you achieved through your artistic work? Ungoriwo rombe here? Chii chinobatika chaunoita namabasa aya?'(applause)
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 zveShona poetry izvozvi?
CC: 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, I would do after hours. Regardless, the artistic side of things has opened up so many doors for me. This includes being invited to do copy for advertising. I have also done translation work for NGOs like UNICEF over the years. I have done a lot of stuff for radio and television and newspapers. This is all because people identify that you have ability to work with language. Through my poetry, I have managed to give the family at least three meals a day for all the past years, which is a big honour. Through that, I have also been able to pay school fees for the children and buy uniforms and once in a while bring my father and mother a packet of sugar. I have also been able, through art, to send my son to university at Rhodes!
MC:Mazvinzwa here, mamwe marombe imi? Hurombe hwedu uhwu, kwanzi hunobhadhara! (laughter all round)
CC: Through art, I have also made 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, they agreed to pay to get into our shows.
MC:Zvaingonzi sadza nehwahwa izvi, zvonzi- hamba?
CC: Yes. 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 art. Shimmer (Chinodya) can be my witness. You work very hard over night and have sleepless nights. It is very easy to give up. However, it is a big blessing to make a living out of what you enjoy most. A lot of people Igo to their offices and curse themselves every day. They jump onto a kombi 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 apa tonakidzwa hedu whether we make a cent or not. Basa redu kufara nekufadzawo vamwe.
MC: Thank you Chirikure.