Society

Q&A: Ian Keteku, Parliamentary Poet Laureate candidate

Photography by Rémi Thériault

By Samantha Everts

Ian Keteku is a musician, a journalist, an award-winning slam poet, and a proud Ottawan. Sound like the makings of a future Parliamentary Poet Laureate? Verse Ottawa thinks so, and they’ve nominated him for the plum two-year gig. The prolific artist, who is also in four bands, releases his first solo LP, Lessons From Planet Earth: Re-evolution, this fall. 

Where do you consider home? My story is like that of a hermit crab: you get into these shells and leave them to find a new one. I was born and raised in Calgary, moved to Edmonton in 2007, and then moved to Ottawa for school. I’ve spent a lot of time in Ghana — I lived there for three years in the mid 1990s and have been back and forth for different contracts. I live in Vanier [now] and love it here.

Do you feel your education as a journalist prepared you for the life of a travelling artist? Absolutely. Journalism school at Carleton gave me the prowess to really take hold of writing, whatever form that was, and really apply some skills that allow me to tell stories of different people around the world with an artistic flavour.

How did hip hop and rapping come into play? Edmonton was perfect for learning my roots in music. Stuff I’d never show to the world I had to produce to be where I’m at right now. I made a lot of mistakes artistically. I’m not ashamed to say it was a bit sexist and homophobic — not that I was. I considered myself a very conscious rapper. In the genre of mainstream hip hop, the characters make very predictable self-gratifying, self-righteous statements. I quickly moved away and realized that this was definitely not who I was.

What would you do if you were appointed Parliamentary Poet Laureate? I wanted to enter politics when I was a young warthog. I feel honoured to be nominated by Verse Ottawa, but one of the big goals would be to create a literacy program for youths across the country so that young people can understand the power of their own voice through poetry, spoken word, or whatever literary form they want to delve into. I want to be able to support that — your voices matter, and it doesn’t need to be put under the guise of grandma’s poetry. It’s fun, hip — it’s yours to use.

What inspires you? I really love documentary films. And lyrics. Lyrics are like seasons. Sometimes you’re in a darker, more introspective place. Sometimes you want to tell other people’s stories. Right now, I’m in a love season.

What is your next big project? I have a CD coming out in September called Lessons From Planet Earth: Re-evolution that has been two years in the making. Ottawa cats are all over this album. It has 14 tracks with metal, folk music, hip hop, and jazz influences. It’s all about teaching lessons to the Earth people of 5202 before they self-destruct. It’s time to go back, but before we go back, we need manuals and lessons from the previous time so that we don’t fuck it up again. The lessons are about love, politics, peace, justice, injustice, history, metaphysics, spirituality.

Do you have any guilty pleasures? I love The Office and 30 Rock. I have over 200 hats. I really love fedoras. I really like rocking blazers and Sesame Street character T-shirts.

Outside of poetry and music, how do you divide your time?
I like to read and chill with friends. There are a few spots in Ottawa where maybe there’s a nice shisha spot or café in the west end that are grimy but really cool.

Find Ian Keteku’s album, Lessons From Planet Earth: Re-evolution at Sankofa Bookstore, 430 Rideau St.; Fall Down Gallery, 288 Bank St.; and Compact Music, 785 1/2 Bank St.

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