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Praise be to ‘Desire Marea Nezimakade’

By Kofi Maqhawe Dotsey

Desire Marea Nezimakade, a virtual concert of Desire Marea’s self-titled album, was a spiritual experience that melted the boundaries of social isolation and the Covid-19 lockdown.

We often marvel at the spectacle of an artwork, picking up key elements that relate to the experience of being swooned by art. We go in expecting more and we miss the vitality of the spiritual components. The national Covid-19 lockdown demanded a kind of stillness that was unheard of and in that stillness, intimacy was present to open ourselves up to a different experience. It could be argued that Desire Marea Nezimakade, a virtual concert of Desire Marea’s album, had arrived at a very important time. As we experienced isolation, we experienced stillness and within this stillness our senses would be amplified. Desire is a story that enlivens our senses to experience a queer spiritual awakening.

Desire Marea Nezimakade

We initially experienced KwaZulu-Natal-born multi-disciplinary artist Desire Marea’s artistic expression through FAKA, a cultural movement which explored a combination of art mediums to communicate the themes focused on the experience of being queer and black in a patriarchal post-apartheid South Africa. FAKA has created a vital discography unapologetically detailing experiences of black queer bodies and music influences found in electronic and Ancestral Gqom Gospel sounds.

In 2020 Marea released their self-titled debut album through their own record label, Izimakade Records. Desire is a 40-minute avant-garde jazz album that takes us on a nomadic journey of loss, displacement, terrifying expressions of love and self-actualisation through the deliberate nurturing of their own faith. Johannesburg, a bustling city with piercing loneliness is the backdrop to exploring Marea’s music and the difficult complexities of being a queer body. Marea’s music tells its story viscerally through the delicate dance of symbolic language and a rich sound.

Desire Marea Nezimakade exists as an enlightening performance which features a live band and three powerful vocalists. You Think I’m Horny breaks the barrier between earth and the heavens and Sibusiso Mashiloane on the keys opens up a holy space with celestial synth tones. Nhlosenhle Cele’s set design signifies a large Pantheon of Gods in frightening cumulus clouds. It is as if the heavens have opened up and we as mortals have been given this glimpse of light to reflect on ourselves. We’re put at ease with the sheer power of the music by the angelic vibrations of Marea’s voice. The music direction by Sanele Ngubane offers a gift to live in the instrumental world of You Think I’m Horny. The track implores us to listen and experience a love that goes beyond the act of intercourse.

The opening has clearly established that we are among gods, some visible and others omni-present. Uncle Kenny lyrically transposes a pain we feel igniting a fire in our chests. As we get carried and lost in the music and lead by Thabo Sikhane’s trumpet to push boundaries, we are reminded by the echoing angelic voices of the backing vocalists: ‘It’s me, it’s me at the core’ and in this moment we dive into the blues. We see Marea share their vulnerability, their fear of loss, and we receive blessed insights to our own strengths through this captivating love story.

Tavern Kween pulls us out of the blues to daringly celebrate existing as a queer body.  Prompted by ‘Vul’ iSekel’ ubabonise’ we’re magically transported to places of familiarity and the need to proudly demand space to be queer. Tavern Kween unlocks parts of bodies needing sensual release. ‘Thin’ Esiphila Makuhlwile Sinekhaya Emdantsweni’. We wander the night illuminating dance floors that become the safe spaces where queer bodies find liberation.

As catharsis peaks we witness the iridescent transformation of midnight dance floors into spaces of worship. Zibuyile Izimakade is rooted in the experience of supernatural sensations that reveal our own queer divinity on unsuspecting dance halls. We encounter ourselves as Zibuyile Izimakade closes the set in an extravagant ceremony. We chant to a song structure which resembles a Wesleyan Hymn, and our ascension is facilitated by rhythms inspired by Zionist churches. Marea and Zibuyile Izimakade is a powerful call for queer divinity to be expressed in the ‘real world’.

Bonus performances of a new song called Mfula and Ntokozo bring us back to earth, experiencing ourselves anew and the world we inhabit. Mfula and Ntokozo leave us wanting more, wanting more time with our senses, basking in the truth we’ve learnt, wanting to experience more of ourselves. Desire Marea Nezimakade gives us the space to navigate this artwork with our senses. The narratives to Marea’s lyrics divulge painful challenges yet we are embraced with an illuminating voice. Casey Waves cinematography reinforces the images of heaven with the integration of light, large body shots and camera angles that look up towards the subject matter. Experiencing the concert virtually creates a new kind of intimacy, an intimacy trumping over the distance of the internet.

Ultimately, Desire Marea Nezimakade creates a painting of pure light and sees us as Izimakade dancing in our own exuberant divine queerness. Heaven is a place on earth when one listens to Marea’s music and their virtual concert is one pure expression of light – a concert that guides us through our own healing and cleanses our senses in the comfort of our own homes. Even in the isolation ‘I’ became ‘we’ and we all were moved; I just felt it.

Kofi Maqhawe Dotsey is a Ghanaian-South African performance artist who creates provocative artwork that challenges the status quo, with perspectives drawn from unimagined views of reality. Pyramidkofi is an artistic platform they founded for multidisciplinary collaboration and creative exchanges in Africa. Miza has trained both in South Africa and the United States of America, namely theatre, design and visual art. Their artistic persona is focused equally on creative and performance research, some of which includes a contribution as co-author of a chapter in a book by the Institute of Creative Arts: Restless Infections.

This review was published as part of the Creative Feel My Art Radar project which was made possible by the National Arts Council’s PESP programme.

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