Brandon Wint isn’t the type of artist to see barriers — instead, he breaks through them to build bridges.
As a spoken word poet who also happens to be Black and physically disabled, Wint has experienced more than his fair share of categorization. But he doesn’t let labels define his journey.
When he takes his words from the page to the stage, the Edmonton-based performer uses his poetry to shatter stereotypes and challenge traditional views on race, disability and art.
“Voices like mine are not the voices that are most often privileged in this society, or given priority to,” Wint said while reflecting on his recently-released album, Infinite Mercies. “So me being a spoken word artist … It means that I really have to honour the power that I’m given within that context.”
Wint, a two-time national slam poetry champion, moved from Ontario to Edmonton in 2015, but has been a full-time spoken word artist since 2011. His most recent work explores his identity and ancestry, as well as universal themes such as love and loss.
He said the sense of change and transformation in Edmonton over the past few years is palpable, which creates opportunity for all artists, but especially for visible minorities.
“The city is reimagining itself and reckoning with the need to rebrand itself and project itself in a different way,” Wint said. “I feel like the consciousness is rising around the need for diversity. I think people are tired of the same old.”
Wint recently performed as part of Black Arts Matter, a celebration and affirmation of Black artistry within the Chinook Series festival. While he’s participated in Black History Month celebrations, he said events like Black Arts Matter are unique because they make it clear there’s a public appetite for Black artistry, which can help inspire more young Black performers.
“The beauty of the Black Arts Matter festival and things like is that it makes it so that we no longer have to imagine that the audience exists,” Wint said.
“It also does something for the generations of Albertans who have never seen Blackness take a forefront space in culture. If you’re a 16-year-old poet who was born and raised in Edmonton, it’s a life-changing thing,” he added.
Wint considers himself “a child of hip-hop culture”, and while he says there are parallels between rap and spoken word, he also recognizes the two art forms as distinct from one another.
As a young person, he says hip-hop culture made him aware of the power of words and how they can be used to create change. While the same can be said for jazz, he said hip-hop is one of the only forms of mainstream art where Black people are “unambiguously” recognized as the creators.
But he’s also wary of the stereotypes that come with being a Black spoken word artist.
“Often, especially when I was younger, if I walk into a room and call myself a poet, people look at me and are like, ‘I know what a poet is and you’re probably a rapper’. But that’s not what I do,” Wint said.
The distinction is part of what inspired Wint to collaborate with a classical musician for his recent album, as a way of fusing African and European influences.
“I’ve kind of shied away from leaning on hip-hop too heavily,” Wint said. “And I think that’s been a conscious choice. I’ve always been aware and willing to celebrate my Blackness within my artistry, but it’s also a little cliché or easily expected for a spoken word artist to work with hip-hop beats or jazz backdrops.”
As an artist with cerebral palsy, Wint also uses his poetry to celebrate his disability.
“If I stand in a full room and I’m able to be my full self in this body, it counters some narratives about beauty, sexuality, self-position and autonomy,” he said. “It’s impossible for a person to watch me work and come away with the understanding of disability as a weakness.”
Wint says a full understanding of himself as an artist is still a work in progress, but he calls his most recent album his most mature, his most self-aware and his most musically-refined project yet.
“I want (listeners) to feel my personal journey, my humility, my questioning,” he said. “I’m just a human being using art to come into myself, so I want my album to be an honest representation of that.”
This article was originally published in Metro Edmonton.