Poetry knows me by name-Takudzwa Chikepe
Chikepe speaks on 14-year poetry career
Poet and publisher Takudzwa Chikepe has been making silent strides in the artistic world in the last 14 years. He has published books and was at one point a manager at the now defunct but iconic Book Café before it folded. NewsWorth’s Munashe Rungano (MR) interviewed Chikepe (TC) about his life’s journey, the Zimbabwean arts scene and other things artistic. Below are excerpts from that interview.
MR: The name Takudzwa Chikepe is associated with many things artistic; especially poetry. Give us a short bio of yourself.
TC: Takudzwa Chikepe is an undiscovered energy, living a life of discovering itself through institutions like VaChikepe: The Poet and Publisher T.P Chikepe among others. I was born on April 28, 1987 and I went to Glenview 5 Primary, Chiedza Norton Primary and Nyatsime College. I later went to the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA) and the University of Cape Town (UCT). My younger sister Chiwoniso Elite Chikepe and are the only two children to Mr and Mrs Overseer Chikepe. I am a Christian.
The position I have held and enjoyed so much was being a dorm monitor at Nyastime College from Form 1 to 4 and being a Headboy of more than 600 people in 2006. This school really groomed to be a good leader, and it unlocked a lot of potential in me, including the genesis of my poetry writing skills.
MR: You seem to be most comfortable in the poetry genre, what drives you in this art form?
TC: For me, poetry is the highest level of communication. It involves deep imagination before utterance. The utterance involves unique presentations and its impact in the society is beyond ideological. It is permanent and has the ability to live for generations. Idioms and proverbs, I believe; were written by poets. Thus, my approach to this genre is as a student, as a missionary, as a warrior, historian, scientist and as a teacher. I believe one day I will have something solid to say about poetry, besides my now well-known 14-year-experience in writing poetry. And now, I also believe that poetry now knows me by name.
MR: Who are some of your inspirations; people that inspired you to take up art?
TC: My mother. Or as I call her, Dr Shingi. I believe she is an amazing natural actor who never thought of becoming an artist growing up. She gave me many folkloric books which I started reading when I was as young as five years old. Her speech forms and actions also spelt out art. She is also my biggest fan!
When I was in A Level, my teacher Ben Patsanza was worried that I was failing to read Shona in his class and it triggered me to go teach myself how to read in the library and that is how I became a poet.
Ian White from Book Cafe, picked me out as a unique artist and I was appointed Book Café’s the Bookshop and General Manager. While at Book Café, founder Paul Brickhill gave me hardcore inspirational books including 100 Years of Solitude and that is my favourite novel to date.
Terrence Brayboy, the Founder of Amina’s Gift loves my art so much and has promoted and sponsored all my artistic endeavours better than anyone else to date. Stan Galloway, who discovered me on Twitter and introduced me to the American poetry world. Caroline Brae, who published my first book Mental Gymnastics after 14 years of writing poetry. I also owe also and of course my father Overseer J Chikepe, who taught me to always think outside the box. He is a perfect gentleman whom I admire a lot. These are just some of the people who inspired my artistic journey.
MR: You are a certified publisher, tell us about that. What exactly is your plan?
TC: It is true that I am a certified publisher with a BSc Honours Degree from NUST. I have a distinction for my project Self-Publishing: Towards Sustainable Book Development in Zimbabwe. I studied publishing for five years, instead of four years because I failed to raise tuition fees in my second and spent the whole year at home (2008-2009). This was the time I became marketing manager for Mbira DzeNharira and wrote 200 long poems which I am still to publish.
My plan now is ensure that poets have books, artists are known, the arts industry starts generating income, international arts boundaries and borders are broken and to prove a point that arts is not politics. I also want to prove that art is a business. And it begins with a few people through the power of synchro destiny.
MR: What is your take on the Zimbabwean arts scene at the moment? Are we doing enough to conquer the world?
TC: I don’t think we have an institutionalised arts scene as yet. Yes, we have arts teaching institutions and plenty of artistes. However, for an artist to rise to limelight, it takes his own struggle and hard work. Unless he is lucky to be identified by different promoters along the way. For our industry, it is easy to promote a well-established artist than to discover a new artist, groom one or even see potential. Everything is reduced to the “we don’t have the capacity to do that” mantra. It remains the task of visionaries to break barriers.
To conquer the world, we need to believe in ourselves, work hard, support each other, be innovative and stand to proclaim that we love art and we live for it. Arts outlets must be increased and compete in proving a point. That way, we will win people’s hearts and attention and, in the process, artists are promoted.
In the United States, they have done it, East Coast versus West Coast artists and more visions are born along the way. In South Africa, we also have Durban finest versus Limpopo DJs and the list goes on. Chillspot in Mbare, has done it in terms of Zimdancehall music and more can be done.
One day while I was in Europe, my first time there, I was so amazed to see that they have free WiFi in some of their streets. This global interlinked village, demands technology reaching all and at a faster rate. This help coming from the government or other institutions, will help the artists connect to the world. If no country has invested in this in Africa, why can’t we be the first? By leading, definitely we never fail! Can you imagine tourists coming to Zimbabwe just to enjoy free WiFi among other services?
No wonder why Zimbabwe only debuted Netflix with the movie Cook off in June this year. A lot must be done! Yes, we can struggle in other aspects of our lives but not on the aspects we can change and promote.
We have a lot of talent in Zimbabwe but we must ensure that it is discovered, packaged and promoted at the same level with the other international artists.
MR: Zimbabweans are obviously talented but there still is a missing link. So far, we only have a handful of artistes who have won global acclaim and awards. It’s only in June when Zimbabwe debuted Netflix, like you said, with the movie Cook off. It was also the same month that ShaSha became the first Zimbabwean to win a BET Award. King Isaac was nominated for a Grammy several years ago for his album, Isaac meets Isaacs, in collaboration with the late reggae great Gregory Isaacs. A Zimbabwean writer who writes for Beyonce Knowles has also been recognised up there while Nutty O’s collaboration with a Jamaican artiste also received a Grammy nomination last year. Why do you think we still have just a handful of cases that we can relatively call success stories in global arts? On the other hand, we also have other artistes and groups like Mokoomba and Vusa Mkhaya for instance, who are making waves in the west but do not get recognition back home. What do you think is the cause for this?
TC: Recognition at home is a really interesting concept. One would wonder how and why are other people recognised and others not recognised back at home. If we, the same artists, are still to go to the different Media houses to give an account of what we have done and what we have achieved, we still have a long way to go. There must be a stampede on who has the latest news, what financial value does that information have? Who is making noise out of it and what are people going to gain out of it? This is very important and it indeed does develop our arts industry in our country. No wonder why in the States they have Hollywood and in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa why they have their own paparazzi entertainment spotlights. There is no harm in us also having our own Hollywood or something else even way better. All this shows that we still have a long way to go and more visionaries are still needed on the big table and from all corners of our country.
MR: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
TC: If I was a preacher, I wouldn’t want to be a fake preacher. But I would rather wish to become a prophet of God than becoming a false Prophet. In five years’ time, we will get there and we will be competitive enough, as a country in the Entertainment industry. And when it happens, I will be there. And of course, by the Grace of God, since we are living in dangerous times.
MR: How do you think Zimbabwean leadership and communities at large can support our talent and help in formalising the arts industry?
TC: My words of wisdom are, “Arts visionaries, let us continue to dream big, bigger and biggest! And let us not stop working hard, there is a bright future ahead of us”.
To the rich Zimbabweans first and to all others next, let us find time and invest in arts organisations in our country. Arts is harmless, I also have my own group as well “VaChikepe And The 100 Sailors”: We are harmless and sweethearts.
The 1st of September 2020 saw the birth of my company Publisher T.P Chikepe (Private) Limited. This is my biggest move so far in empowering artists and developing the arts industry. I believe in two years down the line, it will be another good story to talk about.
Thus, different grants, sponsorships, loans etc to entertainment companies and organisations will be a plus to our welfare, just like the way farmers have been taken care of as essential workers in this country.
Indeed, we are in the process of farming amazing entertainment in this country and bumper harvest, is yet but just around the corner.