Young praise poet now up there with his heroes

CAREER FOCUS: Sibongile Potelwa
CAREER FOCUS: Sibongile Potelwa

PRAISE poetry is in full flight and the old art, dating back to tribal Africa, keeps evolving.

After it was given a new life by the likes of Mzwakhe Mbuli, Zolani Mkiva and recently Jessica Mbangeni, it keeps churning new acts.

These stars are testament that being an imbongi can be a lucrative career.

Among the promising praise poets is Sibongile Potelwa, 30, from Idutywa, Eastern Cape, home of Thabo Mbeki and Mkiva.

Potelwa, who now lives in Pretoria, recites his renditions in Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and English.

He defines himself as imbongi yomthonyama, which is a praise poet who doesn't write down his ideas.

Among the people who inspire him are Mkiva and the late famous Xhosa praise poet Samuel Mqhayi.

The new kid on the block started three years ago and has performed at various events, including landing a nomination in this year's South African Traditional Music Awards (Satma).

Potelwa is nominated in the best praise poet category where he competes with his hero, Mbangeni. Also nominated are Wise and Sbo, Dithaga Tsa Ga Mme Halenyane and Vendaboy.

"I am happy because it means that people have been watching my performance and this will launch my name.

"It shows that what we do as imbongis is still relevant to the modern day.

"To me it's an honour that I compete with one of the people that I look up to. All I can say is may the best praise poet win," Potelwa says.

His talent of being an imbongi manifested when he was 11. During his childhood, praise poetry was like a game.

He began writing poems while in high school and only began to take praise poetry seriously when he was studying for his degree in finance at the University of Free State.

"I started writing while at school but I never really thought that it was a career. At the same time I wanted to focus on my studies."

Apart from being a praise poet, Potelwa works as a junior financial analyst at national Treasury in Pretoria. With his demanding daily job, Potelwa says it is a challenge to balance the two.

He has also written an anthology of Xhosa poems to be published early next year .

In February he released his own album Ndim Lo, and is yet to find a distributor.

 

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