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“Roundtable: Spoken Word for Social Change”

QPIRG (Quebec Public Interest Research Group) McGill’s annual Culture Shock series picked up again last Tuesday after a break for the long weekend, featuring a full day of workshops and art that concluded with KANATA’s Roundtable: Spoken Word for Social Change, at Café L’Artère. KANATA is a QPIRG working group that focuses on Indigenous Studies. The Roundtable was an evening of performance, featuring seven diverse, powerful artists and groups. The evening took place primarily in the format of a concert and coffee house; as a result, there was very little structured discussion of social change. Instead, the theme of social change ran through the various performances.

Each performance had its own connection to Indigenous issues or decolonization. Some addressed decolonization through First Nations traditions and Indigenous culture, such as artist Moe Clark, who sang beautifully in Cree and subsequently translated into English the underlying elements of harmony and togetherness for the audience. Other performers used their own personal stories to present their perspectives on decolonization, such as Kai Cheng Thom’s moving spoken word poetry, which discussed the oppression of Chinese-Canadians. First Nations hip hop acts Northern Collection and Warrior Minded also drew on their own experiences, rapping about injustice and Idle No More. Northern Collection’s particularly powerful “Ghetto Trapped Youth” addressed stereotyping of the ghettoizing of neighbourhoods and the systemic oppression that perpetuates it, particularly in lines such as, “This education system wasn’t built for everyone.” Karen, a throat singer from Canadian Roots Exchange (a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth who want to bridge the gap between communities), recited poetry that dealt expressly with the theme of culture shock through musings on adaptation and waiting in airports. Mehdi Hamdad’s striking and engaging spoken word performance was focused on social change, emphasizing individual accountability with his refrain, “You decide what you know.”