Art is a tool. One that is able to mobilize and organize. Communists know that, Socialists know it. Anarchist know that and of course, capitalists are cashing in on it. But then art is double-edged sword, one that lends itself to abuse and misuse by both the artist and the capitalist. Richard Roodt, better known as Quaz knows this very well, and chooses to spend much of his time and efforts playing on the other side of the fence, the positive side that is.
Mma Tseleng* takes a moment to talk about art, activism and community organizing with Jozi based artist Richard “Quaz” Roodt a few weeks before the release of his collection of poetry titled, The Orange Book Vol. 2.
I have come to know you as a prolific cat, not only through your multifaceted art practice but also as an activist and community organizer. I would like to know your thoughts around poetry and writing in general, in relation to organizing and social change.
Firstly how I view poetry…it’s a very sharp tool because it can tell you directly what the problem is or what the solution is, you know. Or at least according to the poet or the person speaking. So I think in that regard it’s something I hold very dear because I understand its power, you know. You can make someone feel very good and you can stop someone from being suicidal almost, by just speaking the right words without you even knowing, you know. So, in that regard I think it’s important for us to…as poets always keep that in mind when we perform or when we write.
In relation to community work, activism and mobilizing people…there was a guy named Pops, I remember years ago at Cool Runnings he did a poem, and he told people not to clap and asked them this question:
“To all the poets who are coming on, are you coming on to incite or excite?”
And he left the stage. And that always stuck with me you know, you can step on stage and do a jiggy poem and get people excited and get them in the moment and that’s it…and then it dies. Or, you can say something and incite a feeling and incite activism…When he said that I think it also answered the question, yes poetry is very much able to do that. To incite and bring about activism. We have to speak to the right people in the right tones and reach out with the right messages to get through to them, you know. So I think it’s a tool to incite. It is definitely a tool, one of the things is that its direct, it gets to the point right now. In terms of…ei man; this is the story lets do this; this is the situation in this community lets talk about it right now without covering it up or hiding it in too many fancy words and whatnot. So I think in that regard it’s very much important to have as tool for activism.
And also yeah man, I think it also helps open people’s minds to the things that we are trying to do; it’s a tool that has many different facets. And it’s important that we understand these things and not just step on stage and wanna get applause. You know…
Yeah man we need to treat it with some level of respect no doubt.
Poetic license allows people to do what they wanna do with poetry as a craft. It is an art form after all. How do you balance figure of speech, metaphor and the whole aesthetic of writing with directness? I pick up directness as essential to poetry in your views.
Personally, I think I’m going through a change right now in terms of how I construct anything that I do, from the raps to how I perform. Even how I approach things in life I make sure that the point is made clear and to the point. I mean beautiful poetry is in your language, how you use your language to put things together you know. But also the content sometimes there’s this underlying content that people need to get. It shouldn’t be covered or overshadowed by beautiful words you know. So it’s a fine…you really need track those lines to make a personal decision like; do I really wanna excite you? Or am I trying to incite you. And that depicts how you gonna perform or even how you gonna construct your performance you know. I know for instance that when I have something serious to say what I would do is flip the performance you know, give the performance some kind of air or a different kind of energy. Just so that it gets people listening, gets people to take note. Once they see a physical performance then they start listening to the words. So you really need to bridge those gaps and make sure that the one doesn’t overshadow the other. It’s also, its really a personal choice on how you gonna write or how you gonna describe a scenario. I mean someone like Lesego Rampolokeng if you read his books; it’s a hectic it’s like head rush even…
You know, but then again you sort of want to come away from all of that. There’s certain things, underlying themes that can be standing out. I think he’s developed a way of doing that. I think he’s a perfect example of someone who had managed to get a style and in the same way not compromising what they are saying you know.
So its really a personal journey that the poet has to take cos the writing itself is very personal. You don’t write when there are people in the room or you don’t write in front of the audience. You write at home when you are alone with your own thoughts you know. So it’s a personal thing it’s a…how do I feel at this moment, how am I gonna say this? Am I concerned with rhythm, or the aesthetics or am I more concerned with the musicality of it or the content of it? So…yeah man it’s a very good question and I think its something that every poet probably asks himself when he writes a poem you know like, how am I really gonna approach this. And ya, it varies from whomever to whomever.
You come across as… bitter…I don’t find bitterness in your poetry, but I do find anger here and there. You direct anger at poets who spit doom on stage [Eish mara poets…]. You are angry with people who do their thing and leave the city dirty [Such is life] or their places and life in general because how you treat your environment is a reflection of how you treat yourself right? Although what we do to our environment is not what we usually do to our homes but yeah…you portray anger at such things, it comes through in your poetry you know what I mean? And you are also skeptical of virtual reality [email@example.com] and all of that. But I also enjoy that most of your anger also have solution in it. I wanna get back to your community organizing, your work as an activist and how that is informed by your poetry and your writing. The activism aspect of it, how do you do that on a practical level?
I mean for start I guess the content of the poetry sort of deals with those issues you know
But then also what we do is, with my crew Likwid Tongue [Haaaaaaaa!] we have this charity aspect to all of our shows, this community building way.
People can come through, you can do your love poem whatever but if you donate clothes, you are an activist although you came through under the guise of a poet who did a love poem you are still being an activist or are socially active by donating a blanket or tinned food you know. So I think that’s one of the ways that we are using poetry to reach out to the community and do those sorts of things.
And another way is just making sure that what we portray what we give to the people is in line with what we are pushing with our shows. If we gonna say we are activists and people call us to do an AIDS show you know, the priority would be for us to go there and do the show. As much as people’s mind states are changing around it, then only maybe we can talk about money but the purpose of it was served in terms of; we went out there and we spoke about the issue that needed to be spoken about you know. And everything else is secondary.
So we try and treat it like that everything we do we serve our purpose first before we worry about money or recognition or articles in magazines or whatever you know. Just making sure that we do the…put action into our positive lyrics. If you saying you doing it for the kids then come through and do something with the kids you know what I’m saying. If you talking about dirt in the city then ey man, pick up a broom and sweep or pick up a paper when you walk past it. That is also activism and the beauty about it is that you can do things that people don’t necessarily have to notice for it to be activism.
And also man I think we just try and stay positive through what we do you know what I’m saying. Make sure that we create a platform for other writers. That was the initial mindset behind Likwid Tongue. If we don’t have performance venues and performance spaces and people ain’t letting us in then let’s create the platform you know. That in itself is a form of activism cos someone who doesn’t have a voice can then step up and say; there’s a stage there’s a mic let me say what I have to say you know. Through that as well you build contacts, go to other places where we haven’t been and see where we can lend hands and whatnot you know. So I think it’s important for everyone to have that mindset, you don’t have to go out and be dressed in khakhis and military green to be an activist you know. You can have your pointy shoes and drive a BMW and still do the same thing you know what I mean…
…So its really just a mindset of how you perceive what you do, anything positive and any contribution that enhances everyone else around you for me its activism you know what I’m saying.
Profound. Indeed. Lets move on to publishing, as in print form. The value of poetry as performed links very well with that of oral tradition. It also bridges the gap, reaching out to those who don’t read, whom disturbingly enough is a large amount of people in South Africa. Why is it important for you to move to print form?
Eh, I was just having this conversation with the lady outside! Firstly when I go that’s a part of me that lives on you know what I’m saying. It’s a physical part of me that people can say; ey man, this was Quaz this was something that he put together. That’s why like as a recording artist you should record as painter you should paint because in so doing you live on afterwards you know. Secondly I think, not a lot of people come to shows not a lot of people are open to shows.
But if you give someone a book chances are five people will read that book cos its gonna move through their hands. Its also for me, in particular when I did that book I thought in this group of people, artists I find myself in this kind of era no-one is really putting together anything like that you know. So its also for someone our age, I mean a lot of people know me so it would be nice to say; oh that’s Quaz! I don’t read but I know that nigga so let me read his book. So I think that was also a way of getting to people our age who aint really into reading you know. There are a lot of hip-hoppers who know me, and a lot of activists and people on the ground and underground-wise that knows me and don’t necessarily read but if they know the author and know you in particular…
It’s a gateway…
Yeah it’s a gateway and next thing they be like; oh hey you do this? Let me go to Keleketla [library] and see what you do there next thing you know, he’s here and he starts reading a book. Its really just a continuous chain of things…but most of all as well I think its important as poets and as writers to put our works together in publications. You don’t have to go out and do an expensive whatever…just as long as your work is together. So that when it leaves you it starts existing in other spaces other than just where you are when you performing it you know.
So it’s important for us especially to start putting out journals and things like that to document what’s happening now you know what I’m saying. And not have, fifteen years from now we start scrambling looking for footage and trying to remember…putting articles together you know. We can just refer back to things like these and say; hey go to page sixteen and read about that poem it talks about what was happened in Joburg in 2008 you know. Or; ey man, this man has a journal and wrote an article on Jacob Zuma that reflects on the political situation at that time. You don’t have to make a big deal about it its just, make sure that the people get it. If they read it they read it if they don’t they don’t but you sure that it lives on and twenty years from now you can use it as a reference point almost you know. Go back and say; yo man, this is what happened and I was there you know and my name is written right there you can see it.
In terms of putting things together and your name of it, how independent is The Orange Book Vol 2? How much support are you getting from structures and bodies out there. Who is publishing this?
Right now its very independent you know. There are a couple of publishers who have shown some interest, one in particular is extremely interested but for now i’m going ahead independently, because as much as they are interested, they don’t really have the same sense of urgency to get it out like I do. I am also very lucky to be surrounded by multi skilled artists and friends who have been sharing their knowledge, time and resources to make sure that this is a success. Keleketla Library is definitely supporting the book in a big way, and that’s cool. Those guys are really positive and it helps to also surround yourself with people like that…aweh
The Orange Book Vol. 2, what is it you hope to address though it?
For starters I hope it would encourage people, especially people our age, to read and to start looking at things in a new way.
It might not be in line with my thinking or with the poems in the book but as long as it encourages them to think, and not just accept what the machine is force-feeding them. There is really a wide range of topics I address, from love, city life, hip hop, self maintenance, insecurities, happiness, dull days to even taxi drivers. These are all from my perspective, from where I’m standing, encouraging others to tell me what it looks like from where they are standing…you know?
If there’s one thing you wanna see change in society, what would that be?
IT would be so cool, if we could all develop a sense of community. If I do well, share with others, or teach them the skills to be just as successful as you are. Imagine if we all applied that sort of thinking to our lives how productive and happy we would all be. The way we treat those who don’t have as much as we do needs to change. I say WE because I think to a certain extent we are all guilty of forgetting to treat everyone equally…the guy with the merc, his soul has the same value as that hobo on the corner you know?
I know. Thank you for your insights Za’Uq.
Ah noh, Faya! Good looking Mma Tseleng.
The Orange Book Vol. 2 is out. The best way to get it really is to write to firstname.lastname@example.org. He can arrange for postage if you are in Messina, or Korea, or Mississippi or Lagos. He is independent, you know?
you can also purchase the book from the Consciouness website here
Otherwise Keleketla Library is stocking it for your convenience. It will also be available at all independent joints in Jozi think Ritual Stores, Thesis and of course, his backpack
*Mma Tseleng is a former shepherd, now the goat of the road straddling Jozi streets looking for dope stories straight from the horses mouths.