Award winning, Canadian spoken word artist Shane Koyczan made his mark on this country at the 2010 Olympics, with his poem We Are More.
Canada, he opined before an international audience, “is an experiment going right for a change.”
Those now famous words, he said Thursday, don’t have the same resonance.
“The country has changed. (Stephen) Harper said it himself—’ You’re not going to recognize Canada when I’m through with it.’ Well, I already don’t recognize Canada.” said Koyczan, an Okanagan University College grad and Penticton resident.
Koyczan was speaking from the Kelowna airport recently, awaiting a flight to Vancouver where he’s scheduled to perform alongside other musicians involved in the #ImagineOct20th movement.
Events are being organized under that banner across the country, and they feature famous Canadian musicians and artists, hoping to encourage voters to oust the Harper government.
For Koyczan, it’s the ideal space to express mounting frustrations.
“I never thought Canada would be the place to slam the door in the faces of people trying to come to the country,” he said, referencing the Syrian refugee crisis. Canada pledged in January to bring 10,000 — of an estimated 4.1 million — Syrian refugees to Canada for resettlement. Thus far, only 2,300 have been given access.
Koyczan also pointed to concerns he had about the government’s policy to not allow its scientists to speak publicly on their research, and the anti terror bill C-51.
What might be most concerning, however, is that it seems that people aren’t doing anything. Voter apathy brought election participation levels as low as 61 per cent the last time around, and it remains to be seen whether there will be a hike by Oct. 19.
“How do you wake people up? What are we supposed to do here?” he said.
“Right now you have a party that’s promising to get rid of student debt and you aren’t willing to vote? Free education? Can you imagine living your life without any student debt at all? It’s being offered and nobody is voting. Why is that not enough? What do you want? Free iPhones? What’s it going to take?”
He’s well aware of the lament that one vote doesn’t amount to much, but Koyczan sees it the way only a poet could.
“Your vote is the hand on the wheel. You are steering the country, that’s what your vote is for,” he said.
“Things are not going to change overnight … it’s more of a direction, where we are going. The course we are on now feels very dangerous and tenuous.”
Koyczan admitted he could speak for hours about politics, but his work isn’t so singularly focused, and those who attend his show later this month in Kelowna will get a full experience.
“It’s more of a roller coaster thing,” he said. “When people come to my shows I want them to have an emotional journey. We will go to some dark places and they will go to some light places, too … I want to reach out to those emotional parts of you and draw them in and remind you that it’s OK to be emotional, you are human after all.”
While We Are More was arguably the piece of work that put him on the map for reminding Canadians of their shared connection, he’s seen numerous subsequent successes. His 2012 poetry collection Our Deathbeds Will Be Thirsty, featured the poem To This Day. That anti-bullying poem was made into an animated video viewed online nearly 16 million times, and Koyczan said it did more for his career than anything else to date.
Graphic novels, films and collaborations with musicians of all stripes have followed.
“If you are going to be an artist for a living, you have to try a lot of different things,” he said.
And, he pointed out, trying out different things is what got him a career in the first place.
“It’s always weird to me that I have fans, and this is what I get to do for a living,” he said.
“You go to school, and you hear, ‘This is what you want to do? There’s no chance at all.’ And you get told that enough and you start to believe it … I am constantly astonished from the fans and the support I get that allow me to continue trying this. It’s amazing, it’s a beautiful life.”
Along with his band, The Short Story Long, he has released Debris — their third album together. The title track features vocals from Ani DiFranco.
Koyczan’s upcoming Canadian tour does not include a stop in Penticton, but he will be in Kelowna at the Community Theatre on Oct. 22.