Filed under: Books, Poetry Corner

Lebo Mashile: Wordsmith Extraordinaire


She’s not only a word smith extraordinaire, visual verbalist, and an icon of modern South African poetry, but it is Lebo Mashile’s tireless work ethic that has earned her numerous titles including published author, executive producer, actress, television presenter, life skills facilitator/speaker, independent record producer, MC and poet. In all her creative roles, it is Lebo’s sharp intellect, questioning mind and fierce sense of social exploration that drives her passion for creativity.

Lebo Mashile stared alongside Don Cheadle in the award nominated movie Hotel Rwanda. She has also published her first collection of poetry “In A Ribbon of Rhythm”a reflection of her life’s journey, which won her the prestigious NOMA award for publishing in 2006. To compliment her collection of poetry, Lebo self produced and released her first album, Lebo Mashile Live, a musical mixture of her poetry, hip-hop, house and R&B.

Lebo has traveled both nationally and internationally gracing people with her poetry that is wrapped in “A Ribbon of Rhythms”. One of her most highlighted performances was at the Inauguration of the South African President Thabo Mbeki. She was also a guest speaker on MTV Base alongside Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Lebo was named one of South Africa’s most awesome woman by Cosmopolitan SA. Lebo is also one of the most exciting literary voices in the South African poetical cultural landscape.

We caught up with Lebo to get some one on one insight of her journey, and this is what she had to say.

Jamati: You have been written about and defined numerous times but how do you define yourself? Who is Lebo?

I am a soul. I am a black woman and an artist. I walk around feeling different, but I guess that is everyone’s story. I am a lucky because I have family and friends who care about me. I like words and smart, funny people. I like to think that I am smart (sometimes). I am big fan of watermelon, baths, elephants, and parties. Love confuses me, but I wouldn’t want to imagine a world without it. I dream big, I laugh loud and I work hard. Or hard works me.
(Why does this feel like a singles ad?) lol

Jamati: Out of all the titles behind your belt, a poet is what you are mostly known for, what is the essence between you the poet and your poetry?

Poetry demands my honesty. I cannot lie in a poem.

Jamati: Are poets born or is being a poet a self made decision?

I think that once you make the decision to be a poet, the poet is born. I didn’t know from birth that I wanted to be a poet. Some of my teachers made me despise poetry. When I finally understood the power of poetry, I knew that I had discovered my passion. It’s not the same for everyone. One of my favourite poets began writing when she was in her 40′s. There’s no formula.

Jamati: Through the birthing process of your book “In A Ribbon of Rhythms”, what was the one thing you were trying to achieve and what is the important thing you want for readers to take from it?

At the time, I wanted to prove to certain members of the literary world that the spoken word is able to stand on paper with integrity. In hindsight, I realize that was an arrogant and ill-informed endeavor. People have been writing and defying assumptions about what is worthy on the page and what is worthy on the stage since forever. Fortunately I had guidance. The book turned out to be a true reflection of my heart, even the parts that I am afraid to show in real life. I want readers to walk away feeling less afraid of their hearts.

Jamati: You spent a certain period of time in the USA and now you are located in South Africa, how has that been for you and has it changed anything in terms of your poetry?

I left America when I was sixteen. Growing up in America exposed me to African-American history, literature and music. Black culture, particularly hip-hop, made an enormous impact on my identity. The parallels between the experiences of black people in America and in South Africa were also apparent. South Africa gave me my poetic voice. There is a long eloquent legacy of poetry here, so people have an immediate cultural reference point for what I do. I draw on that legacy as an artist, but I also draw on my experiences in America and my journey as an insider/outsider. I guess you can say I am one of Africa’s many hybrids.

Jamati: If you could re-live one poet’s life, who would it be and why?

It would be a very hard choice. My top two would be Audre Lorde and William Shakespeare. Audre Lorde was fearless, and Shakespeare wrote for everyone. I don’t think their lives were easy, but I would love to walk around inside their skin, with their thoughts and their eyes.

Jamati: What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t postpone your joy” by my friend Cassandra Goings.

Jamati: When can we expect more of your books and possibly another Lebo Mashile Live 2 album?

I am working on a book, and a dvd featuring musical collaborations for later this year. The book should be out in June. I’ll keep you updated.

Jamati: If you had to say anything to all those you are paving the way for, what would you say?

Don’t give up, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. There is only one person who can do it like you.

Jamati: Thank you so much for gracing us with your life’s journey and we look forward to more of the things you are going to birth in the near future.

Thank you very much for your time and effort. It’s very sweet.


Find out more information about Lebo at her website and check out video of Lebo performing ‘Me’ below.


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4 Responses to “Lebo Mashile: Wordsmith Extraordinaire”

  • Stephen Bess says:

    March 17th, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Great interview and the Youtube video was powerful. Dumela, Mme Mashile; you are both talented and beautiful. I need to search for the book.

  • Amanda says:

    April 11th, 2008 at 2:19 am

    she is amazing.i’m the biggest fan ever and i love her work.its people like her that make you never to give up.

  • Gameli says:

    October 4th, 2008 at 11:27 am

    That was really nice, good job!

  • Prudence Chauke says:

    December 13th, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you!


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