When Sisters Speak hits home with the ladies
23 January 2012 One Comment
St. Lawrence Centre – Toronto
Featuring: Keisha Monique, Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae, Dasha Kelly, Devon The Split Jones, Truth Is… & Queen Sheba. With DJ Mel Boogie
By Anya Wassenberg
Brothers, don’t fear our strength for it is us who made you strong. (Devon The Split Jones)
Black men, white society, fathers, sex and other weighty matters were the targets of a sextet of talented spoken word performers who took the stage Saturday night at the 12th Annual When Sisters Speak event.
“Are you guys here to take in some female empowerment?” asked event organizer Dwayne Morgan to a roar of approval from the crowd. “This is not like one of those poetry shows where you feel like you’re in church.” And then some.
The amphitheatre setting of St. Lawrence Centre and its perfect size allowed for a big crowd that still retained its sense of intimacy. This was very much an audience participation show, with the near capacity crowd noisy and responsive when the lines really hit home. A hefty percentage were returning fans of the annual event, which made for a laid back vibe. Each of the poets offered a different flavour, a different take on what it means to be a black woman today.
Opening act Devon The Split Jones’ best work was lit up by her intense delivery and some pointed truths. Next up was Dasha Kelly, from Milwaukee, an accomplished performer whose theatrical performance really connected with the audience. This is for all the little girls who were told, “you talk too much!” definitely hit a chord. Her work is thoughtful, clever, funny and entertaining all at once, finding the magic inside small, everyday moments, like the piece about finding herself thinking about the object of a crush while she’s outside with the dog in the middle of the night and, while a quarter moon looks down on my goosebumps. Her take on sex was both erotic and literate. Having an orgasm is like catching a fly… you hear it before you see it. And later in the same work, This hunger is stronger than etiquette.
Toronto native Keisha Monique combines singing with spoken word that’s both keenly observant and passionate in its approach. It points out subtle truths like ..the bruises on the knees of overqualified women, and tells her father, Words are cheap when bellies are empty and the rent is due. A bright sense of humour also colours her poems, and she brought the house down with: My momma is so gangster that she stole superman’s cape and turned it into a head wrap!
Truth Is… started the second half with her ardently sincere observations and a deceptively low key style. She began in a gentle voice, but her delivery went from low key to rapid fire and urgent, and her poetry is inspired by personal events like her recent marriage to her partner. She offered observations on love and relationships with a genuine sense of emotion – and an often intriguing point of view. To die alone can be done with ease – living together takes work.
Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae, who recently received her doctorate degree, began and ended with a song that the audience joined in on. In between, she wove autobiography and personal anecdotes with poetry that touched on a range of subjects from encounters with rude bookstore clerks to the role of women in the world. You go, girl – to the grave. What we need are women. She linked disparate ideas with a fluid and imaginative sense of language; a poem that began with a take on women boxers transformed into a meditation on the nature of sacrifice. Strong work combined with a theatrical sense of movement and it made for a dynamic performance.
The show ended with a bang and Queen Sheba, a favourite at last year’s When Sisters Speak. She’s a lady who doesn’t mince her words or her approach, hitting an instant chord with her first piece – about periods. When I am getting to heaven, I’m kicking Eve’s ass. God said don’t touch the mother f**king apple! she roared. Her dynamic delivery matched her blunt truths in tone, all of it laced with a wicked sense of humour. Some of her work meanders into engagingly surreal journeys, dealing with break ups, life and love in general.
Whatever black women have to say, it’s clear they can say it with eloquence and grace.