Browsing Jalada Magazines Latest Issue: Language

Browsing Jalada's 'Language Issue'

Jalada is a “pan-African writers collective” based in Nairobi that has been publishing anthologies of new writing on-line since early 2014. They publish poetry alongside fiction, photographs, essays and reviews, as well as occasional interviews – or Jalada Conversations. Their most recent (and largest) anthology just came out this week, and it looks like a game-changer. Each issue is assembled around a theme and this quarter’s, The Language Issue, brings one of the most long-running debates in African writing – what binds such a vast diversity of locations and cultures together, and how do we reconcile the imperative to enrich local vernaculars with literature and the access that a lingua franca like English, Arabic or Kiswahili enables. Slipping the Gordian knot, the editors of this volume (led by Moses Kilolo, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma) aren’t interested in reconciling these tensions so much as juxtaposing a set of texts written in many languages, and often tackling thematically the dilemmas of “writing in the presence of all the languages of the world” as the Martinquan author Edouard Glissant once put it. I’m posting here as both a contributor and a reader of the issue. And as a Zimbabwean poet whose ChiShona language skills have atrophied, the editors’ ecumenical approach opened up space for multilingual writing that lays bare my own vexed relation to language(s). Reading my fellow writers, I see other versions of such quandaries, and it’s good to have company.

The majority of the pieces are in English, but there also numerous translations as well as pieces in isiZulu (Sihle Ntuli offers us a side-by side self-translation) English, Bengali, French with a strong representation of East African languages. The editorial collective also includes poems from outside Africa –Canada via China, India, reminding us that world literature is not the sole property or critical concern of U.S. and European academics – “global Anglophone” writers are also global readers. For poetry-hounds one highlight of the collection is the inclusion of audio links to each poet reading their work. Jalada’s commitment to a collective project is on display in Sitawa Namwalie’s poem “The Chase”, which appears with side-by-side translations into both Kiswahili and its street cousin, Sheng – a poetic counter to the kind of inter-ethnic tensions that still haunt Kenya years after the post-election violence of 2007-8. You’ll enjoy reading these poems far more than my report…so here are some lines from Alexis Teyie’s poem, Msema Pweke Hakosi to whet your appetite:

I don’t need a phone booth to be a superhero:

just an unfaithful tongue and a world

of uncalibrated axes.

This is my superpower: kumimina. Interstitial loving. Cross-caressing.

The Over-Lover. The Under-Sharer. Deliberate rubbing. …

…Dreaming in the cracks of Kiswahili,

TV Korean, marketplace-livingroom Luo, unreciprocated Englishes, and see,

a little Sheng to slip through crevices, but dammit a lot of teeth

to make up for it all… You’ve got my wires

all tangled…