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This poet explains why your words are important

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Posted on Friday March 10th, 2017

University lecturer by day, poet by night, Jaysus talks spoken word in Abu Dhabi


When Jaysus Zain, 26, moved here two years ago, he expected nothing in the way of a spoken word scene. After joining one of the UAE’s only open mic nights, Rooftop Rhythms, his poetry career blossomed along with the event. Now, as Rooftop Rhythms prepares to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we speak with Jaysus about being cool and breathing novels.

What’s your history with spoken word?
I’ve been writing poetry since I was nine and started performing when I was 13. My first slams were in the UK. I’ve been invited to events in Qatar and Kuwait, and won slams in Washington DC and New York.

Two months ago I had the opportunity to write an ad for Lenovo because they thought poetry was the best way to go as a voice-over.

What did you think of the scene when you arrived?
When I first came it was just Rooftop Rhythms and another open mic. Now it’s blooming. I think people started to realise that sharing your thoughts is cool. People usually keep those things to themselves but now they realise it’s okay to open up.

Were you surprised at the other talent?
In the beginning, the performers [at Rooftop Rhythms] would be American or other expats. All of a sudden I started seeing more Arabs and Emiratis and that for me was a shocking experience. You don’t often hear Emiratis speaking about normal things that we go through in life and make it sound as if they live in the States or UK.

Have there been any barriers?
When people talk about poetry they think it’s Shakespeare, it’s old-fashioned.

Spoken word is very easy on the ear. When you hear old-fashioned poems they’re abstract and you tend to study it to find out what the person is talking about. Spoken word, if you think about it, is someone’s thoughts written in the way he thinks about it every day.

Do you think multiculturalism here has an impact on the success of spoken word?
It’s people bringing different backgrounds with them to the stage. That makes you feel like you’ve lived that moment with them. Instilling culture within your spoken word is a beautiful thing.

Why do you think spoken word has taken off?
I perform at Backyard Poetry, Dubai Poetry Slam, Blank Space… These [organisers] are the same people who used to come to Rooftop Rhythms. They used to travel from Dubai just for an open mic then they decided to open their own there. It’s a community and we support each other.

Also people are tired of the same mundane routine, so they try to find new ways of expressing themselves.

Which direction would you like the scene to go?
To be more accepted as an art.

Whether it’s a song, lyrics, rap, poetry, it’s someone’s life written in that form. It doesn’t matter what form it is, it’s an experience. It’s like breathing a novel but in a very short way.

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