Mediocrity must fall
Ashwyn Mberi, poet, actor, sought-after MC and voice-over artist, sat down with tjil to chat about his views about art and where Namibia needs to improve.
01 February 2019 | Art and Entertainment
According to him, artists must be at the forefront of addressing social ills and challenges and must be the first to speak up when things go wrong and when society is disrupted.
He is also pushing for artists to dedicate themselves to authenticity to improve the standard of their art - at all costs.
He is also worried that too many Namibian artists are sounding like South African artists.
“I hope everybody can be as committed as they perceive me to be. I hope people don't get comfortable. If you feel like you are not hitting the mark, I hope you go home and have sleepless nights until you are that good,” he said.
He also feels there is need for African artists to decolonise themselves and speak with their own voices and not be afraid to step into the political realm.
“As much as there is room for expression, I am here for the important voices. Who sang what needs to be said? I am so happy we are dancing, but who sang what needs to be said? In fact you are not a real artist if you don't.
How many gender-based violence songs are there? Look at how many things are happening,” he said.
He feels artists must also reflect the state of the economy in their art.
“You want to spend more money in the club? We know that alcohol was used to keep the blacks in the working class, we can lie about it, and we can be comfortable about it. But there is a reason why there is a bar in every second road of Katutura and why the money is different. But not a single one over there (white suburbs). So it is about time artists take their role seriously,” he said.
Mberi believes Namibia has the stunning and raw musical talent but whether the talent is used remains the question.
He said Namibian artists should look at legends who have blessed the world with timeless songs; who spoke to every moment of their people's lives, moments when they needed a voice.
“Namibian artists never speak out against the government. Then you are useless as an artist. It's not saying your government is wrong, but when they are you have to be first to speak and Namibian artists do not speak,” he said.
“We've got tons of problems, we cannot buy a house. How are artists not talking about that? Racism is still alive, we are carrying our parents' burdens, they raised us,” he urged.
He however pointed out that artists do not always have to speak out in protest but must speak the truth, adding that some things must always be unlearned.
“That is why The Spoken Word was so effective. That is why poetry is still my core talent; we all are going through realities which we aren't able to articulate. These are the things that must be said to change society,” he said.
Mberi also dares to say he would not call everybody doing art an artist, but rather, some are performers. He emphasised creating has to be a way of life and not an event.
“A lot of us know how to make something for the market but how many of us can create? You got to create and if you are good at what you are doing then you can make a living from that,” he believes.
He adds that his biggest fear is that Namibian artists are happy for the attention Namibian arts is getting but all they have is mediocrity.
“We tell ourselves that we are enjoying these hits right? That we are asking for representation at the highest standard and all we got is shit, stuff that sounds like South Africa and Nigeria. You know how scary that is? I don't want the last voice of Namibia to sound like something else,” he said.
Asked how far Namibian arts are from hitting the 'mark' he said that there is no time to rest. He is also thinking of opening up an arts school but believes Namibians can achieve this if they put their minds to it.
“Namibian arts is not in the right space in terms of promoting and respecting art but we are in the right space in terms of raw talent and starting to realise our potential,” he said.
Mberi will be introducing the first edition of Night under the Stars (Nuts) this Friday at the Goethe-Institute Namibia, and promises to talk about the situation in his homeland Zimbabwe.