Tuesday, 21 June 2011


 TJ Dema (photo by Thomas Pirel)

Botswana poet TJ Dema is set to make a global mark this year. Fresh from performing at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) in Zimbabwe, she is now putting the finishing touches to a recording of 12 Batswana poets/spoken word artists on one CD.

“Hopefully this multi-lingual albeit mostly English project titled 'Dreaming is a gift for me' will be out late July/early August as we are entering the post production phase,” she tells SWAN.

At HIFA, a six-day annual festival and workshop programme that showcases local, regional and international arts and culture, Dema performed in April with an eclectic ensemble. The group comprised Zimbabwean poet Dikson, Norwegian composer and instrumentalist/vocalist Cecilie Giskemo, Norwegian guitarist Asbjoern Lerheim and Zimbabwean saxophonist Vee Mukarati.

Giskemo composed music specifically for poems by Dema and Dikson, and the poets performed the sets live. There are now plans to take the production on tour, Dema says, with a show called “Sonic Slam Chorus.  Check out the audio samples at: http://soundcloud.com/dikson/these-women-by-sonic-slam

Dema first came to our attention last year at the fourth Shakespeare & Company Literary Festival in Paris, France. She stood out with her spoken-word performances, covering subjects that ranged from lost childhood to domestic abuse.

Her skills with rhythm and drama made everyone in the audience sit up and listen. This was literary rap that impressed with the dexterity of the wording, the unexpected placing of the beat, and the profound subject matter.

In an interview after that festival, TJ told us that she doesn't consider herself a political writer because she is "wary of boxes and titles" and prefers not to be compartmentalized.

"My poetry is a mixture of the personal and the political," she said. "The effect is a little less confrontational so that people are willing to listen. The work isn't autobiographical as some might think, but I try to make it authentic."

TJ, now 29 years old, said she draws her inspiration from what happens around her, and she's motivated by the need to make a difference.

"I'm not trying to save the world but I do think that stories can change perspectives and then you can be able to make informed decisions," she said.

"I think sometimes we are so happy that we forget that terrible things are happening. And it doesn't have to be happening to a million people, it can be just one person who still needs to have her or his story told," she added.  –A.M.