Cascadoo 2017 Trinidad & Tobago

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Cascadoo 2017 took place in Trinidad and Tobago during Emancipation Day celebrations, and the vibes were wonderful! Roots Foundation teamed up with Northern Griots Network to support 3 poets to participate from Canada: nth digri, Dwayne Morgan, and EddyDaOriginal1. Topnotch spoken word poets from around the Globe were also part of the events, including Lamont Carey (Washington DC), Randy McLaren (Jamaica), Amal Kassir, Amir Suliman, Hodari Davis, Candace Antique (Oakland), as well as brilliant young Trinidadian poets like Shenique ‘Shamiso’ Saunders (T&T National Slam Champ), Jeremy, Isaiah Wayne John, Mikal Logie, Emmanual Villafana, Jeremy Joseph, Sharifa, and others.

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Mikal, Dwayne, Shenique, Lamont & nth digri at NAPA

The international poets were all alumni of Cascadoo festivals over the last five years, as part of a special celebration of the fifth anniversary of the festival. The events also included a component of workshops and discussions, forming the South-North Griots Summit 2.0, a follow-up to the 2015 Summit held in Toronto, Canada, and organized by the Northern Griots Network.

As part of the visit, the Canadian poets traveled with the Cascadoo performers to perform at the Emancipation Village in Queens Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.

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nth digri & Randy McLaren

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Emancipation Day Theme: Aya = Endurance & Resourcefulness

Audiences at the Emancipation Village Roots T&T tent included children and youth from a Summer camp in Goncales, as well as the many in attendance at the Emancipation Village perusing the various arts & craft vendors and taking in the tremendously talented drummers, singers, and other performers such as the legendary Desperadoes Steel Orchestra.

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Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

On August 1, the Emancipation Day holiday, we had an opportunity to attend the Emancipation Day Parade, which featured music, moko jumbies on stilts, iron sections, and a host of cultural revellers dressed in lovely African garments.

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at the Emancipation Day Parade on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain

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Cultural revelry!

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Moko jumbies

The poets also traveled to perform at the Youth Training Centre in Piarco, a detention facility. I enjoyed a pretty good workout playing ball with the youth, even hitting a few nice jumpers!

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The Cascadoo Crew at YTC

The schedule was fairly packed, and the group performed at workshops at the National Archives in downtown Port-of-Spain with groups of youth. Good thing we were staying close by at the SERVOL residences on Pembroke Street, as I didn’t have to walk too far in the frequently rainy weather to get there, and the Savannah was very close by, as well. I also had a chance to go by Maracas Beach a few times, which I would highly recommend to all visitors to Trinidad and Tobago. I was pretty luck, as it seemed each time I reached the beach, the weather was sunny and nice and cool with the beautiful sea breeze!

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We also performed at the Green Market in Santa Cruz, alongside the sounds of the Revelation Institute for Performing Education (RIPE) steel band. It was an amazing location in the fertile and lushly green Santa Cruz valley, with spoken word performed under banana trees and passion fruit vines, and amongst the talented arts and crafts and tasty agricultural products ( I ate one slice of yellow melon so juicy it was like a drink!). As well as performing, I also helped curate the pop-up ‘guerilla poetry,’ and act as MC. Here I am passing the mic to the insightful and entertaining ‘Kreativ Activis’ Randy McLaren, who along with US poet Lamont Carey, most impressed me with their passion and substance

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Passing the mic to Randy at the Green Market, Santa Cruz

The two feature shows took place at the Kaiso Blues Cafe – owned by the renowned musician, Carl Jacob – and at the Centrepoint Mall in Chaguanas, where Candace Antique threw down an encore of her musical piece, “Put Your Crown On.”

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Many thanks to the excellent hosts and our many friends and family who treated us so well during our stay in the twin island republic, including SERVOL, Rachel, Gregory, Sosa, Carl, David Thompson, Mtima and the whole ROOTS Foundation team, Jeanine and Vicky from the Green Market, Young Nick the photographer/MC, and last but not least, Marvin (the man with the Danger van!)

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Marvin’s sound system on wheels, the Danger Van

Soul City Music Fest

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I had the honour and great pleasure of performing at Soul City Music Fest in Laroche Park, a vital section close to the excellent Ottawa arts and cultural hub in Mechanicsville, the Origin Arts and Cultural Studio. Ali aka Captain – of Soul City Barber Shop and urban music, and culture, clothing store – was a key organizer of this tremendous event, now in its second year. It is unique in its contribution to the vitality of Ottawa urban music, with presentations of up and coming performers that thrilled audiences with some dynamic presentations of hip hop, dancehall, zouk, Afro-pop, and other types of music, as well as dance and spoken word poetry (aka yours truly, with John Akpata providing the VISUAl17E info for the people!).

Ottawa’s own Allan Andre, the National Art Battle Champ, was on hand for some amazing live painting, and booths from folks like Sankofa Bookstore, Island Flava, and the ever popular snow cone vendor magnified the vibes on this brilliantly sunny day (a rarity these days!).  I went home with a delicious bootle of pepper sauce from the producers of Ayiyiyi (nah, it’s not a creole word, it means exactly what you say when the potent pepper hits your taste buds!)

Just Jamaal handled MC duties lovely, and some of Ottawa’s finest DJs were on hand to provide the music, like Sligo and Bo Jangles, and I had a chance to lime with the likes of Papa Richie, Trevor from Ebony and Ivory, Toni from Rootz Regge Radio, and many more, and it was great to just generally meet up with my peoples.

Many congratulations to my brother Ali and his crew on a strong success in their second year, and I encourage everyone to come out and check it next year: onward and upward!!

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SoulCity Music Fest flyer

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nth digri & John Akpata

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Allan Andre

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nth digri on stage at Soul City Music Fest

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Repping NGN/VISUAL17E!

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On July 18, Toronto witnessed the power of the growing movement of African Canadian performance poetry with top-ranking wordsmiths from RISE, Reckless Arts, Watah Theatre, Northern Griots Network , Spoke N’ Heard , BEOTIS Creative, Up From The Roots and more at the Black Artist Network Dialogue (BAND) new space in Parkdale. Curated by the brilliant Motion, the performers spoke their words amidst various sections of the photo-journalism exhibit: “Ears, Eyes, Voice: Black Canadian Photojournalists 1970s – 1990s.” It was followed by a fascinating panel discussion, and some tasty barbecue courtesy of Smoke Signals.

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BLACK ARTIST NETWORK DIALOGUE (BAND)

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Motion

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Panel Discussion

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Reckless Arts Collective

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Watah Theatre

Express Yourself

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On Wednesday,  March 29, the nth digri will feature at Express Yourself at PPL, presented by Breakout Squad. Also performing, the incredible Komi Olaf! It’s at 130 George Street in the Market, starting 8:30 pm. Plus last stand of the shisha!!xpress yourself

An Underground Shuttle Going North

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AN UNDERGROUND SPACE SHUTTLE GOING NORTH

by the nth digri

While recording the seminal collection of African Canadian spoken word poetry and music, WordLife Tales of the Underground Griots, I brought an album by comedian Godfrey Cambridge to a basement recordishuttle.pngng studio in Whitby. Sheldon Moore
(aka S-luv of the Pocketdwellers), scratched a line from the comedy vinyl into a beat he had produced. That line – “a train going north” – became the title of the lead-off track for WordLife. I later found out that Cambridge had lived for some time, during his childhood, in Nova Scotia, and that his parents emigrated from the Caribbean. And, I read that he had died on the set of a TV movie in which he was to portray Idi Amin. I also saw that, among his many TV and film roles, he was acclaimed for his performance in an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery directed by Steven Spielberg

The oddness of an African American with a name sounding like some British aristocrat was enough, in and of itself, to endear me to Cambridge, but the confluence of ideas and incidents, in his life story, that somehow linked Amin, Sydney, Serling and Guyana, sealed the deal! The Spielberg link was also major in elevating his coolness factor in my eyes: I was a big fan of Poltergeist, ET, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and just about any other Spielberg production of that era. This was a natural extension of my reading preferences growing up, which included, most notably, authors like Phillip K Dick, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, and Octavia Butler. And that brings us to the hotly contested topic of Afrofuturism.

African American myth contains a view of Canada as a type of sanctuary. A very cold sanctuary, true, but a flight to Canada, as Ishmael Reed so wryly referenced in his book by the same name, was a fugitive’s escape to freedom. In fact, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 is often cited as the historical source of Canada’s refugee policy, at least the more humanitarian-minded side of it, on-again off-again, to be sure. And, any liberation struggle is bound to be hotly contested. Afrofuturism represents a next level of flight, if you will. But 2001 A Space Odyssey and a myriad of other science fiction movies showed us that only white mankind would star in the giant leap outside the atmosphere of our home planet.

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Yaphet Kotto in Alien

Of the few token Blacks in major Hollywood productions, like the haplessly jungle-fevered Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in TV’s Star Trek or James Earl Jones voicing the villainous Darth Vader in the 1977 movie Star Wars, my personal favourite was Yaphet Kotto, who appeared two years later in Ridley Scott’s grimy film, Alien. Kotto’s Parker actually battled (and lost to, both on screen and an on the set in a real life wrestling match, by all accounts) another actor of West African heritage, namely Bolaji Badejo. A 19-year old graphic design student from Nigeria, the slender, 7-foot Bedejo was the man behind the Alien costume. Interestingly enough, his brother’s name was Boyega, the surname of another brother more recently in space, namely John Boyega, aka Finn of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Boyega’s response to the bigoted trolls who urged boycotts of Star Wars VIII was simultaneously hilarious yet dead serious: “I just don’t get it… You guys got every single alien in this movie imaginable to man – with tentacles, five eyes. Aliens that, if they existed, we’d definitely have an issue… Yet what you want to do is fixate on another human being’s color.”

While such a fixation may be somewhat curious, it is no mystery that, in the sci-fi genre, ‘alien invasions’ were often a superficial metaphor for the Red Scare of McCarthyism. But, underneath that, there were four to five centuries of loaded ‘otherness,’ central to Europe’s myth of racial dominance, in its view of peoples east, west and south. This dehumanization served the purpose of the colonial wars nations like Spain, England and France waged in invading much of the planet. Thus, the name of the Star Trek ship, the Enterprise, echoed the name of the commercial/military mission of King Ferdinand and Columbus in their bid to claim the prize of the New World: the Enterprise of the Indies

By flipping the script to self-position as not just object or side-kick, but protagonist , – perhaps as a Black astronaut like Trini-Canadian MC, Manchilde, in the music video
Back Again, or as a military leader like Montrealer Andy Bradshaw’s Sharp in his Recon movies – it is hardly a revelation that the central idea behind Afrofuturism should be perceived, in the zombified minds of racists, as threatening. But, even some Black visual artists appear hesitant to associate themselves with Afrofuturism. Since it is a movement often linked with visual-based artistic practices, this might seem strange. On the website iafrofuturism.com, filmmaker and author

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Andy Bradshaw as Sharp in Recon 2022: The Mezzo Incident

Ytasha L. Womack, states the following definition:

Comprising elements of the avant-garde, science fiction, cutting-edge hip-hop, black comix, and graphic novels, Afrofuturism spans both underground and mainstream pop culture. With a twofold aim to entertain and enlighten, Afrofuturists strive to break down racial, ethnic, and all social limitations to empower and free individuals to be themselves.

Of course, few artists like being easily pigeon-holed in this or that aesthetic category. But, I suspect the ‘pop culture’ aspect may partially explain this hesitance, given that many of the genres connected with Afrofuturism, and with science fiction/speculative fiction, on the whole, have often been perceived as less serious artistic forms. In actuality, visual artists often linked with Canada’s growing Afrofuturism movement, like Toronto’s Danilo McCallum and Quentin VerCetty, or Ottawa’s Kalkidan Assefa and Komi Olaf, are thoughtful artists whose work show not only innovation, but artistic excellence and dedication to their craft.

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Kalkidan Asseffa from Black Future Month 3016

McCallum, since 2013, has held an annual series of ‘Black Future Month’ shows which explore the past and present experiences of people of African descent, as well as future possibilities. In a recent Toronto Star article, McCallum defined Afrofuturism as imagining a future free from oppression, and as a reflection of “where our psyches are at and how far we can stretch in terms of creating optimistic black images.” Canadian artists like McCallum have extended their focus into the realm of community and political activism, their gaze trained not just on the stars, but also on current issues and hard realities. Assefa and collaborator Allan André famously stimulated dialogue in their tribute to Sandra Bland painted on the tech wall in Ottawa in July 2015, a mural that was defaced shortly after a Black Lives Matter message on the same wall was similarly defaced.

McCallum, since 2013, has held an annual series of ‘Black Future Month’ shows which explore the past and present experiences of people of African descent, as well as future possibilities. In a recent Toronto Star article, McCallum defined Afrofuturism as imagining a future free from oppression, and as a reflection of “where our psyches are at and how far we can stretch in terms of creating optimistic black images.” Canadian artists like McCallum have extended their focus into the realm of community and political activism, their gaze trained not just on the stars, but also on current issues and hard realities. Assefa and collaborator Andre Allan famously stimulated dialogue in their tribute to Sandra Bland painted on the tech wall in Ottawa in July 2015, a mural that was defaced shortly after a Black Lives Matter message on the same wall was similarly defaced.

For his part, Quentin VerCetty, a newly appointed art educator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, has stirred things up further in organizing BSAM Toronto in October 2016. BSAM stands for the Black Speculative Arts Movement, a year long, traveling Afrofuturism, comics, film, and art convention held in universities and colleges. The organization is based in Detroit, and was founded in Saint Louis at Harris-Stowe State University by Dr. Reynaldo Anderson and Maia ‘Crown’ Williams The Black Speculative Arts Movement was founded. BSAM Toronto 2016 was the first such event in Canada, and was held, fittingly, at the OCAD University (formerly the Ontario College of Art and Design). While BSAM embraces Afrofuturism, Afro-surrealism, black science fiction and magical realism, the common thread, according to the organization’s website, is “a shared commitment to centre black experience and the importance of black people defining their past, present and future on their own terms.” Recent cultural works that are often cited to illustrate this idea, that offer “imaginative and often surreal possibilities of what is to come” include Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Beyonce’s Lemonade and Donald Glover’s Atlanta.

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Cover Art of Lillian Allen’s LP Conditions Critical

I met Quentin several years ago in Lillian Allen‘s creative writing course at OCAD, when the renowned dub poet invited me to give a guest presentation. Allen’s Juno-award winning records include Conditions Critical, which features remarkable cover art with a street art and magic realism flavor. VerCetty cited the Dub Poets Collective, Fresh Arts, and the Rastafarian community in his thoughts on the distinctions of BSAM in the Canadian context: “The main reason I wanted to bring (BSAM) to Toronto is because I realized that the Caribbean influence was missing… Also a pan-African perspective was missing and a narrative that’s not rooted in slavery.”

Toronto is now well known worldwide to music fans, thanks to the phenomenal success of hip-hop/R&B/dancehall-influenced artists like Drake, the Weeknd, and PartyNextDoor. No wonder, then, that BSAM should find fertile soil in Canada, as a key facet of Afrofuturism is its connection to hip-hop. As the artistic god-sons and god-daughters of the likes of Sun Ra, Parliament Funkadelic, and Afrika Bambaataa, MCs like the Wu Tang Clan not only pushed the Mothership into new galaxies, musically speaking, but let the cover art of their LPs – like Denys Cowan’s design for the classic Liquid Swords – speak to both their love of comic book art and their speculative imagining of Black chess pieces come to life as sword-wielding warriors.

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Cover Art of the GZA’s Liquid Swords

As Mark Rockeymoore (aka ‘Rahkyt’) writes on afrofuturism.net, one reason for this linkage is Hip Hop’s critical stance as a “post-modern deconstruction of a Western European meta-narrative,” that exemplifies “the effect upon the individual of societal ills that are now global in scope.” This critique was evident in the emergence of the Afrofuturism listerv, created by Alondra Nelson and Paul D. Miller in 1998. As Rockeymoore notes, underneath the “vigorous debates, expositions of consciousness, collaborations and intellectualisms lay an underlying strata of vast potentiality and possibility, made manifest through the broad and open genres of science and speculative fiction.” This movement was represented by “black authors, academics, Hip Hop headz and performers alike, all sharing a similar fascination with futuristic themes and expressions of modern societal tropes under the guise of the fantastic.”

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Origine by Maliciouz

The striking work of Montreal artist Maliciouz is a Canadian-based example of this linkage, specifically between Afrofuturism and one of the most loved – and, in turn, hated – of hip- hop’s elements: graffiti. I think my House of PainT people, who run that tremendously entertaining annual festival in Ottawa in late August, might agree that of these four elements (the others being DJing, MCing, and breaking), graffiti is probably the most fundamental. On Maliciouz’ website, one can see just how strongly graffiti influences the work of this artist of Haitian background, which resonates with the energy of Basquiat in pieces such as Typical Negus and street art style in pieces like De Mont Royal à Kenscoff. Indeed, her mural on de Boisbriand (between de Bullion and Hôtel-de-Ville), created for the Under Pressure street art festival in 2016, was cited as one of the best murals in Montreal on the wall2wallmtl website. The site lists a top 100 of graffiti pieces, as well as a top 100 murals, one of the signs of a booming and tourism-attracting street art movement, of which LA, Miami, New York, London, Berlin, Paris, Sao Paulo, Bogota, and Montreal are notable centres.

Writers of science fiction and speculative fiction were among the earliest and most central instigators of contemporary futurism, and Octavia Butler, with her mind-blowing series of Patternist novels, was one of the major voices of a growing number of authors of African descent to break the glass ceiling of an industry dominated by white male writers. Bias in the publishing world may have been one answer to the question Mark Dery posed in his ground-breaking 1994 essay, Black to the Future, when he asked “Why do so few African Americans write science fiction?” Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Steve Barnes, and Charles Saunders, were the only names Dery could come up with, at the time. Even so, magic realism was certainly alive and well in books by Black writers, Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) being one of the best known examples. And, best-selling novelist Walter Mosely, though better known for his detective books, has published science fiction writing as far back as 1998’s Blue Light.

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Minister Faust’s novel Coyote Kings…

It was around the mid-90’s that I became acquainted, through the Ottawa-based cadre of spoken word poets, writers and activists known as the Young Poets of the Revolution, with the work of one Malcolm Azania, otherwise known as Minister Faust. And 1995 was the setting for his funny, action-packed, and most definitely Afrofuturistic novel – set in Edmonton, Alberta, of all places – The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad. Published by Del Ray in 2004, the novel was one of a number of publications by this prolific radio host, journalist, blogger and poet, whose words and musical selections can be heard on the show MF Galaxy on CJSR FM.

2004 was also the year I met the incredibly talented Nalo Hopkinson, a pan-Caribbean (Guyana/Trinidad/Jamaica) artist who came to Canada in 1977 and published her first major novel, Brown Girl in the Ring,

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Nalo and her novel, Brown Girl in the Ring

in 1998. This novel, and others that followed – like Midnight Robber (2000) and The Salt Roads (2003) – formed a captivating blend, in a magic realism style, of dystopian Toronto and West Indian landscapes with folk elements so many of us of Caribbean background came up hearing from our parents in humourous moral tales and somewhat nightmarish bedtime stories. Anansi, the Douen, La Diablesse, jumbies and others were also what I call ‘deflections’ of a West African heritage, telling bits of cultural code half-remembered through the violence and post-traumatic stress of centuries of brutal oppression and colonial brainwashing. Wielded in the work of Hopkinson, they become mythic against the background, for example, of apocalyptic visions of Canada’s biggest city.

Hopkinson’s novels are really the first instance I recall of reading about characters in a speculative fiction novel with whom I shared not only a set of specific cultural references but also a familiarity with the same urban neighbourhoods I roamed while living in the 6ix; not to mention, as a Jimi Hendrix fan, my delight in seeing his guitar personified as one of her characters! It is, I think, this joy in seeing oneself reflected as central in an imagined future, in a richness of dimension, which is at the heart of the Afrofuturism movement. It is not just about ancient kemetic science, robots that speak ebonics, or space shuttles painted in kente patterns. But if I ever get a chance to ride such a shuttle, I won’t hotly contest at all – especially if it’s northward bound and underground!


About the author
The nth digri is a spoken word artist, writer, and arts activist. He organized the legendary Ottawa spoken word series, Golden Star Lounge, and is a co-founder of the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. He has been recognized with awards by both
nth7the CFSW, VerseFest and Kola literary journal for his contributions to Canadian spoken word poetry, and he has traveled to the Caribbean, USA, and Africa to perform and conduct workshops. His most recent book is a collection of poetry and fiction, Sirius Ting, and his most recent record is the music/poetry LP, South is North. As part of the artist collective, the Northern Griots Network, he is helping to organize the VISUAL17E OTTAWA project.

VISUAL17E SHOW

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On February 18, 2017, I had the honour of co-hosting the VISUAL17E show at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts in Ottawa. Thanks to all the artists, volunteers, audience, and all those who otherwise showed their support. Launched and blasting into orbit, during the National Capital’s first African Future Month event, this innovative collaboration between visual artists and spoken word poets is building momentum. Stay tuned!

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