Culture  Spoken word too, fights the power

Harlem Renaissance’s Spoken Word is Coming to Town with a Jazzy twist

Calling all spoken word fans, jazz lovers, and poetry aficionados! Le Balcon will host a unique evening of live music, poetry, and fine dining on April 26. On the menu is a melting-pot of emerging slammers, poets, and musicians, all tied together with a  relaxed atmosphere reminiscent of Harlem’s spoken word era. Spoken word is a form of oral poetry which emerged during the Harlem Renaissance, and was deeply influenced by the ‘60s Civil Rights Movement. Prior to the ‘60s, spoken word was predominantly viewed as a useful tool to narrate stories and express oneself artistically. However, after the Civil Rights Movement, spoken word became a politicised form of art that countercultural groups used to express their worries, emotions and demands in the fight for racial, post-colonial, gender, and social justice reform all over the world.

Legendary speeches like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” and Booker T. Washington’s “Cast Down Your Buckets,” inspired many groups of artists and musicians to develop and refine spoken word in the 1960s. One of these groups, The Last Poets, played a crucial role in popularizing the art form and inscribing it at the heart of Black culture. Spoken word has since played a vital role in shaping Black music, and is considered to have given birth to rap, hip-hop and many other musical genres.

Today, spoken word and slam poetry are both thriving and effective art forms drawing on diverse subject matters and musical trends. This is especially true in Montreal’s art scene, which has produced some of the genre’s most talented artists, such as Fabrice Koffy and Kym Domique-Ferguson, who will be the featured in Le Balcon’s Les Séries Spoken’Jazz # 1.

 

Meet the Artists

Fabrice, one of the artists of Le Balcon’s upcoming event, grew up in the Ivory Coast, and began writing poetry in French as a teenager. Over the past five years, he has been working with the Kalmunity Vibe Collective (www.kalmunity.com) and has participated in a variety of collaborations and shows. This includes shows at the FrancoFolies de Montréal and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. In 2016, he won a Vitrine des Musiques Locales Métissées award (an award highlighting Montreal artists who blend their inspirations of cultures and traditions from all around the world), and was invited to MASA (Marché des Arts et du Spectacle Africain) and performed onstage with Salif Keita (Afro-pop singer and songwritter from Mali known as “The Golden Voice of Africa”). Fabrice is also active in community organizations and schools, where he frequently gives slam and poetry workshops. He also regularly takes part in slam events organized by the Ligue Québécoise de Slam (LIQS). Onstage, Fabrice brings elements of theatre and music to his distinctly modern and urban poetry.

Kym Dominique-Ferguson, another of Le Balcon’s upcoming artists event, is a poet by birth, a theater artist by training, and a producer by nature. For over a decade, he has wowed Montrealers with his theatrical poetry and open mic nights. In August 2015, he successfully produced and performed his first one-man show, The Born Jamhaitianadian, to a sold-out audience.  From 2015 to 2016, he participated in  the Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program ensemble and, soon after, was accepted into the renowned Spoken Word Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta.  In September 2017, he made his directorial debut with the Phenomenal 5IVE, an acclaimed production that ran for five days at the MAI (Montréal Arts Interculturels). Phenomenal 5IVE was a production mixing poetry, music, theatre and dance featuring 5 phenomenal women (Sar El Bey, Manouchka Elinor, Stella Jetté, Majiza Philip, and Elena Stoodley). The poet is currently working on his first play, titled #DearBlackMan.

 

The McGill Daily met with Kym Dominique-Ferguson and asked him a few questions.

 

The McGill Daily (MD): How long have you been doing Spoken word?

Kym Dominique-Ferguson (KDF): I have been writing poetry since I could put my pen on paper, but the actual practice of performing spoken word/poetry I began when I was 18 years old at the Edna Manley College School of Drama in Kingston, Jamaica.

MD: Do you think Spoken Word still as  powerful a protest tool like it was in the past?

KDF: Definitely. The expressions “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” are the words of a fool. Words have been the most powerful tool used to control people, to move them to take action, to create revolutions, to cause an uprising. Very few people can hear the words “I have a Dream” and not associate them with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech. “By any means necessary” is one of the most controversial expressions Malcolm X was notorious for using. “Fight the Power” was synonymous with the Black Panther party of the late 60s-early 70s, but associated to the rap group Public Enemy. President Obama’s acceptance speech from his first inauguration was pure poetry, meant to bring change and hope to the nation. The spoken word artist has the job of telling the truth of their time to the people who will listen. By retelling the news in metaphors, rhymes, iambic pentameter and more. To make you laugh, cry, think, and to make you wonder and question. To make you want to read, read, read, and write, write, write. We are the singers and rappers, the storytellers and the revealers of truth.

MD: How important do you think the spoken word movement is today?

KDF: Very much. In a time of fake news it is the responsibility of the spoken word artist to show the reality we and the people around us experience. At the end of the day, our words will go down in history, right alongside Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, and more. Without the spoken word movement, people lose their voice. Without their voice, there is no push-back against a system that is set-up against the people who live in it.

MD: How is the Montreal Spoken Word scene, and what should we expect on April 26?

KDF: Montreal’s spoken word scene is as diverse as it is vibrant. You should expect to see fireworks, slow burning flames, soft caresses and hard hitting wake-up calls. Be prepared to see artists open up their hearts and speak their lived truths through their souls.

 

Find out more about Le Balcon’s event here, and buy your tickets at  https://www.admission.com/event/les-series-spokenjazz-avec-fabrice-koffy-et-kym-dominique-ferguson-billets/907911.

This interview was edited for clarity.