Sunday, 21 November 2010

Finding The Missing Piece - An Interview with Poet Dean Atta

We have been lucky enough to gain an interview with Dean Atta an Award Winning Writer, Performer, Producer and Director in conjunction with his new spoken word album 'Missing Piece'. Dean Atta is also an Associate Artist at Camden Roundhouse, a member of Point Blank Poets, Plain Janes Art Collective, founder of 'Silence Is Not Golden', part of the UpRising Leadership Programme and Runnymeade 360Degreees Network for Race Equality. In amongst all this, Dean found the time to record his new spoken word album 'Missing Piece' which was released on Monday 4th October as a free download via his website http://www.deanatta.co.uk .



Who or what would you consider to be your biggest influences in general and in particular for this album Missing Piece?

Before this album, I released a 5 track EP called 'Reason & Rhyme', in one review of the EP I was dubbed "The Gil Scott-Heron of His Generation" by Charlie Dark. To say I was flattered by review would be a biggest understatement ever. Gil Scott-Heron is a legend and is someone I have listened to for many years, he is definitely a major influence of mine, I think there is a similar honesty and social relevance in my writing. Another big influence of mine is the phenomenal Dr Maya Angelou, I was actually commissioned to write a piece for her 80th Birthday and I set this to music and made it the opening track of 'Missing Piece'. This track, called 'Ascension', features a vocal and guitar sample from another huge influence on my music, Lauryn Hill. I have many other influences from Shakespeare to Erykah Badu to UK poets I know personally like Charlie Dark, Zena Edwards and Polarbear.


Being gay and black unfortunately puts you in the spot light for some strong homophobic criticism from people, as we have seen recently from the posting of your excerpt from 'Cut the Chat' video on Uk website Grime Daily. How do you feel about that and what would you say in response?

This is what I wrote on my personal blog the day I saw all those homophobic comments:

"The homophobic comments and death threats on Grime Daily are exactly the reason I've never felt comfortable with the idea of being a music artist or MC but f**k it, I'm enjoying making music in my own way and writing about what I want. I wouldn't have dealt with this very well when I was 18 but as a grown man I know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. For all the kids in the closet and freedom of speech in general! You don't have to like what I'm saying but you could at least respect my right to say it without threatening my life!"

I feel pretty much the same as I did that day. As a 26 year old man I feel I am a lot more equipped to deal with homophobia than I perhaps would have been when I first started performing poetry at 18. When you've been doing something for 8 years you get use to the spotlight and all the positive and negative feedback you get. Some people have called me brave for putting my sexuality out there like that, others have said it was a PR tactic. In fact I didn't know the video would be going on Grime Daily at the time of filming it for Cut The Chat but I am very grateful to Cut The Chat and Grime Daily for having the guts to put it out to an audience who were not expecting and generally were not very accepting of what I had to say. I must add that homophobic comments were soon balance out with more sensible comments once I blogged the video link and I think a healthy debate was had.

Have you always felt that poetry was your calling, or was there a specific moment when you realised that it was your passion?

When I saw a child I used to sing all the time, I wanted to be just like Michael Jackson, I used to sing and dance and act and I was in West End Musicals and the National Youth Music Theatre Choir and when I was performing in Oliver! at London Palladium Michael actually came to see the show and came backstage to meet us all, that was really inspiring and made the dream of being a pop star seem all the more real when I had actually met the biggest pop star in the world. But when my voice broke I didn't retrain my voice and I stopped singing. In secondary school I kept up the acting and let go of singing and dancing but I also began writing poetry just as a form of self expression, almost like a diary. I would write love poems (for boys and girls because I wasn't sure which I liked more when I was younger), I would also write about family issues, identity, injustice and anything I saw in the world that inspired or motivated me to put pen to paper. Sometimes I would share what I wrote with classmates and they wanted to hear more and more from me. When I was younger my classmates always wanted me to sing for them but as I got into my late teens they wanted to hear my poems. Reciting poetry made me feel as good as singing had done. My first public performance was at the Poetry Place in Covent Garden, performing to complete strangers and receiving the same love I had done from my friends, that was the moment that I was hooked and I went from open mic to open mic to feature performances to radio play and TV appearances to where I am today, releasing my album and being commissioned to write pieces for major institutions.

You have stated that you don't have any favourite tracks on the album. Which track do you feel most encapsulates the feel of the album?

The album doesn't have a 'feel' it's definitely more of a journey than something that can be summed up or encapsulated in one track. You just have to listen to it and go on the journey with me.

You are seen as a role model for both young black and young gay artists do you feel this puts pressure on you to deliver or are you comfortable with the admiration?

One track on the album that could best answer this question is 'Therapy' which talks about me being a role model and the pressure that puts on me. And that piece was actually written in a workshop I used to attend run by a fantastic poet called Polarbear whom I admire for many reasons, his humility and awesomeness being two of them. If you can be humble and yet still appreciate that you are a part of something awesome I think you'll find yourself in a position where you can both appreciate and celebrate what you have, and what you have to offer. That's where I find myself at the moment, part of an awesome, ever-growing, ever-changing spoken word scene, with 8 years of experience under my belt. So I don't ever shy away for speaking up or speak out for black gay people, it's not only on Grime Daily where I've been open about my sexuality, I've had very open/out pieces on BBC Radio 4 and BBC 6 Music and extracts from my 'Young Black & Gay' poem has been featured in two separate documentaries on Channel 4. I was also commission by the National Portrait Galley to write for their Gay Icon Exhibition last year. So it would be impossible to Google me without something gay coming up, so I just embrace it.

This last year has seen a consistent rise in your public profile where do you see yourself in 2011 and do you have other projects in the pipeline?


There's so much in the pipeline but here's a real exclusive for you, it's not even up on their website yet but it was confirmed this week that I will be performing two commissioned pieces for the Michael Jackson 'Off The Wall' Exhibition at Tate Britain in January 2011, so my new year is going to begin with a bang! So although I'm not a pop star, I have honour of being asked to write about one, and it feels all the more special because I actually met him.

We would like to thank Dean for taking the time out of his schedule to answer our questions with such depth. A review of 'Missing Piece' will follow this interview.

If you wish to download 'Missing Piece' for Free please visit http://www.deanatta.co.uk/ .

To Follow Dean via Facebook visit http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Dean-Atta/146696648685970

2 comments:

  1. Great interview adam, you really got a lot of Dean. well done on the 500 hits too. x

    Leon

    iUNDEREYE.BLOGSPOT.COM

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  2. Thanks Leon, I had fun doing it and I am thankful to Dean for answering my questions. Look out for the review of missing piece which will be coming out later this afternoon :-)

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