Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts Apartment613 is hosting on behalf of MASC, showcasing the artists they work with and their programming in our community.
Wise Atangana is a Canadian musician, poet, and storyteller born and raised in Cameroon. He offered more than 200 workshops and performances in schools in Ontario and Québec between 2015 and 2020, and is invited each year to perform at several major festivals across Canada. He describes his musical style as “Afro beat hip-hop fusion” and through his music he replicates what his grandparents did – shares his stories, his beliefs and his experiences as a Black man, Cameroonian, an African, and a new Canadian.
In this interview, Wise speaks about his new album Justice for Peace #BlackLivesMatter that will raise funds for the creation of an Afro-Black Cultural Centre in downtown Ottawa.
MASC: In your mother tongue Ewondo, the name “Atangana” means “storyteller.” Did you always imagine you would become a professional storyteller? Do you think your family would have been disappointed if you had grown up to be an accountant?
Wise Atangana: I think more that my family would have been very happy if I had become an accountant. But I wouldn’t have been! As you know, being an artist in any capacity requires a lot of motivation, perseverance, and investment.
When you were growing up, you were taught that stories are the medium for passing on knowledge and wisdom. What knowledge and wisdom do you aim to share through your oral storytelling and music?
Through my slam-poetry, storytelling, and music, I share the joy of life. I inspire, motivate, and help my audiences, especially young people, to develop self-esteem and self-confidence. The knowledge and wisdom that I aim to transmit through my art are rooted in my values that focus on respect for human rights and human dignity.
This week you are launching your new album, Justice for Peace, inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. What do you think your listeners will understand from your latest album, and what actions do you hope they will take?
The album Justice for Peace #BlackLivesMatter is a fusion of spoken word poetry, stories, and songs, with instrumentals influenced by Afro-contemporary percussion and hip-hop. My tracks raise awareness, and I aim to educate and inspire my listeners and political leaders to take profound action against anti-Black and systemic racism in Canada.
My tracks raise awareness, and I aim to educate and inspire my listeners and political leaders to take profound action against anti-Black and systemic racism in Canada.
My team and I have a very clear goal in mind, and we’re looking for supporters to help make it a reality. We are raising $100,000 via GoFundMe to establish an Afro-Black Cultural Centre for Black youth in downtown Ottawa, which will open in January 2021. It will be a space for creation and collaboration, where we will focus on identity-building, personal development, and entrepreneurial and artistic mentoring programs.
With a contribution of $100 towards the Centre, my listeners and supporters of this vision will receive one CD, one digital album, and one ticket to an exclusive YouTube show. You can find out more by attending our launch on Facebook Live this Friday, September 11.
As a member of MASC, what do you gain through offering your workshops in schools and in the community?
I’m in my first year with MASC, and everything is going very well. It’s a great dynamic team with a lot of passion to serve the artists and the community.
Since 2015 I have been a full-time artist educator and performer. Between 2015 and 2020 I offered more than 200 workshops and performances in French immersion and francophone schools in Ottawa and several cities across Ontario. I did it all by myself: creation, preparation, grant writing, promotion, booking, and delivery.
That’s why I enjoy working with MASC at this point in my career: MASC takes care of the administrative work, bookings, and promotion of my programs in schools. This allows me to focus on the activities that I am passionate about: creation, preparation, and delivery of the workshops and shows. I think most MASC artists feel the same way!
I offer three types of programs with MASC from kindergarten to Grade 12: musical awakening workshops for kindergarten to Grade 3; writing and percussion workshops (how to write a slam text and deliver it to the rhythm of African percussion); and a show of hip-hop, Afrobeat, and slam-poetry fusion music.
Why do you think it’s important for our local community to have access to professional artists?
In March 2019, during the month of La Francophonie, I founded FestiSLAM, a competition for poetry writing and performance in schools. I formed 10 classes of 175 students in total, coming from three middle schools and high schools: Franco-cité, Béatrice Desloges, and Samuel-Genest. We focused on raising awareness of climate change and finding solutions.
I understood once again how important it is to create a sense of confidence among immigrant youth in general and Black youth in particular, who are always in the minority in classrooms and schools.
The girl who won the competition was in a special class because she had just arrived in Canada from Burundi in East Africa. She was shy at first and afraid to express herself. The other students said that her accent made it difficult to understand what she was saying. After two sessions, she regained her confidence and put into practice all the techniques and methods that I shared with the students. I understood once again how important it is to create a sense of confidence among immigrant youth in general and Black youth in particular, who are always in the minority in classrooms and schools. In the end, she was the best among the 175 students who participated in the competition.
I think it is a great privilege for the students and the community to have access to professional artists and to benefit from the activities they offer. Artists work primarily to bring the joy of life, to inspire, motivate, and stimulate the spirit of creativity: values that contribute to building a vibrant, radiant, and strong community.