Dwayne Morgan may not be a name you are familiar with. I wasn’t until an induction ceremony in my community. After watching a retrospective of his career to this point, I have no idea why I never came across him before. He has opened and shared the stage with musical heavyweights including K-OS, Nelly Furtado, Saul Williams, Kardinal Offishal, Deborah Cox, Alicia Keys, Jully Black, Drake, and even Canadian comic Russell Peters. His work is multifarious and is wears many hats. Spoken word artist. Author. Poet. Public speaker. Constantly burning the candle from both ends, Dwayne Morgan is definitely a bright light in the entertainment industry!
OCR: Before graduating from high school, you founded an entertainment company called “Up from the Roots.” How did you start this project? Did you run into any hurdles during the initial start-up of this project due to your age?
DM: While I don’t believe in accidents, the creation of “Up From The Roots” is one of the closest things to one. While in high school, I was the President of our Black students group, and we decided to produce a talent show for Black History Month. With the success of that show and my realizing how many talented friends I had, I decided to start a business putting on events, so that my friends would have a platform to perform. The main hurdles that I faced with “Up From The Roots” was with financing my events, and having people and venues take me seriously, as I was just a kid in high school.
OCR: It is obvious at a young age you had a clear idea of where your passions were. Did you plunge into the music and entertainment industry directly after high school? Seeing the volatility of any kind of creative career, did you have people trying to steer you towards more conventional objectives?
DM: I would argue that I was far from clear as to where my passions were. I didn’t begin writing until that high school talent show, which occurred probably when I was in grade thirteen, however, after the success of the show, people wanted more, and I felt the need to provide. All through university, I was producing events, meeting new artists, and creating platforms for them. My parents really wanted me to do something more conventional, so I went to school, I got my degree, but decided to go with my passion, and let my formal education work its way through my art.
OCR: Up from the Roots’ mission was to promote artist contributions within Canada with a specific focus on urban and African-Canadian backgrounds. What kind of awareness has your company created? Even though Canada is a multi-cultural country with a proud multi-national identity, do you feel like there is a lack of outlets and opportunities available specifically for artists from urban or African-Canadian backgrounds?
DM: It’s hard for me to say what kind of awareness we’ve created. I can say that I, and the “Up From The Roots” brand are well known outside of Canada’s borders. What was more important to me however was to create opportunities for talented people who weren’t embraced by the mainstream.
Over the past two decades, things have definitely changed, with there being more opportunity for African Canadian and urban influenced artists, but I’ve never been one to buy in to the Canadian multi-national identity. While that sounds great, the reality is that the landscape is still very White when we look at which artists and art forms are visible to the masses. Even outside of Canada, the face of what people believe a Canadian looks like is still White.
OCR: Can you describe your first experience with spoken word poetry? What did you find so captivating about this form of artistic expression?
My first memorable experience with Spoken Word came at the All Truth’s Spoken poetry series, produced by an artist called Black Katt. I was amazed by the content, that the people looked like me, and their ability to use words to evoke so many emotions. I was hooked. I didn’t think that I could do it, but I wanted to get back and soak in as much of that energy as possible. Years later, I created that for others.
OCR: The spoken word medium, specifically beat poetry, was a mainstream form of expression in the late 50’s well into the 70’s with influential writers like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, and Neal Cassady. Were any of these writers, or their prolific literature, a source of inspiration to you? Do you feel like their method of “stream of consciousness” writing is similar to your own writing process?
DM: I wasn’t inspired by any of those artists at any point on my journey. My taste has always been more radical, so I would site, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, The Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron as older influences, but even still, their influence was minimal. I grew up with Hip Hop, and that’s where the majority of my influence came from. I have always tried to just be me, and be truthful to my thoughts and ideas in the moment. I’ve understood that everything that I created was a reflection of who I was, but that I was in a constant state of evolution, so what was true to me a year ago, may have shifted by now.
OCR: To date, you have six books, three volumes of your poetry and two full length “chapbooks.” How does writing lyrics differ from writing novellas? Do you have a similar approach? Do you find one more difficult than the other?
DM: I have 2 chapbooks, which were the first books that I ever made available to the public. Since that time, I have written, 6 full length volumes of poetry, and one inspirational memoir, chronicling the first 20 years of my career. My most recent book, Everyday Excellence, was totally different to write, because it wasn’t a book of poetry. My poetry books are easy. As I write, I store the poems on my computer, then when I decide to do a book, it’s a matter of picking the appropriate poems. This process was a little different. The idea for the book came to me, and I just started writing. I wrote non-stop for forty-one days. I wrote nothing else, but my ideas for this book during that time. I found the writing of this book to be a lot of fun, especially since my mind was so focused on it. The editing, not so much fun, but it was a great learning experience.
OCR: You might be one of the busiest artists in the history of everdom. When you aren’t writing and producing, you find the time to do motivational speaking. What overarching messages do you convey in your public talks? What message do you want to invoke within a youth audience?
DM: As much as possible, I like to shy away from saying that I do motivational speaking, because I believe that you can only motivate those who want to be motivated, so you’re setting yourself up to fail. When I do speak, I do so from the heart, and I try to encourage people to find their passions and go for them. There are far too many people, spending too many hours of their days, doing things that they don’t want to do, that bring them pay cheques, but no joy. I try to ignite the desire for joy. With young people, I use myself as an example. I started as a youth. I had my own business when I graduated. I went to university. I do what I love. I work hard. I have things, and no-one is trying to kill me for them, because I took the long road and worked hard for them. I don’t sugar coat anything. I let them know that everything is possible if they’re willing to do the work and make the sacrifices.
OCR: On May 15, 2013 you were inducted into the Scarborough Walk of Fame at Scarborough Town Centre. How has the environment of Scarborough shaped your life and artistic path? What does it feel like to be recognized within your immediate community?
DM: It was, and still is very humbling to see my name forever in the pavement for what I’ve contributed to the community. It is a great honour to get that kind of mainstream recognition. Scarborough has played a big role in what I’ve done and who I’ve become, because it was there that I found all of the great artists that were in my shows from the very beginning. It was there that I found venues that would allow this young kid to organize events in. If we go all the way back, there are hundreds of people who contributed to me getting that Star, so I accepted it on behalf of everyone who played some role in supporting my vision.
OCR: Saul Williams is one of the fathers of spoken word, beat, and slam poetry. He is renowned for his conscious spontaneity, political stances, and lyrical dexterity. What was it like to be his opening act? Did you have the opportunity to jam with him?
DM: I’ve known Saul for some years now. We’ve shared the stage maybe three times or so. We never really jammed or interacted that much. I’m a very introverted person, so in that environment, I’m not one who is going to be mister talkative. People often take that the wrong way, but I’ve since learned that that isn’t my issue and I can’t be too concerned about it. I think Saul has great work, and great opportunities have come his way for him to advance his career and the genre, and there’ll always be respect there for that.
OCR: Sometimes I rock out to shameful new wave songs from the 80’s. Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
DM: Musical guilty pleasures, well, I listen to a lot of dancehall music, which is often not the most uplifting, soul inspiring music, but then I have my times when I put on my Kenny Rogers playlist and just enjoy life!
OCR: What’s next for Dwayne Morgan?
DM: Ultimately, only the universe can decide that question, but I do plan on doing one more international touring, possibly a farewell tour of sorts, as I believe my career and role will be transitioning in the coming years. I would like to write more books like Everyday Excellence. My next two books and three poetry albums are already written, and I’m hoping to translate my work in to Spanish to go with my French translation. Aside from that, we’ll see what happens.