When Love and Art Coalesce: A Feature on the Multi-faceted Artist D’bi. Young Anitafrika

There is something nameless that makes everyone so alive.

D’bi. Young Antifrika proved this to me once again. It was a gift to meet her after seeing her  jarring performance of Word! Sound! Powah! at the Tarragon Theatre, a part of the Sankofa Trilogy. This theatrical work has acquired many glowing reviews.  Consequently, I felt like taking more of a conceptual angle with our interview, looking into D’bi’s thoughts on inspiration, courage, and fear.

In The Sankofa Trilogy, D’bi elegantly permits poetry, music, dance and theatre to converse. Furthermore, it is a sensitive and provocative portrait of the terror and hope produced by political turmoil.

I strongly encourage you to see D’bi perform at the Tarragon; The Sankofa Trilogy runs until December 4th. However, D’bi in her naturally erupting style will continue sharing her art the day after The Sankofa Trilogy closes at The Lula Lounge on December 5th where she will be launching her new album 333. See the play and attend the album launch!

Interviewing D’bi was an incredible treat. D’bi is unabashedly herself, throughout the interview she was joyfully expressive and attentive. Even though the questions I asked her were not tailored for a specific answer her words were consistently incisive and blade sharp, growing from a base of compassion, openness and play.

Alongside the interview I have posted one of her videos where D’bi discusses her philosophical approach to art; I feel like D’bi is best demonstrated in movement, since so much of her essence and art emanates from how comfortable she is with the sway of life.

Any ways, my words now conclude with the beginning of D’bi’s: I hope you love reading this as much as I loved writing it.

Off the top of your head use five words to describe this play.

Revolutionary, Integrous, Urgent, Community and Love.

Discuss the challenges that arise while creating material that explores the intersection of race, sexuality, and gender.

My own idea of liberalization has to do with my own feeling of liberation. I feel like I am in a constant personal revolutionary negotiation with myself and my own fears. The first place of negotiation and investigation comes from me. Because we grow up and we ingest all this social conditioning that tells you that you are a deviant for the colour of your skin, that you are a deviant for who you choose to sleep with, that you are a deviant because of your sex; but ultimately as you grow, we learn that we do have the ability to choose what we accept and what we challenge. Regardless, I feel like I have a personal responsibility to decide for myself what it is I consider to be sound and holistic. My theatre making and my poetry are a huge part of that process. It is all about me exploring how I can be a more courageous person. I try to not make the search for my identity the nucleus of my work, the nucleus of my work is love and humanity. It is through that love and humanity that I look at race and class. The essence of who we are is stardust, as Walter Borden said to me, and it is from this platform that I jump off of, so that everyone can come into the room, using the metaphor of Jamaica under the premise that we are all stardust,  and that we are magical beings. Once we get past that we can talk about race and class without getting offended. This is the path that I take.

What fears did you have about creating and performing this piece?

When you do work in your community and the work is done well there is an expectation that you will do the same work and that it will be the same quality. There is the pressure of creating something brilliant again, and knowing that you as an artist want to create beyond what you created yesterday, and  that you don’t want to create the same thing.

And then I feared  representing the part of Jamaica that I descend from. In particular my mother, my aunt’s and my uncle’s experiences. It was a challenge representing that and knowing that there is nothing I could do to recreate that. I am interpreting and re-interpreting those events. I did not want to disappoint the members of the community, or my mother.

Another fear was being balanced in treating each of those characters so that audiences wouldn’t walk away hating stereotyping or owning any of the characters. I wanted to be fair with all the characters. I wanted them to be presented as human and imperfect. Ultimately we all are  imperfect beings, so I wanted to create characters that the audience could see themselves in. I did so by ensuring that I didn’t create caricatures.

How has this play distinguished itself from your other work?

I consider my work to be a tree. I have for a very long time, and that tree has a huge root in all the moral stories and traditions that we emerge from, which is in Africa, where we all emerge from. As this tree grows the body of the tree grows. The trunk of the tree is my relationship to my identity, my identity as a mother, as a single parent, as a queer woman, as a Jamaican woman, and these identities go on; they are interconnected and overlapping. Then the branches for me now represent the different mediums of storytelling I do. Poetry is on the same tree,  mentoring is on the same tree, and being mentored is on the same tree, and what that means is that the differences become more about technique and environment then about content. If you see me in a concert in a play or a workshop you are going to see the same thing, because I really love storytelling and all those things are storytelling. The differences in my work then are in the context and not in the content.

Discuss the relationship endurance has to this piece literally and conceptually. 

In this piece I am talking about social change, change that is happening so incrementally that you feel like nothing is happening, so a parallel to that reality, is a one woman show, with musicians,  the team that has worked so hard to come together, and  has come together so beautifully. When you put those things together you have the perfect metaphor for life. Which means you are here and you work hard and for you to see the fruits of your labour you’ve got to be centered and grounded. You’ve got to be focused and committed because anything else has the potential to run you amuck. We all know that with life, the moments when we are scattered and when we are off-centered and un-balanced it is so incredibly intense that it makes everything less positive in life, but, when you are centered you see it positively suddenly; things continue to happen around you all the time, only the difference is you are centred.

I know in my own life when I am un-centred I am most negative. You then get into this cycle that is negativity that has more to do with you being off centred. Things will always be spinning around you, when I make time to sleep and rest when I make time to be around love and family when I make time to meditate, whatever is spinning around then is contextualized by my ability to be centred.

Discuss the influence SummerWorks has had on your professional development and current professional success.

The festival theatre culture we have in Toronto is crucial. SummerWorks in particular included all of the trilogy, and the festival provided me with so many resources that I didn’t have  initially. SummerWorks provided me with the perfect space, it provided me with a theatre, with an administrator, an audience and a legacy of being a part of something that encourages new and exciting work; and within that system  is a hidden mentorship process that is crucial to any artistic development. I want to personally thank Frank and SummerWorks for being one of my mentors for the last decade.

Photo by: Cylla von Tiedemann, Featuring: D’bi. Young Anitafrika in The Sankofa Trilogy 

Story by: H.E.Rittner

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