Barbara Adler first became interested in spoken word after hearing Buddy Wakefield perform at Café Montmartre during the Thundering Word Heard series. She then saw the Vancouver Poetry Slam team perform at local book and magazine festival The Word On The Street and was hooked.
Adler got into the poetry slam community heavily, and was a Canadian Team Slam Champ, a CBC Poet Laureate at the Peter Gzowski Invitational and a CBC Poetry Face-Off winner. But since starting with slam poetry, Adler has gone in many other directions, exploring other talents and projects.
Adler graduated with a BA in Art and Cultural Studies from SFU with a minor in Fine and Performing Arts. Her music however, is completely self-taught. “I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of other professionals and learning from them,” she explains.
Her BA allowed her time to “think critically about what it is to be an artist and what that means within arts and culture.” She was one of the founding members of the band The Fugitives, which “mixed spoken word and music” explains Adler, citing both as passions.
The Fugitives grew out of several poets from the Vancouver Poetry Slam community when they attended the first Canadian National Poetry Slam. Although Adler left The Fugitives a couple years ago, her love for mixing music and poetry has only grown since then.
“I love music and the rhythmic aspects of language,” gushes Adler, “the musicality of language and the intersection of poetry and music.” She then founded Fang, Vancouver’s only accordion shout-rock band. “It’s essentially me aggressively yelling lyrics,” laughs Adler. Trying to describe ‘shout-rock,’ she likens it to Patti Smith, who screams poetry over rock music.
Despite several other side projects, Adler supports herself by teaching music and poetry on contract. She finds the time to work with groups such as the Vancouver East Cultural Centre with the Ignite! Mentorship Program for youth, the Vancouver Biennale, and the The BC Schizophrenia Society’s ReachOut Psychosis Program. The latter mixes serious content with comedy and performances by her band Proud Animal, “educating youth and inspiring them to think about mental health.”
Coming up in the fall is the Accordion Noir Festival, which Adler is helping to organize. It will take place from September 12 to 15, and really pushes the boundaries of what accordion music can be. “It’s not just polkas and the elderly,” says Adler, who mentions other fringe instruments such as the ukulele that have experienced a similar resurgence in popularity. The festival’s accordion rock and dance party is not to be missed, and Adler is organizing an Underdog Instrument Grudge Match, which will pit these fringe instruments against each other in a battle-of-the-bands-type rock-off.
In September, Adler will also return to SFU to do her MFA where she wants to explore her Czech heritage and accordion music.
Kevan Cameron was born in Alberta to Jamaican parents who raised him with a strong appreciation for his cultural background and exposure to orality. Cameron’s dad was a huge fan of music, playing reggae, soul and hip hop for the family, and his mother was a teacher who would have Saturday classes to share Jamaican culture and heritage.
In grade three, Cameron’s first published poem was accepted to the Stepping Stones Anthology, and it hasn’t stopped. “Rappers were the first poets I listened to,” explained Cameron, who was drawn to hip hop music in the late 80s. He began writing his own: “I wouldn’t call it poetry, but that’s what it was.”
He attended SFU on a soccer scholarship, emphasizing that he was an “athlete-student” as opposed to a student athlete. Soccer came first and for four years he was on SFU’s Men’s Varsity Soccer Team, receiving All-American honours and the SFU Captain’s Award. He later went on to play with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Canadian National Youth and Olympic teams. Unfortunately, an injury cut his professional soccer career short, but he still mentors and coaches youth soccer.
After university, Cameron began to explore performance of his poetry and lyricism and discovered the Vancouver Poetry Slam. His work is “influenced by black poetry, history, and culture,” and addresses social issues, raising awareness and sharing knowledge and empowerment. His stage name was “Scruffmouth the Scribe” after a nickname his brother gave him as a kid.
His own poetry style has transformed over the years, and he now describes his spoken word as “more free verse spoken dub poetry” where “the words aren’t confined to scheme.”
As his involvement increased, Cameron began organizing events with the Vancouver Poetry Slam, who would hold general events every second week, but opened up the floor to ideas for specific themes. In 2007, Cameron organized the first Pan African Slam, which coincided with Black History Month in February. Later in the year he attended his first National Poetry Slam where he hosted another Pan African Slam. “It was an opportunity to connect with the community,” explains Cameron, who felt diversity was a strong reason for the slam’s resonance.
While working on a short film in 2008 called Food for Thought with Black Sunrise Pictures, it was suggested that he form a collective for his projects. Cameron believes “we have to create the community we want” and found that as an official collective, it was easier to obtain recognition and funding. The Black Dot Roots & Culture Collective was born, with Kevan “Scruffmouth” Cameron at the helm.
Since 2008, Cameron and the Black Dot Collective have been involved in more community events, including starting the Hogan’s Alley Poetry Festival in 2011 and the Great Black North poetry anthology earlier in 2013.