Zulu with the mission to spread love
Thobs the Zulu Queen is an angry artist and activist who encourages Africans to stand up. Traveling all around the world she missions to bring back the African pride. And armed with her guitar she hopes to spread her message.
The sun is burning in Oakland, California. Thobs is on stage presenting the next artist. The crowd moves slowly to the stage despite hearing her voice that echoes through the whole festival area. Thobs is loud, even without her mic. Her voice vibrates directly to your eardrums and it is impossible to not get her message.
30 year old Thobekile Bridget Mbanda is also known as Thobs the Zulu Queen or shortly Thobs. She is a singer-song writer and activist born in Inchanga Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. "I come from a traditional family. The Zulus have a lot of customs and rituals that confirms who we are and that we should be pride. The colonial society is trying to take that away from us but there’s no way that I’m going to subdue to that. My grandfather was also very much into activism and social rights. Coming from South Africa as well, with the whole apartheid system, you kinda have to tell the world that hey, this is who we are. Never be apologetic. We are who we are, regardless of what other say."
Thobs started to travel in her late twenties with no money in her pockets. South Africa is still going through a lot of turmoil and Thobs thinks that the country is yet in a state where it tries to redefine itself. She recognizes the same process in her own identity. "Traveling has made me embrace more of my blackness. I’ve been in circumstances where I had to recheck my intentions and motives about what I understand with being African, what it means and how I affect society. And in return also how it has affected my world. I needed to see how the rest of the black population negotiate itself or how they identify themselves in a new environment."
Thobs uses different art forms such as theater, music and poetry to spread her message and a revolution she believes people of color have lost. "I personally believe that we are people of divinity. Especially Africans and indigenous people. We have the blessed mark. But colonization has taken away our tribe identity, our love. Love created us but then the earth is trying to tell us that we are ugly, that we are unloved. I travel the world because of love. Nobody is going to give me food and shelter if they didn’t love me. Yes, thats what i believe in," she says and gives a charismatic big smile.
California and the Caribbean and have been recurrent destinations where Thobs has discovered the marks of Africa. These places may have strong ties to Africa but Thobs observes how their African culture is slowly fading away. "I wish the Caribbean people had more access to their African heritage. It makes me understand the vision the Gaddafi had, whatever you think of him. Like how are we going to get away from the International Monetary Fund and world banks giving us loans and always subjecting us to the race of people that are begging, borrowing and asking for permission? No other race does that except us. But again, it’s the programming of years of slavery. When you go to places like Trinidad. They celebrate 150 years of emancipation but funny enough they also celebrate things like their 50 years of independence. I’m not British but independence and emancipation is one thing. They have given us all these words to play with our minds, to give us a false idea of what freedom is".
Slavery interrupted our story
Thobs smile has transformed to a tense line. She talks fast and it is obvious that the matter of race and freedom heats her up. The sky is still clear and the sun heating but an obstinate wind is sweeping by. Thobs’ words shatter hard as they leave her mouth as she keeps referring to them, the colonial system that she believes still exists. She believes that the aftermaths of the slavery have caused Africans to forget their sense of freedom. "We have amnesia. Black people have forgotten or they slowly are forgetting who they are, where they are from. And it’s hard for us to move forward because we keep forgetting the past. The system is making us feel as if slavery is the beginning of our story. Slavery interrupted our story."
She says that the “colored race all over the world” have to start taking back from the oppressors, meaning the colonialist power. However hard her words are Thobs does not think that her empowerment of Africans and people of color can be qualified as racism. "Until we claim our power back, until we claim our land back, that’s when we will have our freedom. Claiming power back has nothing to do with hatred. It belonged to us. There’s no way black people or any indigenous people can be racists. You have to look at the origin of the word. Where did it come from and how did it come about? There’s no such thing as reverse slavery or reverse racism. Those are ways to keep us guilty or feeling bad so that we can accept everything and everything except ourselves. That’s how I see it."
The art of healing
In the Zulu tribe poetry is regarded as a medium for healing. Healing can be practiced through words, touch and the use of herbs. Thobs is familiar with the power of words but does not want to call herself as a poet. She does not even believe that her talent for the spoken words is her own. "I like to call myself a public lecturer. To open conversations, restating the obvious; that we need solutions, that we need to be aware of what we are going through because you can’t have a solution unless you know you have a problem. I use poetry as a medium for healing, because I feel that I have that capability. Hopefully one day I will be able to heal by touch too but for now poetry has been the gift that I’ve been given but it’s not my own. I have so much energy because I’m not using my own energy. I’m only a vessel of what needs to be said. It’s not my own wisdom, it’s not my own truth more than it’s a divine that’s working through me."
She believes that artists have a responsibility in elevating and emancipating the audience since their work affect many. Thobs brings up Princess Magogo as a great artist who dared to break the rules in order to pave ways for other. Princess Magogo was a Zulu princess born in 1900. She was a gifted in playing the isigubhu, a stringed bow and a calabash instrument. She played traditional Zulu songs and folktales. She continued to play even after getting married and refused to quit despite of the controversy of a woman creating music. Magogo trained many other girls in the instrument and helped thus to preserve and develop traditional music in South Africa. Thobs set in 2013 up a play about Princess Magogo in Bridgetown, Barbados.
African women are not victims
"Princess Magogo is the perfect example of artists taking responsibility of their art, of what they’re saying. Because we have a role in preserving our culture. We have a role in to sing it to the greater world so that one day when we get through all this racial problems, mistrusting. It is through art and music that we are going to get to the next level. Princess Magogo embodied that preservation of art, that freedom of movement."
Thobs thinks Princess Magogo as an example of how strong black women are. Thobs says that she is furious of how African women are portrayed as weak. "African women are not victims. Black women are not stuck in the caliber of victims but the system is making us believe that we are powerless. By saying so they try to take away our power. But African women are not powerless at all. We are stuck in the western concept of womanhood. They need to check our history books. We are not powerless, we are not victims. It’s just about remembering who you are. Remember the queens that have marched before you, the female warriors who are reinstated through us. Powerless is the least thing we are."
Thobs voice is again soft when she sings. The fingers caresses the strings of the guitar. She is smiling again. She asks the audience to tell the person standing next to them that they love are loved. Some, already acquaintance, but also new faces also look at each other and repeat after her. The sun is still warming but the approaching evening is making itself reminded. The festival is over but not the celebration. Thobs shouts in the mic the address of the after party. "I hope to see you there. And remember that love is unity."
Best thing with South Africa? The people! I mean, we have 12 languages! The music, the languages, the food, the smell. It’s the people.