Debbie Young (d'bi.young anitafrika), dub poet, playwright, actor (born 1978 in Kingston, Jamaica). A Dora Award–winning actress and playwright, d’bi.young anitafrika is best known for her trilogy of plays, the sankofa trilogy: bloodclaat: one oomaan story, benu,and word!sound!powah!, and as the founder of Watah Theatre Institute.
Early Life and Education
Debbie Young spent most of her childhood in Whitfield Town, Jamaica. Her mother, Anita Stewart, was a renowned Jamaican dub poet, and a member of the pioneer dub poetry collective, Poets in Unity. In her teens, Young studied at the Jamaica School of Drama and Campion College. At the age of 13, she was cast as Odale in a production of Kamau Brathwaite’s Odale’s Choice,an adaption of Antigone. In 1993, when she was 15, Young immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, where her mother was living at the time.
In Toronto, Young attended high school at Jarvis Collegiate, and later moved to Montréal, where she studied at McGill University and Concordia University and became heavily involved in the spoken word and dub poetry scene. Her first recording of dub poetry, when the love is not enough,was released in 2000.
In 2001, Young moved back to Toronto. It was around this time that she changed her name to d’bi.young anitafrika: “Young” is her father’s surname, “Anita” her mother’s first name, and “d’bi” a short form of Debbie.
In 2001, anitafrika completed her first two plays: Selphine Loathing and yagayah: two.womben.black.griots, which 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, she was nominated for a Dora Award for her role in trey anthony’s 2004 hit play, ‘da Kink in my Hair,and was a member of the cast of Lord Have Mercy!,Canada’s first Caribbean Canadian TV sitcom. She published two collections of dub poetry with Women’s Press: art on black (2006), and rivers… and other blackness… between us (2007). Her one-woman 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 her writing and her virtuosic ability to inhabit so many different roles (she 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-woman 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 will be published in 2016 by Playwrights Canada Press. anitafrika has termed the powerful and idiosyncratic style of performance and composition in her plays “biomyth monodrama”: a hybrid of dub poetry and monologue that features a mythologized biographical tale performed by the writer.
In 2008, anitafrika founded the anitafrika dub theatre, a mentorship program primarily geared towards 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.
anitafrika’s latest play, She Mami Wata and The Pussy WitchHunt,was presented in 2015 as part of the Audre Lorde Works-in-Progress Festival, and explores themes of gender, identity, and sexual violence.
Awards and Other Projects
In 2015, d’bi.young anitafrika was named as one of seven 2015 YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction. She is a recipient of the Vital People award from the Toronto Foundation for her commitment to social justice through the arts. She has also received 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.
Over the last decade, she has been developing The Sorplusi Method, a personal and creative development methodology. Based on this method, she designed the Arts, Activism and AIDS Academy for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. anitafrika is currently working on her third dub poetry album, Darkmatter Dub.In 2015, she formed the band d'bi. & the 333 along with musicians Odel Johnson (drums), Waleed Abdulhamid (bass), Chris Butcher (trombone), and Patrick O'Reilly (guitar). Their first album, Civil Rights Mixtape, is scheduled to be released in 2016.