Buhle Ngaba’s beautiful book is empowering young black women

Nigerian author Chimamande Ngozie Adichie said that, “To choose to write is to reject silence”. The embodiment of these words, Buhle Ngaba’s The Girl Without A Sound is the comely tale of a young girl who, with the help of a red winged women, begins to find her unique voice. The actress, activist and author wrote the story in defiance of a racist and patriarchal society where black female bodies are frequently disempowered and dismissed. For Buhle, it’s a call to action and an encouragement for girls and boys of colour to find and use their voices to shape their lives and worlds. The compelling tale is accompanied by splendid mixed-media imagery using the photography of Neo Baepi and illustrations of Thozama Mputa. We had a quick catch up with her about the process and inspiration behind this transformative story.

Buhle Ngaba

What inspired the story? 

Several things! But mostly it was inspired by the relationships I have with the women in my family (particularly my aunt) and how they have shaped my understanding of the world. My aunt handed me my first book of rhymes at 6 years old. I don’t believe I would have been the same person without that introduction to literature. So, very directly this little girl is me, but I wrote it for all women of colour who have ever felt silenced and as a result, unsure of their own voice. So it is from me (who was once a black little girl) but it is for all of us.

You collaborated with KaMatla Productions and a group of creatives. How did this come about and what was the process like? 

KaMatla is an NPO I started last year to aid the development of the arts in underprivileged communities and to develop the legacy of storytelling amongst the youth. To that end, we are launching a 6 week Constitutional Law Drama Workshop series on the 28 Feb at Amazing Grace Children’s Home. The work I do under the KaMatla banner is all aimed at nurturing the voices of those who aren’t heard or those who aren’t given a chance to speak. It made sense for me to release the book under the banner of the NPO.

The group of creatives are all people I have known for some time, and they are all amazing at what they do! After I had written the story, I realised that there was potential for me to do more with it and I felt like I had a responsibility to do so. This book matters because little black girls need stories written about them and for them, because when I walk into book stores, I don’t see black authors or characters written for children’s books. I strongly believe that if we don’t use our words, and use them loudly, we remain invisible.

The process was nothing short of a miracle. I wrote the story in three days, a day later I had decided that I wanted to turn it into a book and I was always clear about wanting it to be in mixed-media so it was just a question of gathering a team I really wanted to work with. Two days later, I had drawn up a rough brief of what I envisioned and I had a verbal commitment from all the creatives I had asked. By that weekend we were shooting with Neo Baepi (photographer), two days later Thozama Mputa had started illustrating according to the brief and Sarah Koopman started editing it. A week later, we had all the material we needed so we handed it to Ryan Haynes (designer) to turn it into the easily accessible PDF it is now. We created it in 3 weeks

The Girl Without A Sound is a message of hope for all of us (women of colour) to keep searching for our voices, to fight to be heard, and to use them loudly to implement change.

Buhle Ngaba

 What are some of the skills you’ve learnt as an actress that helped when writing the book? 

Before I call myself an actress I call myself a storyteller, so I don’t see the author and the actress as exclusive from each other. I am a black female actress and the world doesn’t write stories for me. No one is looking to document our voices. It only makes sense for me to write my own. That said, I don’t think that because I am a storyteller (as an actress) and I am onstage so often, I have the awareness of what makes a great story and the importance of telling those stories that are untold.

What has been most challenging and rewarding so far? 

The most challenging thing thus far was how our link to the download crashed within an hour as a result of traffic. That said, I have a fantastic tech team that resolved it within three hours. The most rewarding has been watching people receive it and spread it because they understand what it was born of and why it is important. 

Are you working on any other creative projects we can look forward to? 

I am a storyteller, actress, activist and most recently a writer. I am at my best when I feel useful or stretched towards something bigger than me. That is why I was compelled to write this story and release it the way I did. The Girl Without A Sound is me but it is all of us and it is about time we all started searching for our sounds. The world needs them, especially now. The Girl Without A Sound is a message of hope for all of us (women of colour) to keep searching for our voices, to fight to be heard, and to use them loudly to implement change. It is a call to action.

I am working on a play written by John Kani called Missing which is going to the Iberoamerican Festival in Columbia in a week and a half. I am also going to be launching a campaign in a few months to raise money for feminine hygiene products (specifically mooncups) for young girls in the North West district who miss up to 50 days of school a year due to a lack of sanitary products. This weekend I also launched a six week Constitutional Law Drama Workshop series at Amazing Grace Children’s home in Joburg under the banner of my NPO KaMatla Productions.

Find out more and download The Girl Without A Sound here.

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