The Spoken Word Project An interview with Noel Kabelo

Noel Kabelo KB Ringane
Photo: Goethe-Institut/Gitte Zschoch

An interview with spoken word artist and winner of the "Words Up!" contest in Johannesburg, Noel Kabelo KB Ringane.

What is the meaning of poetry to you?Poetry is a vessel of expression, it means to be conscious of the self and surrounding and being able to articulate the feeling into words. I feel poetry has been the foundation of most of the forms of art we have today, it has been a form of verbal expression for most of the leaders and artists we have now and before, Malcolm X, Steve Biko, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther, Ghandi, Shakespeare, Steiner Rice etc. Most of the Rap music, and lyrics in other genres of music are grounded in poetry. Poetry like all other forms of art has the power to influence people, to me that means the a lot, it means we use words to awaken epiphanies, artistically. I have never viewed it as a way of “putting my feelings on the paper”, rather a way to speak to, and for people.

Why is poetry so important to you?

Poetry is important to me because I believe it is important to speak for those that feel but aren’t able to express, it is important because I realise by accepting that I am a poet, I receive the responsibility to carry the torch from those that have passed and to speak truth and affect people’s lives. I am important and so are other poets out there because we preserve this realm of the arts. The first poet I’ve ever seen perform was Tumi from The Volumes in 2009. I do believe that the poem he did, “76” touched so many people, but to me it was a challenge to start being aware of the realities we live in and be able to artistically reveal the truth and beauties of the world. Through poetry I have been able to speak to and about God and love and other things without shame.

Any lessons learnt from the Madagascar trip?

What I picked up from poets on stage is that we are diverse as nations but somehow we share the same problems. There is a rich history in Madagascan politics; the pain endured as a nation due to colonialism, continuing poverty and government corruption. The concepts of love, relationships, religion etc. are universal.

Beyond poetry, I have learnt a lot about the Malagasy way of living, how the men were originally the main speakers in the community in a tradition called Kabare; this surely subdued the women into submissive members of society. This made me understand the way they express themselves and the words they use. I am definitely more appreciative of the environment I live in. The one thing that worried me most was the amount of poverty stricken people I’ve witnessed in the ever so congested streets. It is quite appalling to what extent unemployment impacts people’s lives. Some conditions of living still disturb my thoughts, where people still wash their clothes on the river banks, types of housing and the many under-aged children living in the streets. What worried me more was the fact that people don’t believe change will come anytime soon, so they conform to the realities that they face.

In spite of the turmoil the people are faced with, the welcoming warmth is one humility trait the Malagasy people possess. The people I met welcomed me into their homes, not because they had to, but because it is their way of living. They share the little food they have and treat people with respect.

How do the spoken word scenes in Tana (Madagascar) and Johannesburg compare?

I have seen how poetry is not just a publicity stunt and a way of earning money in Madagascar as compared to South Africa, it is about speaking out and sharing information. What is more profound is the increasing engagement of the youth finding it to be a refuge from a lot of turmoil happening in the island country. Though spoken word in Tana is predominantly in French and Malagasy, the way people use their bodies and faces to express, one can almost see and have a sense of understanding of what the poets are talking about. So I would say we are the same. I found that they speak more about love and God and the challenges they face, and shying away from explicit sexual content and abstract poetry. There is just too much of “the real” to be shared.

What does the future look like for you?

In 2014, I will be a qualified civil engineer, working at one of the biggest construction companies in the country. But meanwhile, my performance poetry book titled “In The Name Of The Word” is due to be released before September 2013. “In The Name Of The Word” is derived from the book of John 1, verse 1: “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”; so the title translates to “in the name of God”.

In my poetry career, I’m venturing into writing poetry for corporates, seminars and team building events, using poetry as a motivational tool. In a year or two, I’m aiming on running a mentorship programme for high schools to get into spoken word beyond the poetry they learn in class. When I started performing poetry I was in my twenties at university. I believe that we can channel the line of thinking of the youth, get them involved in movements and performances. Hence I have started performing in local movements to help inspire a reading and informed future poetry generation.

I would love to see myself invest in sponsoring some poetry movements from 2014 to sustain themselves, AND wish to release an audio version of the book next year.

Nothing is impossible, one just needs to apply one's energies accordingly. 

Pretoria’s Noel Kabelo Ringane, also known as KB (‘kilobyte’), is a final year civil engineering student at the University of Pretoria. KB has been writing poetry for ten years. His unique style has enabled him to become a force to be reckoned with on the Johannesburg stages. He has been seen at WORDnSOUND, House of Hunger, and Penseed Poets and has also performed in Zimbabwe.