Mustafa the Poet electrifies crowds as Pan Am poet laureate
Spoken-word poet Mustafa Ahmed has had a huge year. A Regent Park native and popular fixture at Daniels Spectrum, Mustafa the Poet has toured with We Day, hung out with Drake, and performed before an international crowd as poet laureate of the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.
The response to Mustafa’s August 15th performance, where he extinguished the Pan Am flame to bring an official close to the games, was electric . Tweets from the event called the performance “powerful,” “awesome,” and “brilliant,” and the Toronto Star reported that “it was Mustafa the Poet, who recited one of his spoken-word poems before the Pan Am flame was extinguished, who brought soul to the closing ceremonies.”
Mustafa has been deeply involved with Daniels Spectrum since its opening, from sitting on the youth council to performing in the building dozens of times as part of tours and special events. He says that the chance to perform regularly was “really incredible, and a great way for me to get comfortable as a performer.” A graduate of the Ada Slaight Youth Arts Mentorship Program, he worked with pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo and other Regent Park Youth to create “Spectrum of Hope,” a music video that’s a “powerful expression of pride” for Regent Park.
It has been a privilege watching Mustafa develop his art over the past years, and Artscape couldn’t be happier for his success. We can’t wait to see what comes next for this powerful young performer!
We spoke with Mustafa the Poet about bringing his spoken-word message to the international crowd at Panamania. For more from Mustafa, you can follow him on his website, Twitter, or Instagram.
How did you come to be the poet laureate for the Pan Am Games?
My manager, Che Kothari, is on the creative board for the Pan Am Games, and he made the suggestion of having me do some work with the Games. So we had some meetings with [Creative Director, Panamania] Don Shipley, and we hit it off and it worked well. It was really great to be able to be part of the games in that way!
What was the reaction among your family and friends when you got the role?
My family and friends were really, really happy, and just as honoured as I was. Even when I was carrying the torch, and I had my brief performance in the Albion Arena after I carried the torch and lit the cauldron, it was a really proud moment for everyone, and my community especially.
What was your message in the poems you composed for Pan Am?
My message was about taking risks, and just taking yourself, as a person and as a dreamer and as a human being, and just taking yourself to another level, where you can inspire so many people, and inspire yourself. Like looking into a mirror and the mirror reflecting the person you want to be, and striving to be that person. It was a message about inspiration and motivation.
How did you approach writing poems for this international audience? Was it different from your usual process?
I approached this commission, in a lot of ways, the same way I’d approach writing anything else. Because it’s emotion, I think, that connects everyone, and for me, I was trying to find different topics that I think trigger those emotions. For the first piece I was talking about imagination, and the risk everyone has to face and the tenacity that everyone needs worldwide. There are these global struggles that we all have to face, and I was just trying to find all these universal elements within the games.
I also tried to remember that there were people coming from different parts of the world that don’t know English. I just told myself that even if I can’t get them to understand the words themselves, I’ll definitely try to get them to understand the emotion. And so I just try to pour out everything when I’m performing, because people react to that.
What was the experience like of performing live at Panamania?
My [August 9 performance at Nathan Phillips Square] was really incredible. You know, I think poetry’s really different than performing anything else, just because it’s such a rooted art form, and you create such a divine connection with the audience, and that’s what I felt when I was performing, especially when I was outdoors and it’s just, when you see that much people… it’s not supposed to be quiet, it’s not supposed to be silent and it’s not supposed to be serene, but it was in that moment. And if you can capture just a few minutes, or a few moments with an audience outdoors… if you can just capture that, I think it’s just… it’s just worth everything.
It has been an incredible year for you – what’s coming up next?
It has definitely been an incredible year, and for me the highlight is all the people that I got to meet. Everyone from Drake to incredible producers…all these people who I think will help mold my career, and who are helping right now to mold my career and take it to another level. I’m only as big as the people I keep around, and I can’t do anything alone and just having all these people around me and having all these different connections makes me feel so much more powerful. I’m just creating, and I really feel like I have a better sense of who I am as an artist. I just can’t wait to watch it grow.
It’s like, now that I’m 19 years old I’m really taking off the crutches and becoming my own artist, and it’s scary, but I’m excited and I think that it’s going to be a great year. The We Day tour was incredible and just having all these commissions has been incredible, but now it’s time for me to take all the great elements from those different things and really use them to elevate my art. It’s going to be an exciting year hopefully again this year.