“An honest portrait that can only be painted by one who’s journey has stripped off all pretence and left him starring at the stark truth that one has to serve their purpose but not be a slave to their purpose. A most beautiful message that skulks around the brain and haunts the soul days after the show has ended.”
Review by Thandwefika Tshabalala for 12 Years a Poet
One-dimensional people are boring. They really are. Although two or three-dimensional ones can be painful to dissect, they do give an authentic non-linear narrative. I think poet and now businessman, Vus’umuzi Phakathi epitomizes the latter.
I remember discussing in great criticism how he tried to ‘build an industry’ in Western Cape by creating a poetry space that mostly had his peers in 2015. I never told him this, but I was stunned by the poetry circle in Cape Town, and how it kept perpetuating cliques – even once trolling a young boy who mistakenly called ‘Slam Poetry’ ‘Slang Poetry.’
This resembled a far-cry from the poet I had met in 2013; a skinny short man with dreadlocks, performing his exceptional and intense play at Baxter’s Masambe Theatre – struggling with bums on seats, but so unbelievably happy and positive. Yep, this was the first time I met Vus’umuzi through his friend, Mbongeni Nomkonwana. I must say, I thought he was secretly flirting when he made me the subject of his performance in (his hopeless romantic) character as ‘Romeo.’ I was nervously blushing.
Alas, it turned out he always picked a pretty girl he would address his love poems to when he performed. I made peace with it and moved on with my life.
A month before I left Cape Town for good in 2015, I spoke to Vus’umuzi and his business partner, Lehlohonolo Masina about how much I wanted to move to Johannesburg and how my purpose in Cape Town was obscure and had dried up. He immediately tried to convince me to be their business partner in a new project they were to launch in Joburg Theatre. The explanation seemed a little blurry and impractical to me, until I moved to Joburg to find out that his company, Current State of Poetry, was now open for business, offering workshops and slam on the exact same days as Word N Sound. I had to ask; “Vusi, are you in competition with Word N Sound?” to which he replied, “We are two companies producing and selling a similar product, we are therefore naturally in competition; a very healthy one.”
I think we were both impressed with each other, because we had both executed our dreams; me moving to Joburg, and him, getting his project off the ground. There was an internal “welcome to the grind,” from both of us to each other, and so, the grind began.
Working with CSP as an Arts Administration facilitator, I found my feet in the Johannesburg art scene until I fled to my own media path.
Those who follow him on social media know that Vus’umuzi can be controversial, probably something that stems from passion, unintentionally. Actually, I don’t know – he could also just be a hard-headed asshole. Such controversies include the time he slammed poet, Raphael d’Abdon’s poem.
I thought it was uncalled-for, but perhaps how I felt about it was because I had no access to the story behind the story until now.
“So, what happened?” I gathered the strength to finally ask him.
“A few days before I put up that status I was at a Word N Sound show, where my favourite vocalist, Samthing Soweto, was performing, Raphael was there as well. In one of his posts he spoke about how wack Samthing Soweto is, to a point that he called him Something Sowacko,” he explains. “I was annoyed by this mainly because I found him to be a troll,” he continues. He says he once blocked Raphael because of this reason; in his opinion, Raphael seemed to always be ready to find fault in the current poetry scene and poets, and sharing these “faults” in ways that Vus’umuzi found quite rude, ignorant, and superiority-motivated.
“When I happened to come across his poetry, I simply mirrored his behaviour. And yes, I still believe that it is not a good poem,” he further elaborated, ending his comment with the fact that he did get called out by poets, warning him against the danger of how crumbling his choice of public display was. He listened, and he says him, and Raphael are in good terms now, and adds, “I hope.”
The journalist in me is a sucker for juicy twists and turns in stories. But, Vus’umuzi wouldn’t let me enjoy this beefy undertone from him to Raphael. A few days after the interview, he wrote to me saying;
“On the question about Raphael, I have something else to say: There’s a malicious trait about me, a defence mechanism of sorts, that I have in recent times been working incessantly on remedying, it came out during that time and it resulted to that post. Yes, I did and still don’t believe the poem was good, but the way I went about it was intended to harm. A serious flaw in my character. It has ruined many a relationship. I would like to apologize to Dr. Raphael and the entire poetry community for my malicious behaviour. I am poorly made, I am fixing it. I am sorry.”
I told him that this was such a boring response. “Where is that FIRE?” I insinuated, probing and interrogating this political correctness, to which he admitted he is a flawed man. We left it there.
On the real, I think it’s good for a man like Vus’umuzi to be called-outable, because of the danger that comes with pedestals that see criticism as hate. In fact, Vus’umuzi says he has been shaped by poets such as Flo Mokale, Sonqoba Kunene, and Zee Cube; people he respects incredibly, and whose contribution to him as a poet allows him to build the next generation by default. That said, this doesn’t mean the journey is a walk in the park. He said his failure to communicate about MONEY has seen him bruise relationships because of wanting to put up a facade that all is in order. As a result, he ended up owing everyone in the process.
“Running the company had put me in a position where I owed everyone who could possibly lend me money in my life, it has been that real, all this because of the lack of communication,” he said. But, this isn’t his only challenge – one of his frustrations is when poets get the year-long development from CSP, and then do nothing thereafter to progress in their poetry journeys. Although he says most of the poets they have groomed have gone on to do amazing things, he feels like when this is not the case then CSP has failed the poet or the poet has failed the program, or a bit of both.
Be that as it may, in my experience, anyone who fears failure fears growth. And, this is perhaps what sets Vus’umuzi apart from those who want to direct from the bench, while he is playing in the field often short of players. This is also why he recently scooped an award as second runner up on the Destiny Man #PowerOf40 2017 Awards!
For him, the award “…means that we are seen. It is affirmation for all the work that I have put in the past 12 years. It says that Poetry came second out of numerous long standing stable industries. It means that we are getting somewhere. It says that we are almost there.”
His business continues to often crumble with cracks, like any other. But he has grown more patient of their loopholes because he says him, and his team know the vision, and finally understand that it will take mistakes for them to grow into more prosperous horizons.
In my humble opinion, I find it quite admirable how the CSP team, spearheaded by Vus’umuzi, continues to rise above it all – and the “kicking doors” spirit he has is probably what is positioning him into a household name, slowly but surely. Whether he knows it or not, he is a trend setter; there is no one who isn’t a trendsetter that can start something from scratch and have already affected so many people. He is also a (flawed) leader learning as he is doing it, frustrating some people in his unlearning journey sometimes. But ultimately, he is a mf with a dream; his dream is so fertile that it has also given birth to countless other dreams.
After having had his recent show, 12 Year a Poet, Vusi wants to slide into 2018 with new goals, like releasing a book, a DVD, having a tour and sold out shows.