Dub poet puts powah! on the Tarragon stage Bodi Bold

This past month, the Tarragon Theatre has been home to the many stories and voices of The Sankofa Trilogy, the dub poetry performance of Dora-award winning playwright and educator d’bi Young. The third installment, word!sound!powah! follows blood.claat and benu.

Each of the tales follows the “herstory” of a different Sankofa woman, spanning the lives of three generations in one family. What began as a retrospective play about the turbulent 1980 Jamaican general election, during which an estimated 1000 people died, has turned into a trilogy about the cycle of human violence - a pattern not unique to a singular political system or cultural reality.

The trilogy is united by a theme of “transcending the boundaries of inheritance,” said Young. Powah! itself transcends the constraints of chronology in its telling, but never sacrifices the story or the sacred aspects of learning from one’s ancestors in favour of stylistic elements. Both the simple yet striking set and the subtle lighting make the characters’ stories come to life.

The importance of family history plays a role in both the narrative and real life of the artist. Young’s mother, Anita Stewart, is credited with helping to found the dub-poetry style. Young incorporates mythological aspects from her Jamaican heritage into her story-telling. Within the three works, the thematic element of each generation of women with the Sankofa name is significant not only for its narrative continuity, but for its semantic value: sankofa means “return and get the knowledge” in the Akan language, which is still used by descendants of escaped slaves in Jamaica.

Thanks to Young’s vocal talent, effortless transitions, and physical fluidity, the story is not just told, but heard. Part of this success comes from the methodological magic of dub-poetry. Characteristics of the poetic form include politics, performance, morality, and language. Music often accompanies each poem, though is not an essential element.

At the end of each performance, Young sits down and leads a “TalkBack” session with her audience. Feedback from these informal yet insightful discussions have helped her create the final product of powah!.

Young is able to relate to those who are angry and unheard, and harnesses those feelings in order to move to a place of hope. During the November 24 session, Young explained how she can do so: “I know we are actually all able to move through those moments because we are all stardust.”

In her unique way of articulating commonly shared thoughts and beliefs, Young locates the humanity within all of us. However, in her keenness to express what appears to be intuitive understandings of fundamental human-ness, she runs the risk of alienating some of her audience members: much of her work assumes a certain level of social, historical and spiritual knowledge among her viewers. But Young is also an educator, as she demonstrates through her deep commitment to the role of storyteller, and her ability to connect to those around her.

d’bi Young’s last performance at the Tarragon Theatre is December 4. Following her album launch at Lula Lounge on December 5, Young will embark on a 15-month world tour to promote her new dub poetry album, 333.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: d’bi Young’s three-part performance explores humankind’s struggles to overcome self constraints
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