leaders_mtl_99The Northern Griots Network (NGN) gathering in Ottawa in July 2003 was a strategic meeting, accompanied by featured performances, of an emerging generation of African Canadian spoken word artists; particularly in terms of the resulting NGN Exchange that saw poets from cities across Canada– including Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa – travel to perform to new audiences.

The fact that the NGN core membership were not only strong spoken word artists but skilled organizers and promoters helped drive the inception of the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (CFSW) in 2004. NGN founders who produced series such as the Golden Star Lounge (Ottawa), Up from the Roots (Toronto), and Word Iz Bond (Halifax) played leading roles in hosting the first several iterations of the Festival (2004, 2006, and 2007, respectively). The CFSW was built largely from the  linkages forged through the NGN Exchange. Other initiatives that would follow years later, such as the development of the anthology of African Canadian Poetry, The Great Black North, were rooted in the NGN Exchange, as acknowledged by Kevan Anthony Cameron in the book.


Golden Star Lounge, Ottawa (September 26, 2003)
Featuring, from Toronto, Unblind and nah-ee-lahngn_show3

Coco Café, Montreal (October 26, 2003)
Featuring, from Halifax, iZrEAL and Shauntay Grant

 Word Iz Bond, Halifax (November 14, 2003)

Jason “Steel” Joseph and Tatum “Buttaphly” Isles from the Coco Café series in Montreal went to Halifax to perform at the Word Iz Bond series. These two were joined by Karen Richards, poet and organizer of the La Parole series in Toronto. The poets also visited  the Black communities in Nova Scotia with Word Iz Bond organizer Shauntay Grant.

La Parole, Toronto (January 16, 2004)
Featuring, from Vancouver, Kelly “Mahatma Slim” Graham

When Sisters Speak, Toronto (January 17, 2004)
Featuring, from Vancouver, Tanya Evanson

Tales of Ordinary Madness, Vancouver, (February 3, 2004)
Featuring, from Toronto, Dwayne Morgan and The Original One

To view some of the flyers from the Xchange, see the Archives.


From 2004 to 2013, the NGN continued to serve as a vehicle for artist and presenter networking through information shared between host series and event producers in several cities. NGN members have continued to organize festivals, series, and community arts initiatives teddy_rotunda_1hrough funding from both the private sector (e.g. Black Artist Network Dialogue in conjunction with the TD Then and Now Black History Month Series) and the public sector (e.g. Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Council for the Arts).

In 2013, a group of five Canadian spoken word poets and NGN founding members, under the collective banner of Voices of Canadian Artists across Latitudes (VOCAL), traveled to Trinidad & Tobago to take part in the Cascadoo Festival of Caribbean Spoken Word in Port-of-Spain. The group performed, delivered showcases, networked and shared their expertise as organizers and artists. VOCAL reached new audiences with work that shared similarities of style and language, given the Caribbean origins of group members, and learned from the unique talents and forms in the T&T spoken word community (for instance, participating in a steel pan and poetry fusion performance).woodfords_square2

In discussions with their Caribbean counterparts, the VOCAL team – Dwayne Morgan, Motion, nth digri, Eddy Daoriginalone, Manchilde – forged a commitment to see Caribbean artists travel to perform in Canada in the same spirit of exchange so key in delivering the NGN Exchange series. Through its members and supported across Canada and around the globe, the NGN is currently developing an international spoken word poetry initiative. Further news will be posted on this site.

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