By Chike Jeffers
The Many Facets of a Man Named Dwayne
Dwayne Morgan is one of Toronto's most popular poets.
I first met him when I was 11 years old, attending the Leadership program at Tropicana Day Camp. A wise and friendly counselor, he made my experience at camp that summer an enjoyable one. Seven years later, I got a job as a counselor at the same camp. Dwayne was still there, leading the youth and trying to make a difference in their lives.
Traveling to meet him one cold afternoon in February, I promised myself to make my interview with Mr. Morgan a chance to get the whole scoop on this very visible figure in the black community. Who is Dwayne Morgan? Why not let the man speak for himself?
"Dwayne Morgan is a poet," he says, "a spoken word artist, an entertainer, a businessman, and someone who just tries to keep his hands in all the different facets of the Toronto entertainment industry." Adds the national 1998 Harry Jerome Award winner for leadership, "I think I wear a lot of different hats."
He's been writing and performing poetry for over eight years. Dwayne's style is simple yet forceful, engaging the mind with pointed questions and provoking laughter with clever punchlines. Those who have never experienced his confident stage presence can now get a taste of what they're missing with the release of his second CD, The Evolution, an entertaining mix of poetry and music, recorded with a live audience.
"It was a real fun experience recording it," Dwayne says of his latest release. "The entire album was recorded on one night, one shot, no rehearsals." He continues, "We got on stage and we just did it." Dwayne describes Evolution as an opportunity to show people his development as an artist, his different sides as well as showcasing the talent which exists in Toronto. Evolution deals with a range of topics and features eight talented musicians playing everything from electric guitar to violin and steel pan.
Dwayne began his own business, Up From The Roots, in 1994. It was an enterprise borne out of necessity. "As a poet, I didn't find that there was a whole lot of places you could go to perform. I used [UFTR] as an event-producing business to make sure that I'd always have a stage to perform on."
Of course, many others have benefited from the many showcases he has organized. "I had singers, I had dancers, I had all of these people in the show, and it's cool because seven or eight years later, you turn on the TV and you see some of these people who were in our first show having videos," he says with a note of pride. Up From The Roots has grown over the years and in doing so, has helped the spoken word scene to grow. "I'd never really seen a poetry show before with over 400 people there to watch poetry, but I can say I've done it. I can say I've done a show with 300 to 400 people there just to hear poets --no gimmicks, no nothing, the stage just had a mike on it."
Somehow, while helping his career and others, he has been able to fit into his schedule a strong dedication to community work. About Tropicana, he says, "It's not a matter of doing a job, it's something I'm passionate about. I'm really happy about the fact that I've been able to keep relationships with a lot of the young people from [the program]." He has also worked with SAPPACCY (Substance Abuse Prevention Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth), another way in which he has been able to reach out to the youth. "I've always had community spirit. I think it's important for me just because I love being part of the community. There's so much positivity going on out there, it's hard to be negative. I think it's important to try and make that connection with the people who really matter. I don't go there and see these people as potential buyers, I see them as people I can touch in some way, shape, or form."
Dwayne feels his greatest achievement thus far has been simply to be still performing, having consistently put out new material for eight years. Three books, two CDs, and countless shows with no publisher, label, or agent. He admits that, in future, it might be nice to have a publishing company distribute his books, or a record company through which he could put out albums.
"It would just take a lot of stress off of me, constantly going to shows with big bags full of books and CDs to sell, but I'm not the kind of person who's gonna sit around and wait for that." May and June will see Dwayne traveling through Canada, the U.K., Germany, and the U.S., on a self-funded tour to promote the new album.
"It's non-stop work for me. I'm gonna consistently keep doing what I have to do and, you know, just have fun with it in the meanwhile and enjoy life and the different experiences that I have."