by Leroy F. Moore and Simon Manda
In the mid-‘80s, before computers, Black and disabled teenager Leroy F. Moore Jr. was very interested in the welfare of people with disabilities in South Africa. Leroy tried to write a paper on that subject at the time but, due to lack of accessible public information, the paper ended up being only two pages. That is when he knew that he had to visit South Africa. His research was later enhanced by the advent of computers and the internet.
Fast forward to 2007, Leroy started the organization Krip Hop Nation, an international network of Hip Hop artists and other musicians with disabilities. A 2009 interview with the South Africa Disabled Musicians Association again stirred in him the deep-seated need to visit South Africa.
Between 2013 and 2014, Krip Hop Nation came close to travelling to South Africa. Leroy met Phumlani Banda, aka Wakomagic, from the Zululand Gospel Choir based in Richards Bay, two hours north of Durban. After exchanging ideas on a song collaboration for people with disabilities, they planned to meet in South Africa to record the song.
Also in the cards was the concept of putting out a book of disabled musicians in Africa and the U.S. who were linked to the Krip Hop Nation network. The book was first conceived in a discussion between disabled Hip Hop artists and poets from Zimbabwe and the U.S. R.E. Spect from Zimbabwe, Keith Jones and Leroy F. Moore Jr. from the U.S. agreed in 2012 that it would showcase not only song lyrics and poems, but also visual arts, pictures, interviews and other features.
Now that book concept of 2012 is set to come to life as part of the “A Journey to the South Tour” that was conceived when Leroy met Simon Manda on Facebook back in 2014 and undertaken in December 2016. Simon lives in South Africa and is the cofounder of THISABILITY, a South African newspaper covering the disabled community.
Simon invited Leroy to submit articles for publication back in 2013 to articulate how Krip Hop Nation was linking up and working with African artists. In 2014, an attempt by Krip Hop Nation and THISABILITY to work on an international disability arts festival almost came to fruition. Unfortunately, the dream was never realized due to funding constraints.
Simon and Leroy kept in contact and they both reprogrammed the international disability arts festival idea to a tour around South Africa to interview and profile creatives with disabilities. They put up crowdfunding calls that enabled Leroy to make an early bird ticket of $400 from New York to Johannesburg!
More funding came through from a grant by Arts and Culture Trust under the Nedbank Arts Affinity.
On Dec. 3, 2016, at 8:30 a.m., Leroy landed on South African soil! The dream had been realized.
On the first encounter, it was all hugs and a sit-down to plan the tour. The day was the International Day for Persons with Disabilities and already there was a schedule to watch a musical play that evening in Durban. The play, “In Blood,” features a cast of 100 actors with disabilities, and it marked the start of this epic journey.
The rest of the schedule was to pan out as follows:
- 4-11, 2016: Johannesburg, Pretoria and surrounds
- 12-15: Durban
- 16-20: East London
- 21: Port Elizabeth
- 22-26: Cape Town
- 26-28: Johannesburg, Pretoria and surrounds
As Simon and Leroy went through a rough draft of 70 profiles spread across these cities, they realized that a lot more time is needed. Hence a second phase is planned for August 2017 and possibly one month per year thereafter until the profiling of urban and rural artists across South Africa and beyond is complete.
On this first phase, Simon and Leroy interviewed too many different disabled, especially deaf, artists to share, but I must tell you about a few that stuck out for me:
First was the first deaf South African actress on mainstream television, Simphiwe Mkhize, who now works at eDEAF Center in Johannesburg. Toward the end of the interview she told me that deaf South Africans were not invited to be involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Second was the whole day in Soweto, where Simon brought me to a big book and poetry event under a huge tent, where I sat next to and talked with real elder poets who are royalty in activism and poetry. I’m talking about Bra Don Mattera, Lebo Mashile, Sis Gcina Mhlophe, Vangi Gantsho, Sis Florence Masebe.
Mr. Bra Don Mattera told me the truth about Nelson Mandela, apartheid and the ANC (African National Congress). He knew about Oakland, the Black Panthers and Black radical history in the U.S.
It was an honor to meet and listen to Mr. Mattera. I found out that he has a school for youth with disabilities. After the book and poetry event, we bumped into two disabled Hip Hop artists after leaving Nelson Mandela’s house, also in Soweto.
Third was the interview with Jonathan Groenewald, aka 2J Harmonix. We were in contact for years on Facebook, so finally being face to face in his home studio was a dream come true. 2J Harmonix is a disabled poet and Hip Hop artist in Pretoria, South Africa. He is on fire with his new solo album, “Motivation,” and he is working on a book of poetry.
We just teamed up to put together a CD of South Africans with and without disabilities. This man is on the go!
Like I said, Simon and I are working on a book of profiles that will be a collection of our experiences on the road in South Africa interviewing artists with disabilities, with bios, pictures, artistic pieces from visual arts to song lyrics and poems. Also, there are interviews from artists in different African countries along with Krip Hop artists from Africa to America that were building blocks for the Journey to the South Tour.
To redress the alienation and marginalization of creatives with disabilities from mainstream media and socio-economic platforms, THISABILITY newspaper and Krip Hop Nation mooted an idea of profiling and documenting creatives with the aim of linking them to various empowering networks.
So far, that dream is unraveling. As the project looks for more funding, many creatives will realize international exposure through documentaries, books and linkages to new markets.
We are setting up a website for our ongoing work in Africa featuring merchandise created by artists. We met an artist, Rita, in Mdantsane Township in East London who has taught herself to crochet and can make two hats a day with one hand! She is an amputee with only a left arm. We are trying to set up an online shop for her to access international markets, since her hats are fashionable and trendy.
Leroy F. Moore Jr., poet, researcher, journalist and activist and founder of Krip-Hop Nation, can be reached at Kriphopnation@gmail.com.