DigiPoets British Council Cultural Exchange: Podcast and Poet Blog

Between 19 and 23 March 2019, three artists from Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia visited the UK as part of the British Council’s Southern Africa Arts programme #SouthernAfricaArts. Hamilton Chambela, Kgotla Molefe, and Jordan Lusaka participated in a week of cultural and creative excursions including trips to Birmingham and Manchester. Poet Peggie Shangwa, a core member of the group, Skyped in for key performances and events.

In the podcast the artists discuss African languages, English and ideas of heritage. Also in the studio is London based poet and artist, Zena Edwards and host poet Belinda Zhawi.

Three Cities with Apples and Snakes by Kgotla Molefe

My 1st time off the continent of Africa and international performance was encapsulated in an unforgettable experience in London, Birmingham and Manchester. On arrival, London had us in awe. Box Park was the venue and BoxedIn was the event. Jaw dropping! The amazing use of space and story behind the space inspired me to want to do more gentrification projects in Botswana. A great example of how artists can turn nothing into something. Jawdance at Rich Mix the next evening was even better. Ironically the night we were there was the last free night, the means in which they decided how much to charge for the next event was just amazing. Involving the actual audience to invade their social media platforms with an amount they thought was fair to pay, was an amazing way to involve the audience/community they serve.

Apart from the nightlife and events, I also learned a lot about the people hosting us in London. The various backgrounds and ethnicities blew my previous thought of what a typical “Londoner” would look like. I was impressed by how the artists there study their art, academically. I met poets studying poetry and the business behind it. I met writers whose life story could be great books but they prefer to tell those of others. Most importantly, they are all busy! London to me seems like a great place for an artist to learn what they love and do it. Back in Botswana one could only dream of as many whole venues dedicated to performance arts. We have to hustle to create our own spaces of which London has so many and the artists there use them accordingly. It was a great feeling knowing so many artists have a space they can learn, earn and thrive in. I want that for all the artists I know in Botswana.

Birmingham. Wow! Apparently one of the youngest cities in Britain and it showed. Young creatives running whole events, murals and graffiti around every other corner, it was just spectacular. A little calmer than the hustle and bustle of London but the people are just as busy. Walking through the city was like going through a new school museum where the buildings are old but paint is fresh. It was an experience most fine artists in Botswana would kill for. The youthfulness of the city and the productivity of the youth is something to learn from. I probably took the most pictures there too!

Then we had Manchester! Though we were not there too long, we were quickly immersed into a spirit lifting spiral of plausible cross continent content creations and connections.  The organization we visited, Young Identity, was almost wholly made up of 20 something year olds doing the moooost. I’m talking directors/fashion designers donating time and intent to the cause. Poetry. They let us in on the who, what where and how in a matter of minutes. Kindly but keenly coaxing us into performing as we were told, ‘it’s not an arts exchange if we don’t exchange the art.’ So we did it. One after the other a room of young poets made words look and feel like a movie. The people of Manchester were vibrant and variant, almost like London but they were younger. You could see the passion in their eyes and hear the hustle in their words. The make things happen and not only for themselves but for those around them. They were like family by the time we left even though we had only been there a few hours.

All in all, this arts exchange has added great value to the work I do back home.  Has inspired me to make small but significant changes in how we do things in Botswana. All three of these cities have people, young people, making radical changes in the simplest of ways. All for their art. All for the love of art. I’m certain that this exchange will bring more work for me to do back home. Teaching, tweaking the existing and making things easier, more accessible and attractive not only for the audiences and artists back home but for the corporates. The investors who are keen to invest in arts but don’t know how or why. I picked up the blue print in London, added color and life to it in Birmingham and lastly Manchester taught me how to make the plan homely. Adapting my intentions and new found knowledge to my home, my people and my country is all I could think of on my way back.

Photo Credit: Hamilton Chambela