Gary Acosta: Uncut and Unplugged
Two years ago, watching Gary Acosta perform at the local, spoken word mecca, “One Mic” in San Fernando, it was immediately apparent that he was a talented orator. He showed no evidence that it was his first time on stage. An engineer by profession, Acosta brought the same amount of focus, precision and analytical skill to his poetic persona.
Although he denies any difference between Gary on or off stage, it is no coincidence that an inside joke at “One Mic” has turned into a well-used moniker, “Marcus Gary”. Offstage, he is a self-described “red man with glasses doing poetry”, but on stage the ‘soft’ visage does not hold up to the voice – with a strong delivery. Like a ‘Midnight Robber’ on a Dimanche Gras stage, he intends to take prisoners when he stands in front of the mike.
After years of practice and planning, he recently recorded his debut show titled “Uncut, Unplugged & UNTITLED” (UU+U), which will be released on DVD. The term “Uncut, Unplugged & UNTITLED” is not a play on words. Rather each word represents a particular entity that Acosta sees as a definition for poetry.
Acosta retraces his journey from “One Mic” to “UU+ U” with Outlish, giving us his thoughts on the spoken word scene in Trinidad and Tobago, and recalls the personal, family tragedy that made his debut bittersweet.
O: What inspired you to start doing spoken word?
GA: I started writing poetry from since I was nine years old. This love for writing grew and expanded itself into writing songs of all kinds of genres, particularly calypso. After watching Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry on HBO, I began writing and performing spoken word poetry to my mirror and bathroom walls. I would have imagined performing to a sold out Radio City or Apollo Centre and my bathroom walls would applaud at every word. It was only until viewing local spoken word poets, Muhammad Muwakil and Kyle Amos, on local television that I was indirectly informed that there was an avenue in Trinidad to perform spoken word poetry. Knowing that there was an arena to do this, I began writing more purposeful and poignant pieces – in my and the mirror’s opinion – at least a year before I actually had my first performance.
O: Where was your first performance? What were the emotions that first time on stage?
GA: My first performance was at “One Mic”. My emotions were indescribable but were quickly erased when the host, Kyle ‘Skeeto’ Amos, introduced me as Marcus and not Gary! One could imagine the embarrassment, but it took all the butterflies away and I was adamant that I prove myself to a bunch of strangers. I performed two pieces, one entitled “Angel”, which looked at the life of a woman who was born poor and was misled into prostitution and drugs. She overcame several obstacles to give birth to a daughter who she proudly brought up to be a wonderful, young woman. The second was entitled “Life of Crime”, which depicted the path a young man took when he chose crime in an upbeat tempo. The young man eventually was killed while living his life of crime.
O: The inside joke is there are two Garys. Is there really a different Gary, when you perform? Marcus Gary?
GA: I would not say that it is a different persona; it is the same person on and off the stage, but just maybe a hidden side. Offstage I might be the person telling all the jokes, but will always attempt to walk the righteous part. I use ‘attempt’ because we are all humans and we will make mistakes and a few times we may stray off this path, but the most important thing is that we come back to the righteous. When onstage, it is the same person, human, and sinner on stage, relinquishing his privacy to share a gift to an audience in the hope that at least one mind is inspired to change for the good.
O: What’s your take on the local spoken word scene?
GA: The local spoken word scene is continuously striving and even though it remains underground… it is one of the most alive artforms currently in existence. Alive does not mean popularity, but alive in the terms of its dynamics and the different ethnicities, classes, social and financial brackets, backgrounds that spoken word poetry can touch makes its one of the most effective and unique performance styles today. The open mics such as “One Mic”, “My Microphone” and “U.We Speak” have all opened so many doors to young and striving artistes and remains the vehicle to push spoken word poetry. The local scene can therefore be described as a family, a tight-knit unit that has its own personal wishes and ambitions, but works together to fight for a common goal, which is to educate the youth in our country and the world.
O: How would you describe your style of spoken word?
GA: I honestly cannot describe or define my “style” of spoken word poetry. I rather leave it ‘define-less’ so that it will always be open to expand and grow with experience. However, a foundation of positive, inspirational and conscious lyrics will always be the support for whatever definition one may place on my poetry. In fact, the word ‘untitled’ in my debut album’s title is a reflection of this. Untitled for the fact that when a genre or style cannot be pinned to any one or more styles, it can be applied to all walks of life.
O: What are your inspirations?
GA: I know the typical response to a question like this will be God. I am thankful for the most merciful Father for blessing me with this gift and a stage to perform it, so I take my inspirations from life. My poems are either written from personal encounters or listening to the recollection of other persons’ encounters.
Yes there are poems that may just come to you spontaneously, but there should always be some level of research to verify the information being presented is factual. A poet delivers a message. Falsifying this message defeats the purpose of poetry.
O: So, “Uncut, Unplugged & UNTITLED” what does it mean? How was the concept conceived?
GA: UU+U is a concept that has been living within my imagination for as long as I can remember and has finally become a reality through the immense support of family, friends and fellow underground artistes. Even though my debut DVD/album goes through a 12-piece sample of my repertoire, I saw it only right to ensure that I included the poets/singers who were instrumental in my development as a poet and person. The album is a live video recording of a concert held on September 25th, 2010 at Trinidad Theatre Workshop, along with other bonus features including the official music/poetic videos for three of my pieces.
O: How did you come up with the concept for a DVD?
GA: A DVD was chosen since performance poetry involves a large majority of movement, and it is almost impossible to portray this movement on an audio CD.
O: You have your degree in engineering? How does spoken word fit in with your career ambitions?
GA: At this moment, a spoken word poet is hardly ever respected, more so a red man with glasses doing poetry is even less respected. Therefore, actually building a career off of performing spoken word poetry is currently almost impossible in my eyes. Within the two years I have been performing at countless shows throughout Trinidad, Tobago, Barbados, Antigua and Canada, I have only been paid three times – with the maximum being TT$300.
In fact, once I was invited to perform at a show for 30 minutes. I was asked my fee and I responded with a respectable $200. The promoter of the event quickly took back his invite to the show and informed me that my services were no longer required.
However, this is what “UU+U” seeks to achieve. By enlightening the general public about the talent and positivity of spoken word poetry, I hope it can open doors where poets may be able to sustain themselves from performing poetry. It may not happen in my lifetime or it may, but I am more than willing to make the sacrifice to ensure that it occurs. “Uncut, Unplugged & UNTITLED” is the first step in that sacrifice.
O: What would you like the reaction to be towards UU+U?
GA: To be honest, I have no idea what I will like the reaction to be. Obviously, I want people to enjoy the DVD. However, I rather that the viewers are both educated and entertained at the same time. The album tries to bridge the gap not only between mainstream and underground markets, but also educate our youth about the rich culture that T&T possesses.
O: Your cousin was killed in the US close to your debut show, how did that affect preparation? Did it affect your style or point of view?
GA: To this day I am still hurting from when I received that phone call at 6.42 a.m. on Saturday 28th August, 2010. Hayden Stephen was innocently gunned down while trying to move away from two idiots fighting during Boston’s Carnival celebrations. It took me a solid week to actually get my thoughts re-aligned with “UU+U”, but I immediately decided to dedicate the album in his memory. The point of view of the album didn’t change since it was originally geared towards the youth of our nation. It addresses the crime situations presently in our society and it took every ounce of strength in my body to restrain myself from breaking down while dedicating the song “New Light” to him while at the concert.
Gary… Marcus Gary performs.
O: Red Bull is actually a sponsor of yours. At what point did Red Bull step in?
GA: Red Bull was the first and thus far only sponsor of the project. From the moment I began promoting the album via a group page on Facebook in January, Red Bull emailed me to indicate their interest in sponsoring the project. Even though their sponsorship does not cover the entire cost of the project, I am eternally grateful for Red Bull’s willingness to support not only local, but underground culture. I can only hope that other companies in Trinidad and Tobago can follow in their footsteps.
O: Are there other spoken word artists who inspire you, and why?
GA: Every spoken word poet inspires me. I know the painstaking time and effort it takes in writing and performing poetry. Thus I respect any poet who can brave the stage and will always be an inspiration to me. I rather not single out any poets/artistes for the mere fact that the list is so long that I am sure I will forget one or two. However, I will still like to acknowledge all the artistes who were part of the DVD recording: Skeeto, Til Shiloh, Idrees Saleem, Ivory Hayes, Derron Sandy, John John, Naeem Bilal, Modupe Onilu, Baba Ayine Onilu, Richarde Bereaux, Inge Schluer, Keva-Ann Blackman and Dean Williams, Simba Amani, Dayo Bejide Jazz Project and Collis Duranty.
O: What role do you think the spoken word artiste plays in T&T’s culture?
GA: Spoken word artistes are one of the few artforms left in T&T that continuously portrays positive messages to its audience. Some people might argue that spoken word poetry is an American style, but I will always beg to differ. Ever since our ancestors were forced onto boats and shipped across the Atlantic, we used singing and chanting as means of communication and celebration. The “chantuelle” was the person in charge of leading the choruses. In a very special way, the spoken word poet is the modern-day chantuelle.
So in essence, the spoken word artiste is a key link from our past to our future. We write our future’s history today.
O: Are there any upcoming projects in the works?
GA: Preparations for “Uncut, Unplugged & UNTITLED II” have already begun. The concept will transform into an annual concert featuring purely gifted, cultural artistes from Trinidad and Tobago and even foreign artistes. I don’t want to give away too much, but be prepared for some amazing artistes visiting Trinidad’s shores in 2011. Other than that, I am also working on getting more music/poetic videos out there because I believe that it is the best way to promote something that demands a lot of visual influence.
To keep up with Gary, check out his Facebook group. He’ll also be launching his DVD on November 27.
Photography by Mark Lyndersay of http://lyndersaydigital.com. Mark is a professional photographer and writer working in Trinidad and Tobago since 1976. His column on personal technology, BitDepth, has been continuously published since 1995. He is currently pursuing a photo essay series about how Trinidad and Tobago pursues its culture and festivals called Local Lives. Both series are archived on his website at http://lyndersaydigital.com.
Check out the rest of this week’s issue (Issue 33: 22/11/10):
- From Vinyl to MP3s: Does Music Have Value Anymore?
- Men: God’s Gift to Women Unappreciated?
- Superstitions on the Wall: Do they ever die?
- Fat People Need Love Too
- 8 Ways to Spot a Trini from a Mile Away