Interviews

Conversation with Jamaican Award Winning Dub Poet/Spoken Word Performer Randy McLaren

Written by Glen Benjamin

This week we interview Award Winning Dub Poet/Spoken Word Performer, Randy McLaren. He is Jamaica’s Youth Ambassador for Culture and Vulnerable Youth, UWI STAT Ambassador. Former Head Boy of Excelsior High School and Deputy Head Boy of Wolmer’s Boys’ School. In 2012 he was a part of a touring crew to the UK where he performed at events that highlighted Jamaica’s 50th year of independence including Jamaica In the Square at Victoria Park in Birmingham as well as the O2 Arena in London which played home to Jamaica House. In his short career, he has also performed in Manchester (UK) as well as Toronto in Canada. Apart from performing and playing the role of a guest presenter at York University, he was selected to create the title poem for a Canada/Jamaica documentary on HIV/AIDS and youth. Here is our conversation with Randy.

What does the term “creative activist” mean?
The terms “creative creative” or “Kriativ Aktivis” is an underlying principle in my work as an artist especially when it comes to addressing socio-cultural and political issues.  I am creative individual and I use my work as a means of activism thus “creative activist”.

How did you start writing dub poetry?
I did my first Dub Poem while I was in second form after being asked by my drama teacher at Excelsior High School to represent my house in the Festival of Arts competition

What inspires your poetry?
My poetry is inspired by our Jamaican culture, my life experience, the issues that affect us nationally and internationally.  I am also inspired by the positive contribution that we continue to make as a people, especially the youth population.  Anything that has to do with youth and rural development also come high up on my list.

What was your first dub poetry performance?
My first Dub Poetry performance was at Excelsior High School at the annual Festival of the Arts which was an inter-house affair. I did a piece called Echo which was written by Oku Onuoru.

What is the most recent award you have won for your poetry?
My most recent award specifically for Poetry was for “Best male Poetry” at the Tallawah Tertiary Theatre festival.  I won with a piece called “Armadale:children on fire”.

Tell us about your performances in Europe for the Jamaica 50th celebration?
I travelled with a group of performers as the sole dub poet and also MC.  I had the privilege of performing At Victoria Park in Birmingham at a series of events dubbed “Jamaica in the Square”.  I also had the distinct honour of performing at the flag raising ceremony on August 6th.  The ceremony took place at the O2 Arena in London and was staged by the Jamaican High Commission to the UK along with other key stakeholders. I performed a poem that I wrote specifically for the 50th celebrations.

You have been a leader at different organizations through your young career. What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is about giving service and giving voice to those considered voiceless.  I have always enjoyed being an example to others as well as strived to be someone that my peers could look up to.  So from being HeadBoy of Excelsior High School to Deputy HeadBoy at WOlmer’s Boys’ School leadership has been a staple in my life.  As a creative individual, I endeavour to use my talents as a vehicle to disseminate information, empower and educate in an engaging manner.  So, as an Artise I still view myself as a leader.

Tell us about your involvement with organizations that focus on the Jamaican youth?
I am Jamaica’s Youth Ambassador for Culture and Vulnerable Youth this means that I represent young people in these key areas.  I am also Co-founder and Executive Director of International Kreative Aktivism network (IKAN) that is committed to using all forms of the arts to engage, empower and transform lives, especially the youths.  I have also been president of the Jamaica Youth Theatre which has really facilitated my growth as a creative and cultural administrator.  I also do work with the Jamaica Red Cross and several school and community organizations.

In 2008 you won an award for your acting skills. Are you still acting? What is your latest role?
I still act but I am currently focusing on my Dub/Spoken Word Poetry career.  If I get a role to play and all is in order then ofcourse one may very well consider it.

Between your studies at UWI and your performances how do you find time?
It is indeed true that people find time to do what they really want to do, what they really love.  I enjoy performing.  The thing is, my performances are not just for entertainment purposes but there is a greater mission to impact lives positively.  I believe that I have a message and a story to share that hopefully will inspire my supporters.  So I ensure that I strike the balance…most of the times.  I would be telling a lie if I told you that it was true but education is something that I take seriously.

I know it is early in your career but what is your proudest moment so far?
The poem that I am very proud about is the piece called “Armadale:children on fire”.  This has given me purpose and has allowed me to meet the survivors of the Armdale fire.  Though not perfect, they are a set of ambitious young people who want to do well but lack opportunities.  I performed the piece while I was guest presenter at a children’s lecture at York University in Toronto, Canada.  I was extremely moved by how they connected with the message and was overwhelmed by the standing ovation that I received.

What projects are you working on right now?
I am working on starting a poetry and live music series at the University of the West Indies, Mona in February.  This event will be geared towards tertiary level students right across the board as well as all others who appreciate entertainment variety.  The event will be called “TALK” so individuals can look out for it and ensure that they give their support.  I am working on getting more of my poems recorded and hopefully launch mu album in this summer.  Via IKAN, we will be looking to start a trust fund for the survivors of Armadale and the families of those who died in the fire.  Part proceeds from the weekly staging of “TALK” will go towards establishing this fund.

Growing up my hero was…
I do not know if I ever had any heroes as such.  I know I have hard working family members and I admire them.

The most famous person you have met so far is ….
I think that would be Usain Bolt.

A movie I never get tired of watching is…
Rambo series especially the first 3

Thanks for your time. Do you any closing thoughts?
I thank everyone who has been a part of my creative journey and encourage all stakeholders to take the creative industries more seriously.  Additionally, young people should be exposed to more than mainstream sessions/parties.  Our cultural expressions are too diverse for us to allow this to be the reality.
I may be contacted at [email protected] Twitter @RandyMcLarenKA Facebook: randyperforms

About the author

Glen Benjamin

I strongly believe there are 3 sides to every story. Telling each side is the challenge.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that - Martin Luther King