by Liesbeth Tjon A Meeuw
Everyone who can't wait for the Afrovibes festival to begin is in for a special treat this month. This year's festival programme will be announced at MC Theatre in Amsterdam on 13 April. The event will get the audience into the right mood for September's festival and will be topped up with the world premiere of a production by three emerging performing poets. These fierce and fiery young women: Zena Edwards (UK), Mbali Vilakazi (South Africa) and Clara Opoku (Ghana/the Netherlands), come from different parts of the world, but share one important emotion: their fury. The piece, Three Furies, was created intercontinentally with modern media -‐ Skype and email -‐ providing the common workspace. 13 April will be the first time the three join each other live on stage.
Three Furies refers to the Greek goddesses of vengeance, the Erinyes. They live in the underworld and come to earth in order to punish those who have done harm to others. They are particularly active during family feuds and pursue people with whips, torches and snakes. A poetry performance based upon these mythical creatures could easily become a statement by 'angry black women'. But real art is much more complex than that and these emerging spoken word artists know that for a fact. Their production Three Furies reveals the big steps they had to take on their own personal paths towards womanhood. They created a multimedia piece with film, poetry, drama and comedy that every grown-‐up woman can relate to. After all, don't we all have something to be angry about?
Clara Opoku was born in Ghana and came to the Netherlands at a very young age, together with her family, looking for a better future. 'I consider myself different from other Ghanaian kids that grew up here in Amsterdam. I was partly raised by a Surinamese grandmother who taught me the language and culture of the Surinamese community. This caused friction between my mother and me, because I related less to her than to my Surinamese grandmother, Opoku says about the first female influences in her life. She grew up without a father and her mother was working hard most of the time. Tensions at home led her to write about what she was going through and those writings turned into songs.
A rap artist was born, under the name of C.I.A., short for Clara In Action. Opoku collaborated with other Dutch rap artists and in 2002 their first single came out. This record Personalities carried a message for young people like themselves about being true to who you are. 'When I make music it isn't just a string of words,' she says. 'Young and old must get something out of it. I want to get through to people.'
Awareness has become an important element in her work, which has taken her outside the country to also explore the field of theatre. 'I'm excited to be on the stage together with Zena and Mbali. It gives me a chance to learn much more about theatre and comedy. My creativity is growing in many directions. I'm working on my second album that will now come out under my own name, Clara Opoku. I see myself as a strong woman and I'm planning to share a lot more with the world.'
Vilakazi is one of the emerging voices in her country. Working on Three Furies has made her go beyond her own limits. 'The real challenge in this piece is how to bring my own personal anger into this artistic space. Fury is not lady-‐like. How can fury be beautiful or look great? To make it that, I have to know my own anger and create room for it on stage.'
The whole working process has been quite intense. Vilakazi brings up painful memories from her childhood when family friends touched her in inappropriate ways. 'It created other problems for me later in life, especially in relationships with men. I had to understand what impact it had on me as a person growing up. Poetry helped me to get to that point,' she says. 'That's how I found the voice that was lost.'
Now, with Three Furies, she is ready to share her anger with an audience. She explains how the myth of the Erinyes serves as a medium: 'On stage we want to create a space where we can have dialogues with other women, with other human beings who carry their own burdens. All of these discussions are actually one conversation. We are fighting the same battle.' Working with Zena Edwards gave her a lot of encouragement. 'Of the three of us, she is the most experienced. I learn so much from her.'
Edwards is a well-‐known artist in the international scene of performance poetry. 'I just do what I need to do to tell a story. My poetry is about making the ordinary extraordinary,' she once said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper. She's based in the UK, but travels abroad a lot to work with musicians, writers and fellow poets, especially in South Africa. These past weeks she was in Cape Town where she performed her one-‐woman show. 'I feel like I've had many lives. And this life, now, is me as an artist and I'm exploring it fully,' she explained in the same interview.
Three Furies promises to be something extraordinary because of the mixture of visual art, theatre and the strong autobiographical elements from all three artists. They will challenge time and space. They will even have a live stream connection with South Africa during their performance. In one of her many blogs, Edwards wrote: 'I write work that references certain issues of the day to make a universal and timeless point.'
Three Furies is an Afrovibes Festival 2010 Legacy Project, and a co-‐production by Zena Edwards, UK Arts International, Afrovibes and MC.
World premiere: Friday 13 April, 20h30 at the MC Theatre, Amsterdam.
UK premiere: Wednesday 18 April at The Albany, London.