“I was thinking about my identity and the best way to express how I feel and see myself. I’ve never been comfortable with the term coloured. Through my personal journey as an artist including research I found myself more relating to the Khoi San people.”
“Ek is ‘n Khoi, ‘n San, stap saam die maan met wild in my hand en ‘n dans, wat jou sit in a trans. My voorgeslag kon reën maak, stories vertel was woelag!” reads an excerpt from a poem by Janine van Rooy-Overmeyer called Khoi San Style.
Heritage month which is about celebrating the different cultures and heritages in the country, we sat with one of Cape Town’s best-known poets in Cape Town, Janine van Rooy-Overmeyer about what culture and heritage mean to her.
“Heritage means I come from a place, a people. It means I have an identity and culture that must be remembered through me. I should be proud of who I am and where I come from, acknowledging my ancestors, including my parents. It should be every day,” she said, adding that we should celebrate our heritage every day, especially since it is a day to celebrate our families, community, traditions and cultures.
Van Rooy-Overmeyer, better known as Blaq Pearl is a creative writer, poet, storyteller, singer and theatre performer who uses her art and performance platforms to connect with, inspire and edutain [slang reference to learning through a medium that educates and entertains at the same time] her audiences. She is a proud social activist who is deeply rooted in her community where she runs various youth development programmes through her Blaqpearl Foundation.
Born and raised in Mitchell’s Plain, van Rooy-Overmeyer’s poetry and music contains strong social content touching on controversial and often taboo issues faced in poor communities and is centred around community empowerment, reflecting real experiences.
“I was thinking about my identity and the best way to express how I feel and see myself. I’ve never been comfortable with the term coloured. Through my personal journey as an artist including research I found myself more relating to the Khoi San people.” Reflecting on her poems Khoi San Style and Rise, she said “I know and agree everyone has the right to choose who they are, so I respect that. I expect only the same in return. I feel proud when performing these two poems.”
Known for her unique style of poetry and use of language, Blaq Pearl a patois combining Afrikaans and English – Afrikaaps – to express her art.
“My language is part of my identity, it’s part of who I am, how I communicate with others and a representation of where I’m from. We say Kaapse Afrikaans. Afrikaaps is also the title of the musical theatre production we launched in 2010, with the aim to reclaim and liberate ourselves as speakers of this language,” said Janine.
Van Rooy-Overmeyer’s love for poetry started when she was in primary school. Her love for reading, and seeing and hearing performances around her home by her late brother, hip-hop pioneer and social activist, known as Mr Devious, was the driving force behind the artist.
“At the age of 12 I started writing, basically to express myself and to cope with the stresses of life and all the issues I became aware of. Through my poetry I am able to do something about it. It also enables me to connect with other people.”
In her experience, artists face many challenges finding the resources and the space to practice and perform in the township. She often practices at home which isn’t always ideal for what distractions arise.
“The council and municipal halls are all around, though not easily accessible. It also involves a lot of ‘red tape’ and channels. We clearly need a building in every community that specifically adheres to the needs of artists,” said van Rooy-Overmeyer.
Although she does occasionally get requested to perform by certain departments, support from government is limited.
“Myself and our organization, for the development programmes we do, has not received much support from government yet, sadly. It’s a very stressful process,” she said. “The only constant challenge is promoters expecting one to perform at their events and venues but most often expects us to compromise our performance booking fees,” she said.
She feels that poetry is alive in Mitchell’s Plain and can be promoted through supporting events hosted by local artists and through skills development workshops to show the youth and others “that poetry is a great alternative to cope, a tool to express and sustain oneself.”
“Stop or minimize your support for international artists coming into Cape Town, where you pay over R300 a ticket, but would hardly pay R50 for a quality, professional performance event or festival in our grassroots communities. Media can invest more into promoting our events, even the smaller events,” she said.
Her advice to aspiring poets is simply “just do it!” and to have fun with words. “The possibilities are endless. Remember there are no real rules, no tests, simply write what you like, your experiences and connections are yours. You have the freedom to challenge yourself when writing within specific themes or entering competitions. Poetry is another way to communicate, a creative, appealing way,” she said.