Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Voices of the Ancestors - Performance Piece for the burning of Temple Solace at AfrikaBurn 2012

(photo by Nick Barnett)

During the AfrikaBurn festival I had the honour to create and be part of a performance piece, The Voices of the Ancestors for the burning of Temple Solace (artist: Simon Max Bannister) To find out more of the vision behind the temple, visit the site

The elements on planet earth continuously challenge me; somehow they seem to be begging to be touched, and at the same time be enigmatic and powerful beyond our human grasp.  Since taking part in AfrikaBurn 2010, fire has been a very prominent element in my poetic work. Simon approached me and offered me an opportunity to take his visionary structure and conceptualize a performance piece around the ultimate burn of it.

I took various elements from three previous strong poems of mine (Voices in Song, Uit die Resonante Holtes, written for coloratura soprano, Linda van Coppenhagen and The Pulse of Fire), added verses here and there and refashioned it into the poem, The Voices of the Ancestors, which I eventually performed at the burning of Temple Solace.

Why Voices ?
Simply because I love the human voice and what it represents - communication, community, reconciliation, creativity and expression. Indeed, if applied with heart, voices can be a great bringer of hope and solace.

Why The Ancestors ?
The main effigy at AfrikaBurn, the San Clan  (representing our forefathers, the first peoples known to have tread upon this earth) is fashioned into a figure with many heads and legs joined into one body, symbolizing the spirit of an Ubuntu-community . Temple Solace was situated on the outskirts of the playa (the main AfrikaBurn play-and-art ground) behind and in line with the San Clan. I find it significant and necessary to dialogue on primal, mythical and symbolic levels at an art festival that is so rooted in the primal, mythical and the symbolic. A strong tradition that has been passed onto AfrikaBurn from the original mother-festival in the USA - Burning Man (hosted yearly in the Nevada desert) is that of commemorating friends and family who have passed away. Temples, pyramides and shrines are built to serve as places for release, closure, remembering and honouring the Dead. Many people write messages, poems, confessions, letters, quotations and random thoughts on the walls, knowing that when the structure is set alight, the messages will too be ignited, rise and "be sent" to whatever place the living wishes it to find rest.

What is of particular value for me is the reverence, introspection and gratitude these "temples" inspire. These structures are not affiliated with any defined religion or spirituality. Anyone is free to come with any intention, emotion or simply "just be" in the space. The prominent feel in and around the temple is that of quiet meditation - a much needed space amidst the wild revelry of the festival.

Six of my good AfrikaBurn friends, Tristan, Berna, Andreas, Jurie-Jan, Lachlan and Bronya portrayed the Six Ancestors. Each one of them wore paperclay masks (made especially for this piece by sculptor Coenie Strydom) and their bodies covered in black. Their movements were simple, and such that they mostly moved slowly in accordance with the weighted feel of the music (Dead Can Dance's The Host of the Seraphim). Small tilts of the head, small arm and hand movements. The Six Ancestors didn't move synchronised – each one moved in their own style, within the framework of the general choreography as indicated below in the text of the poem.

The Voice (Lara) dressed with golden ruff around neck and wrists, face-painted with gold, gold spray-painted hair and a long golden robe. The Voice do not move around too much – performed the poem with headmic and a strong soundsystem as supplied by the MASH-ed team.

Voices of the Ancestors

First the Six Ancestors walk out of the portal of Temple Solace, followed by The Voice

Let the Voices of the Ancestors
shake the Walls of our Temples
Let their Voices strike Deep into the Heart of our Beings
and sing the Harmonies of Solace into our Souls

Here the Six Ancestors and The Voice are standing in front of the portal – all in a line, The Voice in the middle with 3 Ancestors on her left, and 3 Ancestors on her right

Let the Voices of the Ancestors
break open over the Plains
and sing over the entire Earth
the Song that sounds in our Dreams
and pushes through the Cracks
and goes and sit in the Marrow
until it transforms our Bodies
into one Transcendental Wave

Here the Six Ancestors start slowly circling The Voice, making more pronounced movements with their arms

Let the Voices of the Ancestors
be Fire in our Souls
Let them Sing into the Agelessness of Time
and make us believe We are Beauty
We are Sun We are River
We are Stone We are Air
We are that which gives us Life

Here the Six Ancestors still circles The Voice but in the opposite direction. The Ancestors' movements become faster, slightly twitchy and erratic.

Let the Voices of the Ancestors burn with the Celebration of Breath
burn with the glistening Peaks of Waves
burn with the Memory of Primordial Frequencies
that once reverberated in our Primal Ears
Yes, let the Voices of the Ancestors burn with the Desire
to have the Flaming Power be lead through our Veins
and free our Soular Potential

Here a slight pause in the poem - the Six Ancestors walk back through the portal of the Temple and exit at the back end. The Voice remains in front of the temple. Here the Temple-Builders set the Temple alight. The Six Ancestors scatter themselves in order to surround the burning Temple  – spacing themselves quite evenly from each other. The Voice moves forward further away from the flames.

Let the Voice of Fire
show us the Road to Sacred Togetherness
Let the Finger of Fire point the Way to Utter Release
Let the Eye of Fire light the Paths of Transformation

Fire sings in One Language
that all Clay and Skin fathom without Cerebrality
It is the Unrest of Fire
that challenges our Sense of Peace
It is the Embrace of Fire
that teaches us to stand Together and Love

Here the Six Ancestors, still spaced around the burning Temple, starts moving in bigger gestures – more from the torso and making exaggerated wavy lines with their arms

Let the Voices of the Ancestors rise
like the Wind rises
rise like the Tide rises
like the Flame rises
Let their Voices vibrate
Let their Voices cascade through our Souls
and let us live livelier than ever before

We the Living also have Voices that sing
Voices that weep
We are Voices that come alive as soon as
Breath and Soul is Born
Let our Voices break through the Deserts,
break through the Forests,
break through the Oceans
Let Fish and Bird hear We can
Resonate With Song just as They can do

The Vast Space begs to be filled
with that sweeping Line of Voice
that colours Space with that Wondrous Harmony
that is so strongly at Home in our Souls

I want to be there where the Soul sings
because of this Life’s Blessedness
Let us give Love through our Voices
Let us share this Voice we have had from Birth

Thank you Sun, Thank you Fire for bringing Solace
in the Dark, Cold and Lonely Days
With your Light we can see to the Edges of the World
with your Warmth we can believe in our Dreams

By this verse The Six Ancestors need to have moved from their positions around the fire to where The Voice is still standing. They form yet again a straight line with The Voice – 3 Ancestors to her left and 3 Ancestors to her right, all taking hands

The Voice of Fire
The Voices of the Ancestors
The Voices of the Living
Let us all resonate together
in one Brilliant Harmony
Let no Voice be silenced!

We all can Sing
We all want to Sing
We all need to Sing

We all can Burn
We all want to Burn
We all need to Burn

Here all still holding each other's hands,  raising it high to the SKY!

If we Raise our Voices, let it be in Song!
If we Light a Fire, let it be in our Hearts!

- - -

I am very grateful for all the varied elements and people who played their respective roles in such a way as to give rise to one great and moving burn.

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