With each page you turn, challenges and complexities of everyday life for African women and female artists are laid bare in poet’s new offering.
Hullo, Bu-bye, Koko, Come In is Koleka Putuma’s second anthology, published in April 2021. In it, Putuma sheds light on how African female artists are celebrated only in theory. She talks about the loneliness and suffocation they endure which eventually leads to them “to die celebrated and unseen, celebrated and paranoid, celebrated and suicidal, celebrated without medical aid, and celebrated without funeral policy.”
Putuma is an award-winning theatre practitioner who created and directed No Easter Sunday for Queers, a theatre adaption from a poem of the same name from her first anthology, Collective Amnesia (2017). The debut anthology won multiple local and international awards and has been translated into more than five European languages. Hullo, Bu-bye, Koko, Come In builds on the themes from Collective Amnesia, which addressed grief, pain, religion and queer identity.
According to Putuma, the title of Hullo, Bu Bye, Koko, Come In is inspired by the phrase made famous by legendary Afropop musician, Brenda Fassie in her 1992 song, Istraight Lendaba. Fassie’s words and her life as an artist act as a framework for the anthology, where themes such as erasure, sacrifice and fame are discussed.
Divided into four chapters, using each phrase as a title for a chapter, Putuma compartmentalises her thoughts, using quotes from international and local historical figures to introduce the chapter.
In the first chapter, ‘Hullo,’ Putuma highlights the experiences that African female artists encounter when touring the world. “I wanted to reflect on my personal experiences of travelling and performing outside of South Africa, and more specifically Europe,” explains Putuma on her website.
Through her poems, Putuma sheds light on how African women are often not credited for their work. That the same society that celebrates them is also behind tearing them down. African women back then and now, are constantly overlooked because of the colour of their skin and their gender.
Looking at the South African entertainment industry, Putuma also echoes the broader business struggles South African artists face daily. Drawing inspiration from the words of women like Mariam Makeba, Winnie Mandela, Tsitisi Dangarembga and others, Putuma criticise the media industry for how little has changed for African women between then and now.
In the book, Putuma says African female artists “have mastered how not to look angry, backspace, threatening,” and how “they smile with the injury of [their] ancestors still haemorrhaging on [their] faces”. Apart from the racism in foreign countries, they must still politely battle the microaggressions of overeager foreigners who want to touch their hair or incorrectly pronounce their names.
and you polite and inoffensive,
In the last chapter, ‘Come In,’ Putuma discusses the different hats South African women wear. She speaks about the baggage women carry as they navigate being grandmothers, wives, providers, healers, servants, and victims – all while trying to keep everyone happy – bringing up themes of resilience, belonging and shrinkage.
Like the writing style in Collective Amnesia, Putuma does not follow the conventional rules of poetry and prose in Hullo, Bu-Bye, Koko, Come In. There are no titles to introduce the poems, rhyme schemes or conventional stanzas. Instead, Putuma leaves the door open for readers to create their own pauses and titles.
The book reads like a journal, with words scratched out, phrases muddled up into long single sentences, and words scattered all over the pages. The anthology feels like a window into someone’s thoughts.
As a South African woman, the book functions as a reminder that most women in South Africa face similar problems, that their upbringings and experiences are not so different from one another. The anthology celebrates them, centres them, and criticises society for belittling them.
Vuvu rating: 11/10
FEATURED IMAGE: A copy of Hullo, Bu-Bye, Koko, Come In by Koleka Putuma. Photo: Dumisani Mnisi
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