Blah Ze Blah: Tapping the Eastern Cape’s creative talent

By Dave Mann

When Grahamstown based performing arts platform, Blah Ze Blah were asked who they were and what they’re all about, they responded simply with  “We’re an idea, whose main purpose is to create more ideas”.

With numerous Eastern Cape based projects such as the One Hart Music Festival, Ladies Night, and the National Arts Festival Music Sessions, Blah Ze Blah have brought a number of ideas to the city of Grahamstown. Ideas that have showcased the talents of various young artists, performers, creatives and meaning makers.

Before becoming an arts brand in 2011, Blah Ze Blah saw its beginnings in a performing group taking the stages of Grahamstown’s pubs and clubs, but decided to swap platforms and carry out their art through boosting the work of others.

“There’s a fine line between business and art, so one could say that we are doing the same thing, but on a different platform where us as the acts on the stage are not the centerpiece but the brand is,” says Blah Ze Blah founder, Sinethemba Oziris Mzwali. “The change came about because of the philosophies that guide our art and perspectives. South Africa, the Eastern Cape needs an injection of Blah Ze.”

It’s easy to see why an initiative such as Blah Ze Blah came about in Grahamstown in particular – a city riddled with socio economic ills, but rich in creative talent. Unfortunately, this talent remains untapped most of the time or is only accessed over the duration of the National Arts Festival. Mzwali highlights the need for the Eastern Cape community to start listening to and supporting their local artists.

“Artists are the politicians I believe can bring true change to all the nonsense in this country. The Eastern Cape has no narrative and artists are the people that could give this place some life, narrative, and perspective. It makes no sense to give so much air time to replicas of American culture instead of originals,” explains Mzwali. “There are too many imbalances in our society and the Eastern Cape displays these imbalances without shame. My philosophy is that the musicians and artists we work with and have worked with have something that could spark a seed of awakening to so many social issues about our little province.”

With a finger constantly on the pulse of the local arts movement, Blah Ze Blah have scouted out and spotlighted young creatives ranging from Hip Hop artists like Optik and Flex Boogie, Soul singers like Obie The Real, and burgeoning acoustic acts and poets. “I’ve been doing this for a minute now and I think it’s safe to say that I know almost all the artists in the country that are doing things along the lines of what Blah Ze Blah is established for,” says Mzwali. “Most artists that we don’t know approach us because people recommend one another to us.”

The arts brand has established partnerships with prominent arts related organizations such as Makana Tourism, Fingo Festival, and most notably, the National Arts Festival. They also branched out into the Western Cape last year in an effort to get in touch with likeminded artists and creative platforms.

Blah Ze Blah has spotted a gap not only in the creative scene, but in the socio- political landscape of the Eastern Cape. To be able to establish a multi-provincial platform for South Africa’s emerging performing artists takes an immeasurable amount of time, dedication, and passion. And what role does all of this play in the everyday life of Blah Ze Blah themselves? Mzwali replies quite simply, “Progress, growth, perspective, evolution, siyasebenza.”

Find out more about Blah Ze Blah on their website.

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