Having entered the poetry scene in 1998, Thula Cube, and his peers at the time were responsible for revolutionizing the presentation of poetry to audiences and setting the foundation for what we know as the Poetry|Spoken Word Industry today.
Largely thought of as Spoken Word Royalty in South Africa he is one of the founding members of the legendary poetry collective PoEthnic RhythMix, and back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when few knew much about Spoken Word he rapidly became a household name with appearances and performances on national radio and television programs and being an opening act for Dead Prez’s now infamous performances in SA.
Sadly, in 2004 Thula dropped the mic and walked away, deciding to take a break from the stage.
We recently caught up with Thula ahead of Episode 4 of the Word N Sound #PoetryLeague
You are Thula Cube also known as Zee the Poet and Terracotta Strings. Do you go by any other names, and why did you choose those names?
I have many names actually. And love them all for the period in my life they played. Chronologically: Thumbu, Thuls, Voodoo, Zee, Leaf, Tom Leaf Jones, Zee the Poet … Each one is a good indicator of the period in my life that the person using it would have known me from. All of them, save for Terracotta Strings, were not by choice but rather given to me and I would accept or dismiss them at my will.
I chose Terracotta Strings because I wanted a name that didn’t assume neither a gender nor racial identity. Writing gives one the freedom to be anyone they want to be, why have a name that takes all that away from you?
Why are you back?
I wasn’t ready before. I didn’t know what to do with the fame. I didn’t even know what I liked about it. But since my last performance I’ve written two manuscripts and compilation of some of my poetry. There’s a saying: “If you don’t know who you are when fame finds you, then the fame will define you.” the fame was in charge last time, I know who I am now.
In addition to being a poet, Terracotta Strings previously coordinated and programmed Urban Voices (Arts Festival) which featured poetry, music, theatre and workshops on different facets of the arts. He currently works in television, but says that the type of work he has done over the years has always leaned towards imparting knowledge.
What is your occupation and how long have you been in that line of work?
I’m an entertainer and an educator. Any and all my career paths have only proved to define these two titles. The occupation is irrelevant since the tools stem from the same place. Right now I’m in television but this could change tomorrow, what will not change is that in the next occupation I’ll either be educating or entertaining which I’ve been doing for 17 years now.
When did you realise you were creative, and that you liked this thing called poetry? Why poetry?
My first love was the visual arts. Sketch art. Pastels and sometimes oil paint. Being colour-blind and not knowing I was, didn’t help my painting much. A discovery I only made after school. My first notable poem was a diary entry I recorded on my Dictaphone. My brother had listened to it and when we attended a Monday Blues event and heard people spitting their feelings on stage encouraged me to take a turn …I put on my headphones and recited what I had recorded.
This guy in the audience, a well-known Hip Hop artist came up to me and requested I join him in putting together a poetry collective which was to be known as P.E.R.M. (PoEthnic RhythMix).
A lot of people write poems that never get heard. When and why did you decide to get behind a mic?
Even when I had done my first performance I hadn’t realised why I felt the need to perform. It was only later once my subject matter had grown that I found out that audiences would relate to my work and form some kind of a bond between myself and them – often leading to strange familiarising with complete strangers.
Personally, I revel from assisting people. That’s the polite way to say it. the not-so-polite way would be to say, I’m addicted to the manner in which as a performer, I can influence thoughts and views on matters. So I’m wary of the pieces I perform and the context in which I perform them in.
What do you enjoy writing about and what do you want to write more about?
The term “enjoy” is rather loosely used here. I seldom “enjoy” writing about most subjects I write about. I seldom “enjoy” performing them even. Most of the issues I write about are difficult subjects to articulate so I purge and purge until the pen whittles out somehow remotely concise.
I would want to write fiction beyond our realities. I would wish to be in a society where issues of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, shadeism, rape, abuse, gender inequality, education, oppression and many more didn’t exist … so I could tell people about how fucking sexually attractive I think bark on certain trees is. Or Venda women’s feet. Or cellulite, especially since so many women are making it their mission to erase this attraction from our history books.
What is the true power of words?
To answer your question I’d only say, I’m surprised that governments haven’t started hiring artists to write their speeches. The correct positioning of specific words, at a specific time, has the ability to create revolutions as well as calm furores.
What is your favourite poem by you?
I’ve got a few. But the one that stands out is “Art: a study of the shadow” mainly ‘cause in the poem I play a lot with certain art nuances that unfortunately many layman wouldn’t understand without understanding the subject. Also it’s not an angry poem or issue driven piece but a tribute to my favourite artists and my colourblindness.
What is one little known fact about you?
I’m an excellent sketch artist.