d'bi.young anitafrika (born Debbie Young), dub poet, playwright, actor (born 1978 in Kingston, Jamaica). A Dora Award–winning actress and playwright, d’bi.young anitafrika is best known for a trilogy of plays: the sankofa trilogy: bloodclaat: one oomaan story; benu; and word!sound!powah!. anitafrika is also the founder of the Watah Theatre Institute.
Early Life and Education
d'bi.young anitafrika spent most of their childhood in Whitfield Town, Jamaica. Their mother, Anita Stewart, was a renowned Jamaican dub poet, and a member of the pioneer dub poetry collective, Poets in Unity. As a teenager, anitafrika studied at the Jamaica School of Drama and Campion College. At the age of 13, they were cast as Odale in a production of Kamau Brathwaite’s Odale’s Choice, an adaption of Antigone. In 1993, at age 15, anitafrika immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, where their mother was living at the time.
In Toronto, anitafrika attended high school at Jarvis Collegiate. They later moved to Montreal, where they studied at McGill University and Concordia University and became heavily involved in the spoken word and dub poetry scene. anitafrika’s first recording of dub poetry, when the love is not enough, was released in 2000.
In 2001, anitafrika moved back to Toronto. It was around this time that they changed their name from Debbie Young to d’bi.young anitafrika. (“Young” is their father’s surname; “Anita” their mother’s first name; and “d’bi” a short form of Debbie.)
In 2001, anitafrika completed their first two plays: Selphine Loathing and yagayah: two.womben.black.griots. It was a collaboration with the Caribbean Canadian poet Naila Belvett. yagayah is a two-woman play that tells the story of a pair of close friends growing up in Jamaica and their painful separation when one of them immigrates to Canada. It was published in Djanet Sears’ Testifyin’: Contemporary African Canadian Drama, vol. 2.
anitafrika’s career flourished over the next few years as a performer, poet and writer. As an actor, they were nominated for a Dora Award for their role in trey anthony’s 2004 hit play, ‘da Kink in my Hair. anitafrika was also a member of the cast of Lord Have Mercy!, Canada’s first Caribbean Canadian TV sitcom. anitafrika published two collections of dub poetry with Women’s Press: art on black (2006), and rivers… and other blackness… between us (2007).
Anitafrika’s one-person play, bloodclaat: one oomaan story, was produced in 2005 at Theatre Passe Muraille. Directed by Weyni Mengesha and starring anitafrika, bloodclaat — a patois term for a “blood cloth” used to soak up menstrual blood — tells the story of mudgu, a Jamaican girl struggling her way into womanhood as she endures the abuses of a lecherous uncle, a shaming grandma, and a chauvinist Rastafarian boyfriend. anitafrika was praised for the intense lyricism of their writing and for their virtuosic ability to inhabit so many different roles (anitafrika performs over eight different characters in the play). bloodclaat received two Dora Awards in 2006 — Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Female Lead — and went on to tour nationwide and internationally.
anitafrika followed up bloodclaat with two more one-person semi-autobiographical plays: benu (2009) and word!sound!powah! (2010). Together, these three shows formed the sankofa trilogy, which was performed in 2011 at the Tarragon Theatre and was published in 2016 by Playwrights Canada Press. anitafrika has termed the powerful and idiosyncratic style of performance and composition in their plays “biomyth monodrama” — a hybrid of dub poetry and monologue that features a mythologized biographical tale performed by the writer. She Mami Wata and The Pussy WitchHunt was presented in 2015 as part of the Audre Lorde Works-in-Progress Festival. It explores themes of gender, identity, and sexual violence.
Watah Theatre Institute
In 2008, anitafrika founded the anitafrika dub theatre, a mentorship program primarily geared toward black artists. In 2014, it became a non-profit, and currently goes by the name Watah Theatre Institute. Watah Theatre offers residencies, mentorship programs, and workshops. Since its inception, it has fostered the careers of over 500 artists.
Over the last decade, anitafrika has been developing The Sorplusi Method, a personal and creative development methodology. Based on this method, anitafrika designed the Arts, Activism and AIDS Academy for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. In 2015, anitafrika formed the band d'bi. & the 333 with musicians Odel Johnson (drums), Waleed Abdulhamid (bass), Chris Butcher (trombone) and Patrick O'Reilly (guitar). Their first album, Civil Rights Mixtape, was released in 2016.
In 2015, d’bi.young anitafrika was named as one of seven YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction. anitafrika has also received the Vital People award from the Toronto Foundation for their commitment to social justice through the arts; the Canadian Poet of Honour Award; two Dora Awards; the KM Hunter Theatre Award; the RBC Emerging Artist Award from the Toronto Arts Council; The Harold Award; and the Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Resilience Award.