The man I’m going to talk to today is Abe Ape; an Australian citizen and former refugee of war-torn Sudan. He is now a spoken-word poet and hip-hop artist, and teacher of Melbourne’s communal movement Creative Rebellion Youth.
In brief, Sudan has a politically volatile history, from civil war between nationalist and religious movements, slave trading, and the consignment of child soldiers involved in rebel groups such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM – between 2,500-5,000 children counted to be involved in 2004).
There was also backfall from UN council sanctions placed on Sudan in 1995, which resulted in US bombing of a chemical plant in Khartoum in South Sudan (Abe’s hometown) as part of the ongoing “war on terrorism” scandal and suspicion of Al’Quada movement in the area. The homelessness, poverty and civil war in Sudan led to hundreds of thousands of Sudan citizens to escape and seek asylum in neighbouring countries.
It’s a sunny day, although cloud occasionally obscures the sun’s healing rays. I stroll down the banks of the Yarra River approaching Abbotsford Convent. It’s a point of transistion in my own life, and I am here to discuss Abe Ape’s life. Abbotsford Convent contains Lentil as Anything, a pay-as-you-please restaurant based around charitable and communal notions of service that serve as the perfect backdrop for this interview.
After I have reached there, I find a nice spot in the sun. Abe paces to the table I sit at, recognising me immediately although we haven’t actually met before in person. He is a very tall man, nearly 7 foot in height. This height is governed by a placidity and friendly nature that makes his height more of a glad presence rather than anything intimidating.
Tools of Language and Communication
Abe tells us of his own journeys in simple movement and action, outside of elements of pathos. “We first migrated from Khartoum to Egypt before Australia. In Egypt one of our requirements for us to maintain asylum was for us to learn Arabic.”
When asked about what Egypt was like: “It was very chaotic still, so much noise. Australia is much better, more like home should be.” During this time, Abe’s father passed on. “We were facing more rejection in our attempts for asylum, and things were grim.”
“I wrote a poem for my father recently to tell him I was doing okay. We can speak to people from beyond with the power of words.”
Abe came to Australia in 2004 catagorised as an illiterate refugee, although already fluent in not only his native tongue but also in written and read Arabic. Abe moved to Greenwood, Melbourne, thanks to the sponsorship of current family living there, who loaned the money where they could to present Abe with a chance to live in Australia.
“I then started English classes every day, as I was catagorised as an illiterate refugee.” I found this branding of illiteracy rather bizarre, considering he was already fluent in two tongues, which is more than most Australians can say about their own literacy skills.
When asked about how hard it was for him to grasp English, he remarked, “It’s kind of complicated to put the process in words. As a natural communicator, I found it frustrating to not be able to speak to others properly. There’s nothing worse than being misunderstood.”
“I watched a lot of TV and picked up on certain manners of expression used with words that helped me understand English better and helped me think in English, although the universal expression is still half-half. And I would just write, write, write, all the time, easing in slowly.”
Communal and Musical Work
Abe works one-on-one with young people at Campbell Street, Collingwood, and helps them hone their voice and stories for spoken-word performance as hip-hop MCs. I then ask what hip-hop professionals Abe has collaborated with recently.
He points at my Uncomfortable Beats shirt. “I have collaborated with Able8 last year and do so now. He is very patient and allowed my own style of wordplay.” Abe also has been working with politically active crew Peace Palette, and is soon to perform a selection of spoken-word pieces at Studio 64 in Collingwood in aid of charity for Sudan.
“I don’t have much to say about this. I believe there’s no racism in Australia, and only that (there are) a few individuals who are weak-minded, who indulge in mindless activities which the young follow.”
“One day on a sunny day, thousands of people can go to protest. Then on a rainy day, hardly anyone will show up. Is this just a pastime to people here, or do they believe in what they do?”
“It’s about consistency and awareness of what is going on. Are you going to let your thoughts about the world guide what you do, or is it just about whatever that you feel at one time that guides you?”
It turns out Abe likes James Patterson, an American author known for criticism placed on him by Stephen King, and also as a popular writer of the Alex Cross series. it may also seem fairly obvious to some that a politically charged character from Africa like Abe found inspiration from Nelson Mandela.
“I’m amazed how he can hold such responsibility for such a large group of people, and do it without conditions or asking for anything in return.”
Future Travel and Direction
On this subject, it seems like Abe is a guy who is right in the moment. He has no answer as to what he’s got planned for the future.
When I asked him what other countries he wanted to go, he had a few things to say on the matter. It became apparent that where-ever Abe goes, “First I would learn some phrasebook language and then…”
I had to cut in, “You think that you should learn the language before you go somewhere?”
Abe shrugs and looks confused. “Of course.”
This is one of those times when I realise the essential arrogance and colonial mindset that we have, in that we go to other countries and expect to get along and that other people will speak your language, that they will adapt to you rather than the other way around.
We break our fast and conversation with a vegetarian meal, and Abe talks with others around us, and then hones in on my own direction as author for Haarp Media. It surprises me of the complexity and lack of direction I take myself when I talk of my own endeavours, and I come out of the conversation humbled and more of a sense of my own position and direction.
It’s really quite amazing that some people can have such influence on you in this respect. I can now tell first-hand how influencial he’d be to his younger students in providing them with direction and support.
We take our leave, and Abe offers me a lift, but I want to walk back near the river and recollect the conversation. Abe is still pondering why we decide to take vacations to another country overseas.
“I can’t believe that people pack their things up to move halfway across the world! We did because we had to, you do it because you want to!”
You can catch Abe Ape in a spoken-word performance at Raise It Up – A Musical Extravaganza. You can find an article on the event here.
Abe will also be launching his book ‘Humble‘ on the 26 September at Southbank Library.
Written by Kristian Hatton.