Monica Daye
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Monica Daye

Band Spoken Word Hip Hop


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"Connected to words like Siamese twins": That line from Dasan Ahanu's poem "Deep in Thought" epitomizes the rise of the Triangle's spoken-word community. Metaphors and similes dangle with cadence and intonation. The words—bled from poets who carry pens, pads and bags filled with homemade books and CDs in store-bought cases—entertain and inspire. These poets live in these words, and, symbiotically, those words live off of their poets.

"A lot of people share their story, but I don't sugar coat it," says Monica "Mona" Daye, one of Durham's most successful spoken-word artists and a member of the first Bull City Slam Team back in 2005. "What you hear when you listen to my poetry is what I was going through when I wrote it."

Monica "Mona" Daye onstage at Shairi's Open Mic, which she hosts at Durham's Broad Street Café
Photo by Rex Miller

Daye certainly has a story to communicate: At age 11, she was raped by a vendor at the Shirley Caesar Convention at the Marriott Hotel in Durham. Daye became a problem child—school suspensions, middle-school arrests, a conviction for assaulting a fellow student. She was sent to a youth detention center near Asheville. Now, she writes poetry for how she used it in her own life: to heal and to change. She calls her work a ministry and refers to Shairi's Open Mic—the longest-running Durham poetry night, which she co-hosts—as the "open-minded church."

"I don't believe in you getting on my mic doing negative things, playing degrading music and saying things not positive," Daye says. "People often come ask me, 'Can we curse?' My rule is just keep it positive, keep it uplifting."

Daye has been co-hosting Shairi's at Durham's Broad Street Café since December. As owner Jonathan Tagg reckons, it's one of the most important cultural moments in the Triangle when it happens the third Saturday of each month. It's also representative of one of the most vibrant cultural movements in the Triangle: "Shairi's is not an event. Shairi's is an experience: It is passionate like an opera, smooth like jazz, and hard-hitting like a prizefight."

Like a prizefight? At 6 feet 6 inches, Dasan Ahanu certainly looks more like a championship athlete than a spoken-word or hip-hop artist. He's a towering, captivating presence, and he demands respect with his words. Ahanu is the captain of the Bull City Slam Team, a key catalyst for the continual rise of spoken word in the Triangle since its formation in 2005.

Dasan Ahanu, Durham's great architect of spoken-word
Photo by Rex Miller

After a successful response to the first Spoken Word & Hip-Hop Festival at the Hayti Heritage Center in January 2005, the Hayti decided to expand its programming with poetry and hip hop. Ahanu had been a member of the planning committee for the festival and had successfully organized the Raleigh Slam Team. The summer before, he'd been a member of the Charlotte Slam Team that finished fifth at national competition.

Given the festival's success, St. Joseph's Historic Foundation—the parent foundation of the Hayti Heritage Center—approached Ahanu about hosting the Jambalaya Soul Slam. The Jambalaya Soul Slam has continued every last Friday of the month ever since, and, earlier this year, the center and the slam won their bid to host the 2009 Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam.

The link between the Jambalaya slam and the slam team is a close one: The Bull City Slam Team came together only when St. Joseph's committed to becoming its major sponsor. Ahanu was chosen as the slam team coach because of his Soul Slam participation, and a series of small slams helped select the first team that May. That team ranked as one of the top teams at regional competition later that year, and at a national competition sponsored by Poetry Slam Incorporated—the national governing body of slam poetry—they finished in the top third of the 75 participating teams. In August, the team will return for its second year at the National Poetry Slam Competition in Austin, Texas.

"We have consistently held our own," says Ahanu, adding that he feels the team is finally coming together and is at least capable of surprising a lot of people when they compete in August. "We have very talented poets here. Now we just have to build our body of work and improve on the lessons we have learned from competition. We have to match new ideas with what makes us special here as poets."

Mike Anderson, a regular caller to Shairi's radio show as Poetic Mic, performs at Broad Street. He's a prisoner at Orange Correctional Center and is occasionally allowed to share his story onstage with his poetry.
Photo by Rex Miller

Da Poet Tim Jackson stands before an assembly hungry for his words. He leads a radio show with Daye on WXDU every Friday night, and he's a top poetic tongue in Durham. Some have called him crazy. Others have refused to give him the space to share his radically edged rhetoric: "I think the Devil and I be spending time together just a little bit too much," he says. The members of the poetic church know this story all too well— the archetypical struggle between Good and Evil.

"I think I'm still a righteous man because I think I still feel God's touch. I think I be smoking weed too much. Now I'm not saying I think smoking weed is devilish. It's just I been smoking daily and doing it for a long time and ain't no telling when I'ma quit. But I think I'm going to let the weed go."

Jackson is known for his hard-hitting message of life as a black man who's been hindered by racism and personal struggles. The words force an introspective gaze with the crowd. More than entertainment, more than an emotional release, Jackson's words link with ears hoping to find meaning in a world soaked in contradiction. This is the world of the poetic church.

That church is expanding here, but it's been a long rise: Spoken-word poetry started to gain popularity in the Triangle in 1999 at Expressions, a long-gone Raleigh reggae club. The club hosted The Spot, a weekly open mic, and The Cypher, a monthly showcase of the best poets. Ahanu was the host of The Cypher.

"The main change has been the struggle to hold a venue," Ahanu says, detailing the long, nomadic search for a permanent home in the Triangle. "When I first started, we had a home. Since Expressions closed, we have been searching for other venues to call home."

The Vibes Open Mic, originally located at Ideas Coffee House in Durham, was so successful it had to move next door to Montas International Lounge. But The Vibe ended its four-year stint as the premiere poetry night in the Triangle when Montas closed in December.

Broad Street is now carrying on strong with Shairi's Open Mic, though it's just the latest in a series of Triangle venues to delve into spoken word with mixed success: Shairi's Open Mic started at the Marvell Event Center two years ago, and, when Yancey's opened a second location in Durham years ago, The Cypher was hosted there until it closed, too. The Red Onion Restaurant and Blue Coffee, both in Durham, are now hosting regular poetry events, as well as Zydeco, Artspace and a McDonald's on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.

Poets from across the nation have noticed the good things happening in Durham, too. Shairi's draws crowds from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and New York. "People are calling now and saying, 'Hey, I want to spend a week there," says Daye, who hosts Shairi's and the WXDU radio show with Jackson. "We're getting closer to having places for people to come and make some money every day."

Daye has traveled to South Carolina, New Mexico, Atlanta, Virginia, Maryland, Baltimore, D.C., New York, Alabama and Chicago to perform. Poetry has become her job, and she says that comes tough: "Financially, I don't always make the money. As a single parent, I sacrifice a lot. I'm doing so much but gain very little."

Still, she sees inspiration in Amir Sulaiman, a New York poet who's gotten exposure through magazine covers and the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry. His album, Like a Thief in the Night, has approached mainstream success, and his achievements, says Daye, are important in providing hope for those whose words wait to be heard across the country.

The quest for mainstream appeal, though, presents massive internal tension for spoken-word artists. Ahanu says that too often the quest for an audience can make artists struggle with self-identity.

"Some folks let the audience make them believe they are writers, and they are truly performers," he says. "Nothing wrong with either, but you do more damage if you aren't true to who you are. Or if you don't do what it takes to maintain both, if you are both."

Daye doesn't just want to be famous: Part of her mainstream desire is to see the positivity she sees behind the poet's mic translated for more people. She realizes the record industry is, in large part, supported by the big beats and negative lyrics she sees in hip hop. She thinks that hip hop and spoken word were once closer partners, and now she hopes one can make way for the other.

"What I want to see is poetry go mainstream," Daye says. "People are tired of hip-hop music, degrading music. People are going to wake up. Hip hop started with poetry. Somewhere in the early '90s that changed. Now people want to talk about bling-bling and women showing their bodies for money."

Daye and Ahanu attempt to reunite hip hop and spoken word. Both have recorded albums with hot hip-hop beats behind their poetry. Ahanu's The Jim Crow Jackson Experiment delves into the way hip hop is fragmented and pitted against itself and how spoken-word artists aren't regarded as emcees. Jim Crow Jackson also examines how North Carolina history shapes what North Carolina poets write.

"Some of the artists and some of the fans with a more narrow scope find it hard to take us," Ahanu says of poets who make the connection to hip hop. Spoken-word poets still promote social action, something they feel hip hop has lost along the way. "There has to be a place for that. Some folks would rather keep it separate or merge us more with the jazz element. That's part of our history too but is less natural for artists who grew up a part of hip-hop culture."


Ongoing events

Silent Myndz Open Mic: Thursdays, 8 p.m. Red Onion Restaurant, Phoenix Square Shopping Center, 826 Fayetteville St., Durham.

Poetry Night at McDonald's: Fridays, 7 p.m. McDonald's Restaurant, 2801 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh.

The Jambalaya Soul Slam: Last Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St., Durham.

Shairi's Open Mic: Third Saturdays, 7 p.m. Broad Street Café, 1116 Broad St., Durham.

- Independent Weekly

It was a typical night in the studios of WTHG (We Thug
Radio) as DJ Pimp Dad started to play the Chicken
Little Soup Dance for the 5th time within an hour. He
was just getting ready to give the 411 about the
latest G-Unit beef when a squad of Brothers and
Sisters with dreads and headwraps bumrushed the
studio. Pimp Daddy grabbed his gold plated pimp cup
and made a mad dash for the exit as DJ Afrika Black
threw promotional copies of "Fry that Chicken" at him
all the way to the parking lot...

Radio has a long relationship with the struggle for
Black empowerment. During the 60's, it not only was
the avenue by which "I'm Black and I'm Proud" reached
the masses but it was the source of vital information
by which people organized. After all, how would the
people ever have known about the protest in front of
City Hall if DJ Big Bob hadn't hipped the folks that
somethin' major was going down, downtown.

What would the Soul Children of the 70's have done if
it wasn't for Righteous Rudy playing songs like "Fight
the Power." The Brothers and Sisters sure would have
been in the dark had it not been for Sweet Sista Soul
tellin' everybody "what it is, what it was, and what
it willl be" on her morning program "Tellin' it Like
it Is."

But that was then and this is now.

The songs about fighting the power have been traded in
for songs that celebrate Brothers killing Brothers.
The announcements about organizing for Black
LIBERATION have been replaced by free ticket give
aways to the Ying Yang after party at Magic Fingers
Strip Club Massage Parlor and Chicken Hut. And since
the FCC no longer requires radio stations to provide
public affairs programing, the crtical need to know
information about genocidal plots to destroy Afrikan
babies has been replaced by round the clock coverage
of Jay Z and Beyonce's wedding plans...

But out of darkness comes the light. Just when you
were ready to throw your FM Radio out tha window, here
comes Shiari's Radio to the rescue. The show which is
hosted by the soulful Sista "Miss Mona" (Monica
Daye) and the Revolutionary "Da Poet" Tim Jackson airs
every Friday night 8PM -10PM EST on WXDU 88.7 in
Durham NC and world wide on the net at .

The dynamic duo is bringing back the days when radio
not only made you feel good about being Black but gave
you information to let you know why you should be
Black and Proud! They are currently seeking Brothers
and Sisters with positive music/Hip Hop/poetry to
submit their work to be played for the world to enjoy.

Also at 9PM they kick off the "Spit that Poetry Hour"
where the top Conscious Hip Hop and Spoken Word
artists on the planet kick their freestyles to the
universe. You never know who will check in on Shairi's
Radio on any given night to drop a jewel of WISDOM on
the people.

It is important that we support Shairi's Radio so that
they can give the Conscious Community what we have
been missing for far too long.
As LL Cool J once said "You know I can't live without
my radio." Thanks to Shairi's Radio, we don't have

Minister Paul Scott - ZulaNation


Still working on that hot first release.



Rarely does the universe produce a talent such as author, and activist Monica Daye. Hailing from Durham, North Carolina this fearless woman, and fierce spit-fire poet touches audiences around the country with her biting poetry, soulful stories, and heartfelt commitment to the healing of women and community. As the founder of STAND UP SPEAK OUT, Monica's personal mission is to speak out and act out against sexual violence and domestic abuse. The 26-year old author is a resident of Durham, North Carolina where she has written poetry since the young age of eleven. In the last 6 years this talented sister has definitely made a name for herself as one of the best and most creative female poets in North Carolina. Monica's awe-inspiring performances have left her audiences speechless and motivated to join her in ending violence against women. She has graced numerous stages, performing at NCCU, East Carolina University, Duke University, St. Augustine College, NC State University,Pembroke, The Kings and Queens of Poetry, Shaw University and so many more. In 2004 Ms. Daye was featured on K97.5 and 103.9s special broadcast, "Raising Awareness to the Community on HIV". Ms.Daye was four time nominee for the National Underground Spoken Word Poetry Awards in 2005 (N.U.S.P.A) nominations that include: Best Book, Best Book Cover, Best Female Spoken Word Artist, and Community Oriented Underground Poet. In April 2006 N.U.S.P.A named Daye the "Community Oriented Underground Poet" Award Winner of the year. The NUSPA'S didnt stop there. In June 2007 Daye brought home 4 N.U.S.P.A awards that include, Best Female Spoken Word Artist, Best Album of the Year(7 Days of Freedom) Best Creative Graphics on Album (7 Days of Freedom) and for the second consecutive year the Community Oriented Underground Poet's Award. Ms. Daye has chosen to step out on faith to fulfill her calling as a community activist. Sharing her personal story of surviving sexual assault and dometic abuse through spoken word. Raped at a church convention at the age of 11, a teenage run-away at the age of 13 and in her first abusive relationship, a juvenile delinquent at the age of 14 and incarcerated for 2 years, and in her second abusive relationship by the age of 17. How did she survive? Daye shares this story as her testimony that God and her gift of poetry was truly her savior. Through poetry she captures all generations and gives hope to those facing the same obstacles she has overcome.

Shairis Open-MicIn July 2005 this trailblazer started Shairi's Open Mic held at the Marvell Event Center in downtown Durham. Shairis provides a wonderful alternative to Durhams nightlife and boasts out-of-town artists and packed audiences every month. In January 2006 Monica partnered with Duke University to blast Shairis over the airwaves and now reaches audiences world-wide and all over the United States. Shairis Poetry Radio Show offers a variety of music from independent/underground artist. Shairi's Radio features old school music, reggae, conscious hip-hop, R&B, and of course poetry/spoken word. DURHAM SLAM TEAM Ms. Daye is also part of the DURHAM BULL CITY SLAM TEAM, a team of poets that travel nationally and perform in spoken word slam competitions. In August 2005, they competed against other slam teams from all over the world in the National Poetry Competition in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visit for more info on the way the DURHAM BULL CITY SLAM TEAM ranked. Daye also made the 2006 Bull-City Slam team and traveled to Birmingham, Alabama and Austin, Texas to compete for her second consecutive year. STAND UP SPEAK OUT- Ms. Daye is more than just a poet; she is an activist, and Founder of, "STAND UP SPEAK OUT"; an outreach program dedicated to the fight against sexual and domestic violence.

"STAND UP-SPEAK OUT(S.U.S.O)was founded Spring 2005 a community outreach program against domestic violence and sexual assault. Through Monicas guidance and leadership, Stand Up, Speak Out has hosted such events as, "Women Against Domestic Violence, Men Against Domestic Violence, candle-light vigils, panel discussions, and educational workshops. S.U.S.O also launched a community-wide collection drive, collecting personal hygiene items for the battered womens shelters and rape crisis centers in the state of North Carolina.

"And You Thought You Had Problems"(The Poetic Biography)
Monica's debut collection of poetry entitled, was released in the winter of 2003 by Author House Publishing in Indiana. The book chronicles the trials and tribulations of a young woman as she experiences the horrors of sexual assault and is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

"7 Days of Freedom"(The Album)
Monica's lastest project 7 Days of Freedom won Album of the Year in June 2007. The album is pathway to the power of spiritual motivation. A passionate collection of poetry & music that wars against the troubles of this ram. This is a must have collectible for now a