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September 2020
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A Ribbon of Rhythm

I admit, I am intrigued by Lebo Mashile. In my final offering, here is a feature about this fine young woman, whose voice I believe the world will hear more of. Below is the feature of my interview with Mashile.


Armed with a sharp intellect and a fierce sense of social exploration through her creativity; she has won the respect of critics, her contemporaries and the hearts of ordinary South Africans. Leboganag Mashile is a poet’s poet.

leboHer laughter is infectious and her poetry, mesmerising. During her tour of the UK, with the ‘Beyond Words’ team of poets, Lebogang Mashile left the audience hypnotised with her powerful words and fluid stage movements. With an organic rawness, Mashile was sensitive and her delivery, melancholic and urgent; ending with a deafening applause and whistles of approval.

A poet since her 20s, Mashile was born to exiled South African parents in the U.S during apartheid. However, it was until she moved back to South Africa after apartheid that she discovered her passion for poetry – this happened while she was at university studying International Law. Though it was purely accidental, Mashile is today winning plaudits and accolades for her craft. “I was looking for entertainment when I stumbled across the underground poetry scene. I had never seen or done anything like it and when I did it, I realised this is what I have to do. I felt compelled to keep doing it and a sense of passion and purpose that I had never felt in my life,” she says.

Mashile believes poetry is the best way to reach the human soul because “It’s immediate and is the real language of the human experience that everybody can identify with. And right now, we are in a place in humanity where everything is post-industrial, post-feminine, hyper-technology, hyper-media and there is a sense of isolation and individualism. So, people are going back to poetry, which is the original form of communication as a way of connecting to each other and to themselves.”

bookWith two poetry anthologies, ‘A Ribbon of Rhythm’ and ‘Flying Above The Sky,’ which she self-published and an album, ‘Lebo Mashile Live,’ under her belt; Mashile is also a presenter, performer, actress and producer. But she maintains her poetry is the engine that gives life to everything she does. “My artistic identity as a poet is the chord that runs through whatever projects I chose to take on and whatever space they take on in the media, it must first inspire me as a writer and poet.” Neither is she afraid to incorporate other artistic forms of music, dance and the visual arts into her performances. This has earned her the reputation of a visual verbalist.

Mashile’s work is deeply rooted in the rich and oral storytelling tradition of South Africa. Mashile says she is inspired by “Music, literature, South Africans, Africans, women and the positions they occupy and the challenges they face and how they overcome them. I’m inspired by spirituality and the human desire to understand God, politics and the way it shapes our lives, migration and movement and how it shapes identity. I’m an insider, outsider and tend to gravitate towards people who have experienced different cultures which has shaped who they are, enabling them to have a broader and interesting lens into the world.”

Known for her signature themes of gender, identity, love, spirituality and the social-political conditions in post-apartheid South Africa, Mashile’s upbringing in the US has had a huge influence on her work. “There are many aspects of my life in America that shape my work today and the lens through which I see the world as a poet. My parents were very good at giving us the political context while we were there. They told us, we were not slaves and that we come from a place, have a language and that we have a rich culture and heritage that was interrupted and you still have it.”

She recounts an incident during the apartheid years when her father had feared freedom would never come and that they would live out their days in America. It was a heart wrenching moment that forced her to realise she existed in two worlds. “I became conscious of the fact of that as an African woman, I live in a world where the system of power is meant to annihilate me and I have to question and fight it and that has definitely shaped my world view.  It has shaped the intention that runs through my writing and I’m very conscious of the fact that as a black woman, I’m writing myself into history and an absence that has always been there. I’m telling a story the world has not heard before because they silenced, marginalised and pushed it away.”

“I’m ware of the fact that even though the voice of the black woman is not new, as far as mainstream media and literature is concerned, the voice of the African Woman is a very, very new thing and we are threading on this new soil and landscape and I walk that journey armed with the strength that comes from my legacy. But I’m also of the knowledge that I have got to walk this path and open it up to others and that’s my job and the purpose of my life,” she says.

Mashile credits South Africa as the place where she found her voice and defined her space an artist while being fully aware that it may not have happened if she had remained in the US. “I look at the position that I occupy in South Africa, I don’t think the US would have ever given me that. From the moment I started writing and entered the public literary scene, the literary community said yes, this is an extension of us. I don’t think I would have got the same kind of support and validation in my infancy as an artist in the US. I know for a fact that I would not have had the same access to media and to the mainstream kind of audience and visible platforms that I do in South Africa.”

For this reason, Mashile is described as a born-free, which she says to be born-free in South Africa, means, “I don’t know what it’s like to be oppressed by apartheid, my freedom of speech, expression and movement, and my inhibitions and personality are not curtailed by any outside forces. This is the lens through which, the new generation of South Africans, very idealistically, see the world. It’s unburdened by the lived experience of apartheid which is a privilege but that privilege comes with enormous expectations.”

leboAt 30, Mashile speaks with a deep sensitivity and love for humanity. Which she says is one of the reasons it is important she shows her vulnerability to her audience. “Being an artist, part of our destiny and our purpose is to make ourselves vulnerable and that means every single part of us and our human experience, no matter how joyful or painful is fertile ground for expression. Ultimately, it is something that we have to mutate and channel and be able to show back to the world.”

With this understanding, Mashile says her work as a poet is to take her audience on an emotional journey. “I want to show people the light and the dark, the positive and the negative but I want to do that with a view to inspiring people, so they can create a vision for themselves. I think it’s important to go to the dark side because we live in a world that’s dark and so many people feel isolated. It’s important to talk about domestic violence, racism, child abuse and corruption in our governments because this is the human hurt that we go through and it’s important to talk about the way we can turn these experiences into positive things.

“It’s also important to talk about how beautiful, wonderful and glorious the present is and how much more inspiring and sensational the future will be. I like to take them on a journey but at the end, I want to leave them on a mountain top and let them know that all these stuff we go through is okay.”

This feature first appeared in the New African Woman, edition 3


Lebo in headscarf:  Hash Naidoo

Lebo in black dress: Carl Collison


2 Responses to “A Ribbon of Rhythm”

  1. Grace Brown says:

    I also like to make poems and read lots of books that is related to Poetry.”:

  2. Rachel Price says:

    poetry is the thing i like, i create poems during my spare time’`-

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