While we stand before each other as strangers, we are discreetly connected by common human experiences and collectively
relate to that which we have seen and felt as individuals. Our estranged relationship becomes apparent when we reveal
pieces of our lives in the form of stories; the tales shared around fireplaces, within the walls of boarding school
dormitories, between commuters in taxis and buses or even during drunken moments at a bar. In these times of connectedness
the barriers housing our solitude fall away, granting us the rare opportunity to recognise each other a little more. This
is the premise upon which Imbawula, a story telling initiative that gives individuals the platform to share personal
stories with a diverse audience, was founded. It is an occasion of expression that takes place once a month at Bassline, Johannesburg.
The crowd offer their open ears and minds to the story tellers who courageously unveil their hearts on stage.
Moving performances are delivered during intervals, while the dimmed lights that subtly illuminate the intimate space enhance
the warm ambiance that exudes throughout the room. The location is fitting, what better place to host an experience of this
nature than vibrant Jozi, a place of bountiful stories.
Imbawula is the brain child of Siphiwe Mpye, an entrepreneur, writer, creative and story teller. “The idea came about through
a casual conversation with a friend of mine who is a great story teller. While listening to one of his stories, I thought it would be
great to see him telling it on a stage,” Siphiwe explains. Childhood memories of the residents in his township gathering around
fireplaces in the evening to exchange stories was the nostalgia that fuelled his inspiration even more; “As a kid in the township
there would be imbawulas all over the hood which would happen at night. I remember only hearing five to ten minutes of the stories
before having to go back into the house. It was mostly the older kids with no curfews that could experience the full story. I wanted
to bring that magic to Imbawula.”
In a quest to bring the concept to life, Siphiwe began studying the different ways that storytelling is conducted worldwide. One of
the projects that appealed to him was The Moth, an initiative originally conceptualised in New York that brings together various
personalities and social groups for the purpose of sharing tales. In his research, Siphiwe also made it a point to tap into his own personal
experiences with storytelling to ensure that Imbawula had an African identity; “I wanted to add some African flavour, where
the audience doesn’t just clap but responds in other expressive ways, like exclaiming “Yoh!” in the middle of a story.”
Following meticulous planning and research, Imbawula was launched in December,2015. The idea that had been brewing for
years finally became a collective experience that would give the public access to a safe space for conversations. “Imbawula creates
commonality, there will always be a story or a part of a story that you can relate to in some way. The audience can be very giving
and receptive as well which is nice,” says Siphiwe.
Before Imbawula gained momentum, Siphiwe approached people from his social circle to share their stories on stage;”Initially
we were just winging it, going with the flow to see how it goes, getting a bunch of interesting people together. For the most part
that has worked. Now we meet with the people beforehand and we send them a document explaining how things work. We make it a
point to stress that it is their story, there is no right or wrong way of telling it as long as it is cool, fun and engaging.”
The journey has been bumpy; the initial venue was shut down and this led to Imbawula being put on hold for several months.
Despite this turmoil, the vision survived. Through the support of Bassline and friends in the media, the Imbawula team have been able to
work through the challenges that have come with keeping the self funded initiative afloat. This has created room for exciting opportunities,
some of which include the possibility of broadcasting the event on TV, hosting it in other cities and offering workshops to the story tellers.
Further to the element of entertainment and cohesion, one of Siphiwe’s biggest wishes for this project was to ensure that it had social impact.
Quarphix Foundation,an organisation that sponsors the tutoring and mentorship of underprivileged children, is the official beneficiary of
Imbawula. It provides career forums and opportunities for the children to familiarise themselves with social events and experiences;
“The idea is to build the children’s self esteem, we don’t want them to fear a world they don’t know. We want them to know that they belong,”
Imbawula, and communal spaces alike, are crucial because the world often disregards certain social groups and experiences. Lack of
representation and the absence of conversations can lead to the eradication of certain human identities. This leaves us and future generations
with a distorted version of history. The opportunity to share our journeys in unconventional spaces not only creates a sense of kinship,
but it also allows us to document ourselves in a world that only recognises a few.
Siphiwe’s conviction is simple:
“Every story is valid.”
Published: 2016-09-07 - 10:27:52