Frank Ali started working at age ten in the San Juan market, selling celery from a little cardboard box at two for $1 to help pay for his schooling.
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Spoken word poet preaches Real unity
For Keegan Maharaj, there is no special celebration or observance of Indian Arrival Day at his home. However, this poet/spoken word artiste is deeply rooted in the tradition of his “South” upbringing and respectful of his ancestral cultural influences. “My home and family are traditional East Indian by appearance, but our reasoning span and depth as a family stretch far beyond any one belief or way of life.”
He has also been exposed to a Trinidadian experience far and beyond some people’s expectations of his race and ethnicity. This seems to have given him a universal understanding and appreciation for brotherhood and acceptance across racial lines, which he constantly highlights and endorses in his spoken word pieces.
“To be Indian, to be from Penal, to have a neatly-placed, brushed back hairstyle like mine, to look like me and then hear what comes out of my mouth, my words, my sound, my content, the company I keep; I imagine it must be ‘nonplussing’ to some. It might even be an outrage.”
Maharaj is one-third of the local folk/spoken word group Freetown Collective and he also performs individually across the country as well as in the Caribbean region and the UK.
His work has also been featured on local radio stations where he is one of the few spoken word artistes of the series.
It is perhaps this genuine reverence for brotherhood and unity that makes Maharaj, his poetry and his performances so powerful and so accessible to those who listen. He also seems to approach life with a frank and open honesty that is carefully woven into a warm approachability. This warmth increases when he speaks of his home.
“South is where my heart is and I suppose will always be. The place itself has a certain truth about it. In Penal where I live, there is a parade that passes on my street every year for Indian Arrival Day and I'm always present when it passes.”
Maharaj speaks of Penal as perhaps one of the foundation blocks of his own formation as a person and recounts some of his experiences with fondness. “The myriad of buildings present today in Penal where I'm from are not reflective of the soul of the people, as we are still largely rooted in the simple beauty of the countryside and its memories, while still being able to carry ourselves as a shrewd business community.”
In his community, Maharaj is also known as “The Punch Man” and his popularity for creating coveted concoctions with care go beyond the borders of Penal and into the vast social media landscape, where one can read almost daily endorsements of Maharaj’s punch prowess, with promises to pass for more post-haste.
His love for mixing restorative elixirs for the masses shares the space in his heart for writing, which he has been doing for more than 20 years on the encouragement of his mother and the influence of his father whom he describes as a profoundly militant man who brings out the best in people.
“Writing to me is as breath is to life. My mother is responsible for my early training as a writer, preparing me for the once dreaded and highly emphasised essay element of the Common Entrance Examination which is now called SEA.
“As for the performance aspect, it had to be my father who spent most of his younger life on stage as a karate student and instructor. He also had a stint on the local television show No Boundaries which was the height of excitement for me as a child.”
Maharaj also learned the art of speaking boldly from his main influences including Gil Scott Heron, best known for his composition The Revolution Will Not Be Televised; Saul Williams; Bob Marley and Dominican reggae artist, Nasio Fontaine. He is also influenced by his group Freetown Collective, of which he is a founding member.
“In this country Indians are not known so much for being able to hold their own on stage, particularly in an art form such as The Spoken Word, which by all means is a serious undertaking. The gift of speech has been given to me by, what I call, the source of all words, and the author of all inspiration, which is also responsible for the source of my energy, which is my real talent.”
Compared to the smaller, spoken word fringe events in which he usually performs, Maharaj’s recent exposure on more mainstream airwaves has given him a much bigger audience.
Additionally, spoken word in general has received positive reception in schools, from corporate T&T and also the local media, all of which one hopes will create wider national support of the art form.
“Poetry of the spoken word almost always strikes a melodious chord with our nation’s youth. It has the ability when done effectively, to speak to people, inform them and give them a kind of purposeful hope, not a false promise, but something to work towards, an ennobling cause.”
Maharaj also sees the potential for poetry to have a role in political activities.
“If politics itself had a more poetic approach, I believe more truth would be told which would lead to a clearer picture of where we are as a people, how far or close we are from mending ourselves and the broken aspects of our story.
“Amidst all this talk about race I still feel the good vibes throughout the Caribbean. I love being here, seeing what I see, doing what I do, loving how I love. If we make it perfect, it would cease to be paradise.”
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