Story and Photos Lacee Ancar Data News Weekly Contributor
The artists needed no introduction.
“I wear an exclamation point as my name,” proclaimed Poet Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes, one of the featured performers at “A Night of Spoken Word.”
The artist showcase organized by the International Arts Foundation of New Orleans with the Center for African and African American Studies at Southern University at New Orleans took place on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, at the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Auditorium on the campus.
“This is our first time hosting this event, but we’ve been hosting affairs and programs for quite some time,” said Dr. Clyde Robertson, an Associate Professor of Humanities at SUNO who organized the event. Robertson said the event was part of a series of activities offered by SUNO to engage the community on educational, civic, cultural, and social action. The university will offer upcoming programs in a year-long series featuring keynote speakers from across the African Diaspora. Future events include a celebration of Nigerian Independence, and a Multi-Disciplinary Art Exhibition this month and in November.
The spoken word event celebrated the African Diaspora through poetry and featured spoken word and poetry artists. Jamaican Poet Allan “Mutabaruka” Hope and Nigerian Poet Wana “WanaWana” Udobang, joined New Orleans poets: Chuck Perkins, Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes, and Michael “Quess?” Moore. The works of the spoken word artists reflect activist poetry that speaks to the struggles and experiences of people of African descent. They also aim to uplift and empower Black people and connect them to their heritage and dignity.
Moore, who is better known for his stage name, “Quess?” he is a poet and educator from Brooklyn, N.Y., but since moving to New Orleans has been at the forefront of social activism. He is a co-founder of Team SNO, which stands for Slam New Orleans, the first New Orleans Slam Team since Hurricane Katrina. He said he fell in love with the craft of writing at the age of six and was introduced to spoken word at age 10. He said he draws inspiration mostly from everyday injustices that Black people face.
“I was introduced to poetry by way of activism,” Moore said. He tackles this topic from the point of view of a Black man in America, and he said he’s lived experiences naturally provides him with lots to write about.
“I can’t imagine not reacting to injustice through poetry,” Moore said.
Moore said he was inspired by the early nineties Hip Hop influences like the Rap Duo A Tribe Called Quest, which inspired his name. As a young writer, Moore was completely sure of how he wanted to identify himself. So, he merged the word “guess” and “quest” to form “Quess?” because he wasn’t sure where his journey would lead him.
Like Moore, Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes uses spoken word as a form of activism. The New Orleans native who is a poet and educator has been performing since 1997. She has taught the spoken word, social justice, and service-learning at Tulane University. Her pieces are inspired by injustices but from the point of view of Black women. She was a featured on TEDx Women in 2012, for an installment of TED Talks, performing a piece titled, “The Rising,” where she talks about the “innate danger of womanhood.” A second piece called “Chasms” was featured by TED talk in 2018 where she offers uplifting narrative through her poetry. Ecclesiastes said she also likes to write pieces that celebrate the essence of African people.
The power of words to call for action inspired those who attended to use their voices to educate others about their experiences or to uplift a community. Ed’Dijah Bridges, a local singer-songwriter attended the event and is pursuing a major in mathematics at SUNO. Bridges said she related to spoken word the same way she relates to writing and performing music. “It’s the way that you feel about the words you’re singing,” she said of the power of the spoken word.