Al Nasir and his band are back in town on Friday, Feb. 17. Photo: Courtesy of Malik Al Nasir.
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Musician and poet Malik Al Nasir returns to Ottawa for some poetry and pancakes

With Black History Month in full swing, a special addition to Ottawa’s vibrant arts scene is soon to be featured alongside the regularly scheduled events that the Capital is known for.

Fans of black history and culture, spoken word poetry, and, of course, pancakes are all welcome to attend the Urban Legends monthly event Poets and Pancakes, which is being held at Flapjack’s Canadian Diner on Friday, Feb. 17, in celebration of black history month.

The night will feature performances from several spoken word poets, and Malik Al Nasir as the headliner.

Al Nasir, who is a U.K.-born artist of Guyanese descent, is an experienced poet, the leader of the reggae inflected Pan African band Malik & the O.G’s, and the founder of Fore-Word Press.

Malik & The O.G’s wasn’t formed as a band but emerged out of a struggle for social change,” Al Nasir told the Fulcrum. “My work is part of a continuum from the Civil Rights movement, passed down through the oral tradition, from The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron directly to myself.”

Much of Al Nasir’s work is inspired by his troubled past, having spent his childhood in Liverpool’s local authority care (the U.K. equivalent of a group home). He later sued the government for racist neglect and physical abuse, and received compensation and a public apology from the Lord Mayor. He used the proceeds from his case to fund his publishing house.

On the origin of his poetry, Al Nasir states that he never originally intended to be a performer in any capacity but rather used it to grow as a person and overcome the semi-literacy brought on by the neglect during childhood.”

It was only later, through the guidance of his mentors Jalal Nuriddin the late great Gil Scott-Heron, that he turned his talents towards performing spoken word, eventually forming his band and releasing his first album called Rhythms of The Diaspora, Vol’s 1 & 2 in 2015.

Al Nasir’s poetry covers a variety of issues, including social justice and geopolitics, and is rooted in the pain and suffering that he and his peers endured growing up as black children in a predominantly white society, during times of heightened racial tension.

“Being only five per cent of the U.K. population, people of colour are often targeted for discrimination with little redress politically. I want to give voice to that injustice,” he wrote.

Since first performing in Canada in Feb. 2016, Al Nasir’s poetry has highlighted these important issues and the need for social change.

He has conducted several seminars and master classes at schools like York and Carleton for their respective Music Departments, Ontario Public Interest Research Group branches, and Graduate Students’ Associations. He says that Ottawa even feels like home now, and that “it’s always good to be back,” adding that he hopes to conduct similar seminars at the University of Ottawa.

In terms of his upcoming show, Al Nasir has high expectations.

“I want people to feel entertained, like they got their money’s worth,” he shared. “But more than that, I want them to come out thinking. From what I’ve seen, Ottawa seems to be fertile soil for my work— the people here are woke.”

Al Nasir is also set to perform in several other shows during his visit.

On Feb. 18,  Northern Griots Network, House of PainT, Origin Studios, and Ottawa Black Arts Kollective will host Al Nasir and his band at Saint Bridgid’s Centre for the Arts in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary at the musical and spoken word live event Visual17e.

While Poets and Pancakes isn’t his only show in Ottawa this month, it’s not hard to see how the Feb. 17 event may be the icing on the cake—or syrup, if you will?

For Al Nasir, “Poetry and music can be a force for good, and revolution is nothing but change that should bring benefits. So when you combine revolution and poetry and set it to music, you can make people think how to make a change that is beneficial.”

For more information about these events, you can check out Al Nasir’s blog.