On Saturday, September 30th, from 7pm-2am, Black Space Winnipeg will be putting on their second instalment of Nuit Noire in partnership with aceartinc., located on the second floor of 290 McDermot Avenue. Nuit Noire was founded out of “the need to diversify ... [and highlight] community voices,” and this year’s Nuit Noire, entitled Illuminate Our Voices, showcases Afrocentric visual and performance art.
This past week, I sat down with Nuit Noire artists Edmund Machona and dione c. haynes to discuss their perspectives and development as spoken-word performers.
FULL: How did you arrive at spoken-word performance?
Edmund Machona: I am a Zimbabwean-born, Zimbabwean-raised new immigrant. Spoken word started as a way to comment on social issues around me and my experience in Winnipeg. I started off volunteering in an educational environment within grass-roots activism, and in that process, I started speaking, and I found that it resonated with people. My work mirrors the style of poetry and story-telling of my grandmother. It allows me to have a conversation with people in a way that broadens their mind.
dione c. haynes: I’ve been writing my entire life. Poetry’s been my longest affair. More recently, I started fooling around with comedy writing. Some fairly severe experiences led me to that. I started last December, and now me and my friend Elissa Black Wolf Kixen have an open mic called WOKE Comedy Hour twice a month: at X-Cues’ the last Friday of every month, and at The Goodwill the first Tuesday of every month. It’s been going really well.
FULL: By that, do you mean you’ve gotten a good response from people, or you’re feeling really fulfilled by it, or both?
dch: Our goal is to promote womxn and non-binary folks of colour and Indigenous womxn and non-binary Indigenous folk. We’re still growing our talent. There’s tons of talent, it’s just a matter of getting people on stage. What I had foreseen as the part to grow was the crowd, but we’re good with that, and that’s really exciting. Elissa and I feel super pumped to be able to have this space, because comedy is still white-male dominated, and I feel like there’s a very narrow focus on what comedy can be. There’s so many situations that are funny, maybe not funny at the time, but that’s one of the ways in which we heal. I’m appalled by the lack of creativity when people are still relying on heterosexism and racism as comedic points. That has for real the fuck been done. As a writer, it feels like you’re not even trying. It’s embarrassing.
When I see comics of colour, Indigenous comics, do shit that puts us down, my first thought is why? Nine out of ten times we don’t get paid as much as white comics, so we’re pushing ourselves down for free, and that’s a really fucked up equation.
So it’s great to create a room where people can learn, because I’m still learning. I’m new to this. But I want to be a good artist, and I want to grow, and I recognize that part of that is that you will always be learning. I just got a leak that there may be an LGBTQ room. It’s exciting because these are people that are new, and they’re getting inspired to do their own thing, and that to me is the beauty of elbowing and making that space. It’s not like everybody has to be under the WOKE banner, just do your thing, that’s the point. Get out there and make good art that represents you, your heritage, that honours your ancestors, that lifts you up.
FULL: What are some things that drew you to spoken word as a medium of expression?
EM: I’m very much a politically-minded individual. Being black in Winnipeg is stressful. As a new immigrant, I found the stories that I told and the work and volunteering that was doing were shaping discussions about race and racism, discussions about colonialism, and what we can do as individuals to grow our perspective of other people. Some of it was also harsh criticism of people I run into in society and criticize directly: what ignorance has done to them, and how their privilege is unknowingly very harmful to other people. I’m in a space now where I’m trying to balance that kind of message with my own artistic identity. One of the things that happens when you are working with any kind of political or social idea, is that that can become your art instead of a free expression of other aspects of your creativity. I’ve noticed that as this political message has started to garner some traction and attention, there’s a lot of negativity that ends up building up. It’s a very difficult space to be in because there’s a negative response when someone challenges the status quo. If, for example, you’re attempting to raise awareness about the rights of women, it’s very easy to constantly be bombarded by accusations of being a feminazi. And so, when you’re trying to express yourself artistically, some of that negativity can end up appearing too often in your work. My attempt right now is to step back a little and find more positive meaning and messages to highlight, just to balance out the negativity. There are other things about being black that I would love for people to understand and experience and share with me.
dch: It took me awhile to move from written work to spoken word. When I was little, it was a lot of sunsets and snowflakes, and truthfully, those are worthy topics to write about. But after awhile, other things started happening in my life that were less dreamy. I don’t think that I even thought of performing really, because writing was such a private relationship for me.
I definitely remember one of the first times I performed. I had written a poem for a Fringe play I was in. I was going through some really fucked up shit at the time, and this poem was crafted over the course of probably six months. That was the first time I let myself create as I needed to. Before I was very stuck on this, “The first paragraph comes first, then the second paragraph comes second.” I was thirty six or thirty seven, and that was the first really big time I performed.
Then, when I moved to Vancouver, I performed fairly regularly, and that was good because it forced me to get out there every week. I was hanging around with a fair amount of slam poets, performing on the open mic, and that’s what made me go, “Okay, you can’t hoard all this writing.” I probably still hoard a good 85 to 90 percent, but you have to get it out at some point.
EM: I’ve always felt comfortable speaking in front of people, but I used to write a lot in preparation for that. When I came to Canada, there was a void in my social life, my relationship life, my connection to my family. There was a lot going on, and it really didn’t leave much room for creativity. The way I used to come to things was by writing them first, and I neglected that part of me for four-and-a-half years. Eventually I realized there were people and places I could connect with and genuinely express how I felt, and the moment I realized that, it started to come out. I no longer needed to write it down. Every time I speak, I find that I can catch those moments of people genuinely listening. I can catch that moment when I say something that someone has never heard or thought about before, because people either don’t have the ability, or the courage, or the time and the patience to say it. One of the resounding comments I always get from non-POC people is, “I’ve never thought about this before,” or “I’ve never heard this before.” I didn’t find that very interesting or validating, but then I started to notice that my POC friends and audience members were saying the exact same thing, but in a different way. They were saying, “You need to do this more.” I had this old lady in the audience during a panel discussion, she got up and she pointed at me, “That young man right there is so eloquent.” And I knew all of those things about myself, but for four-and-a-half-years of being here, I had never heard that from another older black woman. At that point, I was like, “This is something that I definitely should do, because it encourages people.”
FULL: With your writing, what are some goals you have about what you want to communicate, or what are some themes that you find yourself returning to?
dch: One of my first goals is to disrupt the English language. I had a professor who talked about how the English language does not have space for people like us. I would say any land that has had a hand in colonization and kidnapping and enslavement does not.
So I want to disrupt the English language and showcase the relationship that I have with it. There’s part of me that’s very playful and curious. It’s fun to make puns, but it’s always interesting to say, “Hey, where did this word come from?” And how we use it influences how we think, and how we behave with ourselves and towards other people. I think it behooves me to put an exposé on that.
My stage name is rampage!, and in terms of overall themes, I am consistently purging slavery, colonialism, capitalism, it’s just a constant. It’s the phlegm that keeps coming up, you either hack it or keep it in. I feel like my writing never gets tired of that. I’m tired of it.
On the other side, I’m also in love with nature and always moved by sunsets and snowflakes. I’ve been writing less and less of that lately, and more trying to relieve the burden of pain on my heart, and my soul, and my body with this way of living. It’s fucking exhausting. At the same time I’m so proud to be black and to be Caribbean and African. I’m so very proud, despite the bullshit-itude.
EM: As I mentioned, the style of my storytelling is very much influenced by the way my grandmother used to tell stories. These stories were about the baboon and the hare, and the girl who crossed the river to talk to the tree. There was something very poetic about it; there was an analogy to it. But I found every time she used to tell those stories, something would change about the story. When I’m five, she’s telling the story in a specific way, but all of the sudden, I’m ten, and there’s a different message and a different way she’s telling it. I picked up on that.
My work focuses on my experience of blackness, this idea of being different, and how for me, personally, that is not different. My own individual difference can sometimes be overshadowed by my identity as a black person, and I want to challenge that.
An example of this is thinking about how people eat, and the way we used to eat back home. This term organic baffles me here, because everything I used to eat back home was organic. There was a different process of getting animals. You would have a calf, and you would raise that calf for a long period of time. I used to go to my grandmother’s home, which was a sort of compound where she raised cows. You make sure that the cows are walked every day, they go to pasture, they eat, they come back. They have names. And when we would finally decide that we wanted to eat a cow, we would converge on my grandmother’s compound, and we would kill the cow. I’ve noticed that people here cannot deal with the death of animals, and yet they’re eating meat every day, because they see it in the supermarket. I eat animals, but I know that they die, and I’ve come to accept that they die. It sucks, but it’s not the worst thing, as long as you’re not abusing them. I distinctly remember one of my cousins crying and crying when a cow was killed because that cow had a name and she really loved that cow. She still eats meat too. So with that, I’m trying to express the memory of what it’s like to eat, and the connection I have with food, and the connection I have with community as a result of food. Now that I live in a space where everything comes from the grocery, everything’s so disconnected. I notice that my relationship with food could use some work.
To see Edmund and dione perform, stop by aceartinc. between 7pm and 2am this Saturday. There will also be performances and visual art from Abdul Smith, Adeline Bird, Mahlet Cuff, Calvin Joseph, Lorrain James, Jared Beckstead-Craan, Queen Tite, Malcolm- Jay, Tino Hove, Chim Undi, Kelechi Asagwara, Ndu Delta, MC Woke, Dan Andrews, Travis Ross, Ciel & Lynx Sainte-Marie, Al Pha Toshineza, GeNie Baffle, Fre$h Prince, and KAIRO. Follow Black Space Winnipeg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to keep up with news and events.