We decided to share JustJamaal's story with you, poetry fan, so you can learn a bit more about the poet set to rock the Drake Hotel stage on Aug. 25.
Below is a Q&A with the Ottawa artist, and be sure to hit up the Drake on Saturday night to see him in action:
What first got you up on that slam stage? Have you always been writing poetry? Also, you make a living off poetry?
As far back as I can remember, I have written poetry. It was only until two years ago when I was encouraged by my cousin to perform at an open mic that I realized what spoken word or slam poetry was. Since then, I haven't been able to leave it alone. At this point poetry is my part time job. I travel often on the weekends and do earn a decent wage from it, but I'm looking to make 2013 the year where it becomes full-time.
Describe the Ottawa spoken word scene and how you're involved there
The Ottawa scene is a very special one. It is very tight nit and it seems to have many unsung artists that emerge with great talent. The spectrum of poetry is large here. We have many poets who play instruments, travel the world internationally and make their living off of poetry via workshops and cross-country touring. I am proud to represent Ottawa as a Spoken Word Poet due to the fact that my city has produced arguably some of the best spoken word artists of our era. My involvement in the scene has transformed over the course of two years from audience member, to open mic-er, to slam team member and now to Urban Legend Slam Series Coordinator and Make Spoken Word Go Viral manager.
What do you hope to achieve with your poetry? What kind of audience reaction do you want to get?
My intentions for doing poetry has always been to connect with human emotions that are common and universal among all walks of life. Having a very experienced life that has seen many trails and tribulations, I find that my poetry finds itself speaking to people who are overcoming hardships or who have already overcome but are now searching for closure. I do however try to stretch my creative muscle and include random acts of outside-of-box foolishness.
You're also a family man. What do your kids think of your poetry, are they old enough to understand some of the concepts you layer into your work?
I am indeed a family man. My children on many occasions have been my inspiration for poems. My children love my poetry and support me to the point where the ask to come along to all my shows, telling me they could do team pieces with me because they have memorized a few of them. My eldest is eight and he is the only one out of the four who really has any concept of how important my work is and some of the meanings behind the words. He is also a poet who already has won a few slams himself.
You made your CFSW debut in October. Explain how you felt about the festival and reppin' Ottawa there, and what you learned about Canadian spoken word at the fest.
The festival was some kind of crazy for me. That year was my first year slamming and I wasn't aware of how big slam was in the country. I just took it all in in small sips when I was at the Nationals. Many people would ask why I wasn't speaking and really it was because I was just in shock at the talent and level of competition that I had been launched into. It was a very humbling experience for me sharing the stage with veterans. I felt a high sense of responsibility representing Ottawa. I knew that the scene here was mean and that poets always take the torch from previous teams and try to uphold the essence of what teams have created in the past. I especially wanted to live up to the hype that was created around the Urban Legends team from the previous year.
You started the FB Group Make Spoken Word Go Viral and are also selling shirts for MSWG. What motivated you to run that? Where do you hope it'll go?
When I returned from CFSW 2011, I had a desire to make a video of my finals night performance "Care About Us" go viral on the web. It apparently had the right amount of spontaneity and flare to do so. After spreading the word about the video and watching poets across the country help it increase in views, I made a promise to myself that I would give back to the community of poets across Canada by promoting their poetry as well. So I began the group Make Spoken Word Go Viral on Facebook as a project that would help spread the word about our artists and their work. My aim is to raise money to create a website strictly dedicated to the promotion of Canadian Spoken Word Artists. An online hub where fans can stay up to date on what their favourite poets are working on, where their next show is and how to contact them for bookings and or purchase their merchandise. By showcasing a new artists every week, I hope to have a website where poets can sell merchandise online and earn money without travelling. I truly believe that if more poets can demonstrate that this field of art does bring in steady income, poets would professionalize themselves and not be so hesitant to allow their good talent to go to waste by giving up. I believe that Spoken Word Poetry needs to gain the momentum and respect it deserves and only the poetry community can do it, no else will do it for us.
What should the Toronto Poetry Slam audience expect from your set on Saturday?
A bundle of flowers. A bouquet of poetry where each poem is different from the next. Eclecticism is my main forte, I include song, dance, hip hop, and character poems that have story lines that will connect with a wide range of audience members.
What's one thing Jamaal wants to achieve in the future, either artistically or otherwise?
Really, I just want to make sure that I am the best father possible to my children, now and when they grow up. Being a frequent traveler and involved heavily in community work, I am not as present as I used to be. I hope that I can make a niche for myself whereby I can be home as much as I desire while still producing poetry sets and CD's that will influence my children and the world positively.