Dwayne Morgan is no longer lost in translation...at least amongst Francophones. The Spoken word artist is excited about his latest career accomplishment, his first bilingual book Le Making Of d’un homme. Since 1993, the multiple award recipient has been a driving force within the spoken word community. The Founder of Up From the Roots Entertainment has produced over 100 events, including long running shows When Brothers Speak, When Sisters Speak, and the Toronto International Poetry Slam. He has performed for the Governor General of Canada, Michelle Jean, and internationally performs over 150 shows a year. Yet to only define Dwayne as a connoisseur of the spoken word artform is misleading. Try adding motivational speaker, educator, author, and photography to his ever growing artistic repertoire. Recently, AfroToronto.com had a chance to speak with the humble modern day renaissance man to reflect on his successful career accomplishments.
AT: How have you become such a prominent player in the spoken word scene?
DM: “There are people who wait for things to happen. I’ve made a career out of making things happen. Instead of waiting for someone to invite me to perform, I started putting on my own shows. I began traveling to different places, meeting different artists, inviting those artists to Toronto, and building bridges across borders. I’ve always been about giving opportunities, and creating new platforms for other artists. I believe when you’re the person who gives you automatically succeed.”
AT: Through spoken word, you critically examine human relationships, social politics, media etc. How do you keep a fresh outlook after so many years?
DM: “I’m actually a very shy person when I’m not on stage. Being quiet, sitting in silence observing, allows me to gain perspective and I use that perspective in the material I create. After 16 years I still manage to make it work. I am more popular today than I’ve ever been. I still love writing and telling stories that people can relate to.”
AT: Signature shows like When Brothers/Sisters Speak, are in their 10th year of production consistently attracting large audiences with sold out shows. What is the secret to your success?
DM: “I’ve taken the time to learn what makes a successful producer even for a show like When Brothers Speak… I had received an email about a big poetry event in Philadelphia. I knew nothing about the event but there was something about the email. I borrowed my mom’s van, went down there and actually performed at the event. I met all of these other artists. I thought it would be great for Toronto to see these artists since there was no other way to know they exist. That’s how ‘When Brother’s Speak’ started. I paid for the trip out of my own pocket. I’ve never been afraid to invest to generate things for the future.
I also try to have a personal element by listening to my audience. For shows like ‘When Brothers or “When Sisters Speak’, where it’s up to 600 people at a show, I still take time to personally express appreciation to people for coming out. I ask ''who did you like from the show?’ or ‘how did you feel about the event?’ …I want people to feel a communal vibe. Having this orientation allows me to have successful longevity.”
AT: As a performer, what is your most memorable experience to date?
DM: “Performance wise, I think being able to share the stage with Alicia Keys... I had never been in front of that many people.
I also enjoy traveling, seeing different cultures… Especially my first time going to certain places in Germany, Budapest and what it feels like, not being able to communicate with people yet, knowing it was the ability to communicate that brought me to those places in the first place… I don’t take it for granted.”
AT: Through your travels, how do you find the African Canadian voice differs from other voices of the Diaspora?
DM: “The voice of African Canadians is very different especially in comparison to African Americans. It’s [much] more diverse. If you’re Black in America that’s pretty much all you remember -America. In Canada we remember, Jamaica, Trinidad, Ethiopia etc. The African Canadian community here is extremely diverse…because of that there are a lot of different perspectives. The material we write out of Toronto is actually very similar to London, England because their population is very diverse as well with people from Africa and the Caribbean.”
AT: Tell us about your public work in the Toronto community?
DM: “I do a lot of public speaking and work with the school board. At York University I was speaking with teachers in the Teachers College program about how spoken word and hip hop culture can be used in the classroom. I’ve been at a lot of schools trying to talk to young people, not necessarily to become poets, or gravitate towards spoken word, but to encourage them to find anything they’re passionate about and use that to create the life they want to live. I use myself as an example as someone who has never had a ‘full time job’ and gets to live the life that they want to live.”
AT: Last March you had your first photography exhibit ‘The Sum of Her Parts’ inspired by one of your poems. Why did you decide to pick up photography?
DM: “I always had an eye for photography. In the Fall of 2005, I picked a camera and started teaching myself. People always liked the ‘Sum of her Parts’ poem so I found a way to visually conceptualize the poem through photography. Photography is still something I’m learning but as an event planner, poet, and now with photography, I’m in a situation where I can mix these art mediums.”
AT: How did you become involved with the Six Ah Wi Art Collective?
DM: “The chair of that art collective saw my work in a gallery and asked who the artist was? –He discovered it was me… -“the poetry guy!” So he called me and let me know about the collective. I’m still pretty new and raw in terms of visual art but I thought it would be to my advantage to work with these visual artists and learn some new skills. We’re working towards producing some exhibitions between now and 2015.”
AT: You’re a published author; you’ve garnered various awards… What personality traits have helped you gain so many accomplishments?
DM: “First off I’m a workaholic. I work hard and believe in what I do. This is what I have been given in life. All of us have been given different talents; we just have to make what we can with them. My parents still joke about me getting a real job. It just happened that poetry came about and I decided to take it and see what I could build with it.”
AT: Can you tell us more about your recent big announcement?
DM: “I have my sixth book coming out May 14th in Belgium. Maelstrom, the publisher, loved my work. They selected fourteen of my poems and translated them into French. This is the first time my book has been translated to a language other than English. I’m actually in the process of trying to memorize some poems in French so I can perform in French when I go there for the launch. Out of respect I want go there and say I’m performing in their language even if its only one poem. It’s not something I have to do but I want to prove to myself that I can. That’s’ one of the things I like about myself in taking risks and challenging myself.”
AT: Well Congratulations!
DM: Thank you very much!
AT: What has been the most fulfilling part of your journey as an artist?
DM: A gentleman came up to me and told me I had visited his high school and what I said to him had a profound effect, causing him to change certain things about his life… For me it’s about knowing what I do has made an impact on a young person and what I do has value.
For more information about Dwayne please visit www.upfromtheroots.ca