"What Brenda does, and this seems in part an ingrained pattern of behaviour, as we shall see later, is bring together unusual, apparent unconnected juxtapositions that make sense only in context. The phrase may look like an incomprehensible ‘mish-mash’ to the socially uninitiated. But it is a free spirit expression of the social energy in the endless comings and goings in the township, the meetings and the partings, and the opening and the closing of doors. It is a dramatic validation of common experience.” – Njabulo S Ndebele
Hullo: Life itself seems to knock at the door in a queer refashioning of the world; in Putuma’s new performance.
Bu-bye: Back-tracking, deleting, and re-writing against the erasure of black and queer women’s contributions to the arts, Putuma fiddles with the archive in writing and now, on the stage.
Koko: As though she is putting a cassette into a record player and pressing play… Putuma’s fingers write as if she’s reading stories from the tape which gushes with the words of Brenda Fassie, Miriam Makeba, and Boom Shaka. Istraight Le Ndaba, these black women do not die. They live on and magnify because they created alternatives to the boundaries on their bodies.
They played. They toyed with what was expected of them. So that, Brenda Fassie, whose song gives Putuma’s poetry and theatre its title, could sing, “Siyajaiva, hay siyahlala la/ Or wen’ufun’ukuthini”.
Come In: Putuma is a leading contemporary player. She messes with what is expected of poetry even. She alters expectations of poetry and theatre by queering both forms and then mixing them like a DJ playing Makhadzi, Brandy, and Nina Simone all at once.
But, Koleka Putuma’s work is not just poetry and theatre brought together, she alters the terrain of what we think both these forms can do and shows us what it means to make these adjustments: to fiddle with the archive of what black and queer women do in the arts. She lets them breathe as poetry does, and dance as theatre does. In Putuma’s work, queering- as only black women do- becomes a poetry-theatre and not a footnote.
“I don’t know if you get it.” - Brenda Fassie (in Hullo, Bu-bye, Koko, Come In)
The title of the book and the related performance is inspired by a South African phrase made famous by the legendary musician, Brenda Fassie in her 1992 song iStraight Le Ndaba. Like the legend who inspired the book title and the song from which the name of this poetry
collection was selected, Putuma builds on the themes she explored in her first book,
Collective Amnesia, and go straight to the heart of tackling the legacies of black femme erasure from society as well as in the arts.
In Hullo, Bu-bye, Koko, Come in, Putuma reflects on personal experiences of
travelling and performing outside of South Africa and more specifically, Europe. To better understand the different aesthetics and forms of memory, hyper-visibility and erasure placed on the black queer woman body in performance, she draws on the experiences of other black and queer women’s lives and legacies, on and off the stage, who were celebrated and consumed in complex ways.
The performance weaves together poetry, body, sound, and projection mapping.
Created and performed by Koleka Putuma, visual design by Inka Kendzia, composition and sound design by Mr Sakitumi.
The stage adaptation was commissioned by Wiener Festwochen, a cultural festival in Vienna, Austria. The production made its debut at brut nordwest, as part of the Wiener Festwochen 2021 festival. It has since been staged at Condeduque Cultural Centre, Madrid in October 2021 and at The Market Theatre Laboratory, Johannesburg, November 2021.
Koleka Putuma is an award-winning theatre practitioner, writer and poet.
Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia took the South African literary scene by storm. Since its publication in April 2017, the book is in its 12th print run and is prescribed for study at tertiary level in South African Universities and Gothenburg University in Sweden.
Collective Amnesia received the 2018 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, was named 2017 book of the year by the City Press and one of the best books of 2017 by The Sunday Times and Quartz Africa. It is translated into Spanish (Flores Rara, 2019), German (Wunderhorn Publishing House, 2019), Danish (Rebel with a Cause, 2019), Dutch (Poeziecentrum, 2020), Swedish (Rámus förlag). Forthcoming translations: Portuguese (Editora Trinta Zero Nove), and Italian (Arcipelago itaca), French (éditions LansKine).
In April 2021, Manyano Media published her sophomore collection of poems, Hullo, Bu-Bye, Koko, Come In, with forthcoming translations in Dutch, Danish and French.
Her theatre works include UHM, Woza Sarafina, Mbuzeni and No Easter Sunday For Queers. Her theatre for young audiences include Ekhaya (2 – 7 year olds), and SCOOP: Kitchen play for carers and babes, the first South African theatre work for audiences aged 0 – 12 months old.
She is a Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative finalist for theatre, a Forbes Africa Under 30 Honoree, recipient of the Imbewu Trust Scribe Playwriting Award, Mbokodo Rising Light award, CASA playwriting award and the 2019 Distell Playwriting Award for her play No Easter Sunday for Queers.
She has been commissioned to write poetry for major campaigns such as Spotify Premium "Unleash The Sounds", UN Global Goals, Wellcome Trust: Covid Living, Jameson "Dedela Abanye", Standard Bank and more.
Koleka Putuma is the Founder and Director of Manyano Media, a multidisciplinary creative company that empowers and produces stories by black queer women.