Dub poet D'bi Young on how to engage with conflict using ‘lived experiences'

“When we are infuriated or faced with a conflict, what generally does not happen, but what needs to happen is pause. We think of reacting, of defending ourselves, but we don't think of pausing.” This was what D'bi Young, an African-Jamaican-Canadian dub poet, thought to herself when she agreed to perform at Jaaga as part of ‘Pause-in times of conflict', a project by Maraa, a media and arts collective.

Dub Poetry is a form of performance poetry born in Jamaica that comments on the political and social situation of a time.

Dovetailed to the theme of the event and watched by an enthralled audience, D'bi's performance was a story in itself — a simple story on how to engage with conflict. It had her performing excerpts from her work and saw the audience delve deeper into their lives during the ‘reasoning' session that followed each performance.

The storyteller

As a daughter of a storyteller, D'bi was introduced at an early age to a community of storytellers in Jamaica, called dub poets. D'bi explained that the dub poets generally sit at the centre of a village and use their ‘lived experience' or in other words, the way they deal with themselves, as a mirror to deal with the rest of the community.

“Just like the dub poets, the way I look at conflict is by looking within myself,” said D'bi. She said that by looking at conflict from an internal perspective she hopes to understand external conflicts better. “If we want a true understanding of why we are what we are, then we have to look in the mirror,” she explained.

D'bi began the evening with a fictional piece set in Jamaica, describing the bloody massacre during the 1980 elections when the government pitted people against each other. D'bi enacted the journey of fictional poet Sankofa, and the persecution she experienced.

Standing right in the centre with the audience surrounding her, D'bi connected with individual members of the audience with her piercing stare as she sang or said her lines out aloud.

Her voice loomed large and her body swayed with the rhythm of the piece, making it a powerful performance. Right after her performance, which was a creative mix of poetry and theatre, she explained how the piece was born out of the lived experience of her mother who had to go into hiding to be safe in Jamaica at that time.

Fearless

D'bi writes the lines herself and writes fearlessly. For example, her second performance was a piece condemning child sexual abuse where a little girl is heard talking to her uncle Sam, asking him to put his pants back on and not touch her. “Uncle Sam is a deliberate metaphor for imperialist countries that ‘rape' their colonies. It is both a literal and a figurative poem,” she explained after the performance.

What D'bi tried to do was to help her audience look at conflict as a story in itself. For D'bi, storytelling is what mankind has engaged in since the beginning of time. “Story telling is the only thing we have ever done. Whether it is a lady cooking in the kitchen or two countries fighting, it is essentially a story that is being narrated,” said Dbi.

And since each individual is part of a story, for D'bi, the resolution to a conflict or the means to engage with conflict is by looking at oneself.

And to look within, one would have to pause.

Keywords: D'bi Young

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