Interview with writer and filmmaker Tantra-zawadi

Tantra-zawadi
Tantra-zawadi - Photo credit: Arnold Browne

For Tantra-zawadi, the world is full of possibilities. From poetry to spoken word, to filmmaking, her work focuses on positive social change. After this interview, you will see art in a different way.

Cendrine Marrouat: Hello Tantra, thank you for answering my questions. Tell us a little more about you.

Tantra-zawadi: As you already know, I have a new book of life poems “Gathered at Her Sky” from Poets Wear Prada Publishing.  Partial proceeds from the book will be donated to Girl-Child Network Worldwide to help girls at risk; mostly in Africa – providing personal items, school supplies and the like.  I am also working on a few recording projects with dO iT nOW Recordings in Johannesburg, South Africa.  One of our collaborations “Secrets of Life” is presently holding the number one spot on JoziFM’s Top 20 Hit List.  It is a pleasure to write and work with such talented singers, musicians and producers.  I am also a member of Collective Spirits with Jonny Montana, Neil McLean, Bennett Holland and Dana Byrd.  Our album “Love Planet” will be released very soon.  This has been an amazing journey of love with Jonny Montana and the Collective Spirits family, and I am really excited about this project.  A few other surprises in store as well. I will keep you posted.  Loving it!

CM: You recently released a new collection, titled “Gathered at Her Sky.” Why such a title?

TZ: The title for “Gathered at Her Sky” was born from the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti.  I saw a newscast where a black woman was lying motionless amongst a pile of bodies on the side of the road.  Her hair was neatly plaited and gathered at her crown (her ‘sky’) and I was moved by her beauty even in that moment of tragedy.  I knew that my memory of her would become part of something significant.

CM: How different is this book compared to your other collections?

TZ: This book speaks more to my travels and world events (Poems for Africa, Haiti, violence against women, women’s empowerment) as well as odes to the passing of beloved artists such as James Brown and dancer/choreographer Eleo Pomare.

CM: Where can people purchase “Gathered at Her Sky”?

TZ: The book can be purchased on line at Lulu,Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com. I also carry copies for purchase at my live performances.

CM: You have also contributed to several spoken word albums. Tell us a little more about them.

TZ: I have been blessed to collaborate with many amazing artists such as:  The Love Planet EP with Collective Spirits, Mwalim Peters on the award winning CD The Liberation Sessions – Soul of the City (cdbaby.com), EARTHOLOGY by Floyd Boykin, Jr. (cdbaby.com), The Summer Breeze EP by Dolls Combers (traxsource.com), Nastee Nev’s Secrets of Life (traxsource.com), Giant Steps-Back From Miami for dO it nOW Recordings (traxsource.com) and Poetic Stimulus (a collaboration with Tshombe Sekou at poeticstimulus.com).  Urban Avant Garde-Live at The Nuyorican Poet’s Café with Canhead Records, Selling My Diamonds with Precious Gift, Chalklines on Black Asphalt with Nathan P, Blu Magazine Compilation CD and Bring That Poem Home with Fisiwe are all available upon request with the exception of the Blu compilation.  There is also a recording I completed for your book but I’ll let you tell your readers about that!

CM: You have performed in many countries in the world, including Canada. Have you noticed a difference in the way people react to your art in the United States and Canada?

TZ: The responses are similar as poets from Canada perform here and we go there.  The issues are the same from a global perspective.  People are people.  There are stories of love, injustice, pain, hope, relationships, sickness, enlightenment, etc., no matter where you live.  These stories come to life through the voices of poets.  The poetry scene in Canada is very supportive. I have been welcomed in Montreal and Toronto with wonderful hospitality and respect.  Amazing poetry coming out of Canada indeed!  

CM: Would you share your favorite moment?

TZ:  I have two: The first was my performance at the African Meeting House in Boston shortly after the millennium.  I was featured at a poetry reading hosted by Poet VCR (Vernon Robinson), right before my journey to London and Germany.  Following my performance, he and members of the audience presented me with a beautiful blanket to cover my crossing of the Atlantic.  It was such a loving and thoughtful gesture symbolic of the middle passage. Performing in that space held a special meaning for me.

The second beautiful moment was performing in Cape Town, South Africa!  The blessing of a lifetime to take part in the Badilisha Poetry X-Change Festival with amazing artists in the Motherland!  That experience showed me the importance of connecting with artists in the global community and the many ways that poetry joins us and inspires us into creative activism. 

CM: Not only are you a very talented artist, but you are also a filmmaker. Tell us a little more about your documentary, “A Silent Genocide, A Brief Insight into HIV/AIDS.”

TZ:  “A Silent Genocide:  A Brief Insight into HIV/AIDS,” edited by Oliver Covrett, was initially created as part of my performance for World AIDS Day at Stonybrook University in New York.  I had the opportunity to go a little further with my poetry in hopes of making a difference in the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS. I had no idea what the outcome would be. I asked and the people came. They shared their personal experiences with HIV/AIDS through commentary, music, poetry and art. I am so grateful to all the participants. It was a blessing that I was in Los Angeles with Betty Makoni for the 2009 CNN Heroes Awards and able to interview her for the documentary. The film was also featured in August at Cine Mostra AIDS in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  It is a blessing and an honor to share this with the world.

CM: How did people in Brazil react to the documentary?

TZ:  We received positive feedback.  The film was made accessible/free to low income people and those living with HIV/AIDS.  It was shown for one week as part of Cine Mostra AIDS Brazil’s 21st anniversary festival sponsored by Groupo Pela Vida/SP.  On behalf of the participants of “A Silent Genocide,” we are grateful to our Brazilian supporters and the opportunity to be a part of the healing process.

CM: Have you contributed to other projects related to the HIV/AIDS issue?

TZ:  Yes.  I was part of the Product(RED) Video Wall to raise awareness regarding HIV/AIDS in Africa with my short video “Scarlet Waters,” and a public service announcement for Mark Herbert Productions/BETAH Associates for HIV/AIDS.  In August, I visited the AIDS Housing Alliance in Sacramento, California, for a screening of “A Silent Genocide” and artist talk.  It was one of the most important talks I’ve ever had.  This is the message that came out of that talk: HIV/AIDS – Remember compassion, education and communication.

CM: Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

TZ: The idea came to light when I visited South Africa as part of the Badilisha Poetry X-Change Festival (love and thanks to Malika Ndlovu, the curator).  I wanted to create a short documentary about the events leading up to that important journey, the performance of my choreospective “Girl” and the poetry/creative connection.  “Girl – the Film,” is still a work in progress.  Then the opportunity presented itself for World AIDS Day – to stretch even more.

CM: What inspires you to do what you do?

TZ:  Love!  I love life – beauty, discovery, pain, birth, being a woman, relationships, growing, spirituality, children, art, music – lots of music – and in all this there is love.  In all this there is God.  The supreme inspiration in us all!

CM: As an independent artist, do you experience difficulties to promote your message? If so, why?

TZ: It can be challenging if you let it. I am on an incredible journey. I have learned to say yes to opportunities for growth that lead to new experiences.  Every step of the way there is a question and a place to share.  I don’t really like promoting myself personally yet the tools of Internet communication make the world accessible.  We can create, perform and share thanks to technology. It makes a world of difference and presents adventures otherwise beyond our reach. In terms of my message, poetically speaking, it is not difficult. I believe in what I write and enjoy watching the evolution unfold.

CM: According to you, what can independent artists do to positively affect the world around them?

TZ: Continue writing about your interpretation, your truth of the world. There are many voices, influences, cultures, laws and languages in which to share. I want to experience other interpretations of life, art and vision. It is important to share our truth. It is important to read about the past and to learn from the lives of others.

CM: What is next for you?

TZ: I enjoy doing one-woman poetry performances like Girl and Soldier Blues.  They afford me room to tell stretch with mixed media.  I am also writing a play and putting together my next choreospective.  I would like to dance a little more in my performances, be an outstanding mother, daughter, sister, beloved friend and live a passionately insightful life! Of course there will be more travels and collaborations with soulful house musicians – oh, the stuff I have in the can is bananas!  I cannot wait to share it with you all!

CM: Where can people find more information about you?

TZ: Please visit me on my WebsiteFacebook orMyspace and share it with your friends.

CM: Any last words?

TZ: My words are always new beginnings.