ARTSY FARTSY: Toronto's 'When Brothers Speak' 2012

This past Saturday, I was finally able to attend an event that I've been wanting to come to for YEARS. For as long as I can remember, something has always conflicted with the dates of Dwayne Morgan's When Brothers Speak spoken word event - but this year, I jumped on the early bird special as soon as I realized my calendar was free.

Dwayne Morgan is one of Toronto's premier Renaissance men. Poet, author, speaker, photographer, entrepreneur, community advocate - in my perspective, Dwayne is a man who has his fingertip on the pulse of Toronto, and I've followed his work for years. I first met Dwayne when he came to the University of Western Ontario to open our Black History Month celebrations. When I moved to Toronto, one of the first outings my roomie and I had was to his open mic night, called The Roots Lounge. I took my first foray into sensual photography for a photoshoot he did, and I have a number of his books and CDs on my bookcase. With all that being said, I can't believe it took me this long to attend When Brothers Speak, one of his most-anticipated annual events.

Back in 1994, Dwayne started his company, Up From The Roots,  geared towards highlighting the positive artistic contributions from African-Canadian and urban-influenced artists. From 1994 to this day, Dwayne and Up From The Roots has put on over 50 events, showcasing everything from poetry to music to dance to entrepreneurship at its best. Want to know more? Check out the event listings on Dwayne's website here.

Now. On to this year's When Brothers Speak event. Created to showcase the positive spoken word talents of men of colour from across Canada and the US, it's garnered rave reviews from everyone I know who has attended in the past. HomieLoverFriend and I braved the horrendous Toronto traffic and made it to the beautiful St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts just in time for the 8pm start. The crowd came out looking lovely, and it seemed like everyone was anticipating a wonderful show. We were treated to a pre-show jam session by DJ Manifest, and at around 8:15pm, the house light dimmed. It was show time.

First up was Just Jamaal, who did some amazing pieces on love and fatherhood. He got the crowd going with one of the tracks from his Ottawa-based hip-hop group, and had the crowd snapping, "mmmmhmmm"ing, and applauding before he left the stage. Next, we were treated to the verbal stylings of Somalia-born, Edmonton, Alberta-raised Knowmadic. Touching on aspects of life in Somalia and representing for Africa while living in Canada, the highlight of Knomadic's set was his hilarious yet truthful PSA about a world-wide epidemic: Ignorance. Baltimore's own Marc Marcel was the last poet for the half, and he held no punches. Capitalism, religion, and sex with "psycho" chicks were all covered in the pieces he performed, but his last piece was my favourite. An inspirational piece, he started off by saying "This is the most important year of your life" - and reminded us that there is no time like the present to embrace the gifts we all possess.

Intermission saw me catching up with homies in the audience, so I missed out on the goodies, picture taking, and booths that were up in the lobby. I imagine that one of the busiest booths would have been Integrity Tours - the touring company that is working with Dwayne to coordinate a trip to South Africa in March 2013. Want more info on that? Check the Facebook event listing here.

The second half of the show kicked off with Prufrock from Ottawa - the 2011 Toronto International Poetry Slam Champion. When he walked out on stage, I figured he was an unassuming dreadlocked poet reppin' for Jamaica (thanks to the island name embroidered on the bottom of his pant leg). What I didn't expect was that he would be one of my favourite poets of the night! From pieces about the contributions Black men have made to society, to education inequality, Prufrock was giving it to us all the way real. The standout piece was his letter to Snoop Lion, which started off: "Dear Snoop Lion: You ah EEDIAT." He earned the standing ovation he received at the end of his set, and gave the crowd some brand new energy.

Next up was Ritalin from Toronto, who performed 4 emotional pieces. After giving a shout out to his mom and grandmother in the audience, he performed 2 especially poignant pieces - one on the effects of domestic violence felt by his family, and one on the Danzig shootings in Toronto earlier this summer. Before he left the stage, he did a partner piece with Dwayne, which creatively touched on the definition of manhood in a way I've never heard before.

Last, but definitely not least, the boss himself took the stage. Dwayne performed pieces dedicated to his late grandfather, to the love of his life (his 5 year old daughter), and to the pursuit of passions in the face of adversity. His last piece started off with the line, "She said, 'go in'" and automatically the women in the audience let out an "mmmph!" that seemed to insinuate that all of our minds were in the gutter. Dwayne laughed and started again - and we learned that the piece was nothing like what we initially assumed, but it was probably better than anything we imagined. In his few minutes on stage, he showed us why he's been so successful for so long. Dopeness.

Overall, the night was amazing, and I was SO elated to finally support a night of When Brothers Speak. If you're into spoken word poetry (and not the corny, trying-too-hard-to-be-artsy-and-smart kind), keep When Brothers Speak - and it's counterpart, When Sisters Speak - on your radar. Big up Dwayne Morgan and all the poets for an amazing show, and shout outs to Tamika, Panin, Wayne, Tiffany, Dee, Belinda, and Charlene - all my homies who I got to link up with at the show!

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