It’s easy to tell that Busiswa Gqulu works with words, because you ask her one question and the answer fills an entire page.
But there’s a rhythm, a focus and an intensity to the words that sets this performance poet apart. She’s not afraid to tackle touchy or taboo subjects either, such as her poem on abortion that she performed at the Poetry Africa event.
You can catch her on YouTube in the gloriously filmed video for the dance track My Name Is by DJ Zinhle, featuring Gqulu rapping out lyrics in English and isiXhosa.
The track got so much airplay that it was released by a New York record label and Gqulu got gigs in several countries, including Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia as a result.
She’s one of a few poets to have been signed up by a record label, joining Kalawa Jazmee Records after the success of that track. Gqulu (26) is now releasing her own single and a book of poetry.
Her passion for words was ignited by her teachers and she performed her first poem at her grandmother’s funeral. As a teenager she expressed her emotions through poetry, and in 2005 she joined the Young Basadzi Women of Poetry collective in Durban.
“That’s where I made money for the first time and I was hooked,” she says.
They performed at children’s homes and shelters for women, fuelling her desire to tackle social issues yet still make poetry fun.
She also trained in public speaking and started writing for specific corporate functions. “If someone needed something slightly close to poetry, I’d be that girl,” she says.
It’s the musical collaborations that are currently propelling her career, however.
“Some DJs wanted to do something different so they asked me to recite on some tracks. They’re tracks you can dance to so it’s about having fun, but they also have a message about women taking care of themselves and growing to be fantastic,” she says.
“I write about things that are close to my heart, things I have been touched by in my life or other people’s experiences as young black people in South Africa. I don’t preach, but it’s always about the message.”
— Lesley Stones