When it kicked off in 2012, Rooftop Rhythms ushered in a new flavour of poetry and influenced an entire genre.
Arguably the go-to open mic night for poets in Abu Dhabi, Rooftop Rhythms was started by Dorian Paul Rogers in 2012 to fill a void in the capital’s art and culture scene. True to its name, the concept goes beyond standard, written prose and celebrates spoken word, which is the rhythmic delivery of poetry. This art form is all about performing, and Rooftop Rhythms sets the stage for new and established artists to bring their words to life.
Dorian, who is a prolific spoken word performer, honed his skills in the United States where he first ventured into hosting events.
“I was doing performance poetry and then I started doing my own open mic and cultural event in America,” he recalls. “They did really well for me so when I moved to Abu Dhabi in 2011, I basically decided to bring some of the same cultural events that I was used to.
“The UAE respects poetry a lot but at the time they had mostly Arabic poetry and not Western-oriented cultural events, so I wanted to recreate and bring over the same types of events I was used to in America.”
What started as a taste of home has blossomed into a leading multicultural gathering that seamlessly blends art, culture and nightlife, giving creatives a consistent platform to express themselves and hone their art form.
As Rooftop Rhythms moves into its seventh season, Dorian is busy planning the anniversary event on 29th March, which will include an open mic session and small awards ceremony.
“We reserve 80 percent of the show for spoken word poetry but we also support local songwriters, musicians and comedians to support performance talent in general,”
“There will be a DJ providing some cool caveat music in between performances and also a small segment where we recognise superlatives in the community – from best performer and best writer to best poetry organisation; it’s a community pillar award where we recognise different cultural entities in the community.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be an anniversary event without a special guest. This time, acclaimed American poet Alysia Nicole Harris will perform. Based out of Atlanta, Alysia has performed spoken word poetry all over the world, was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize and won the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize in 2014 and 2015.
With the show’s seventh season on the horizon, it’s a chance for Dorian and the rest of the community to reflect on the impact the event has had, the platform it has given local performers and the multicultural community it has created.
“I do think that we’ve influenced a lot of other poetry organisations to start and found shows with their own unique bit,” Dorian humbly notes. “There are many more poetry shows now, which adds to the collective fabric of performance poetry. I hope that others will say that we’ve impacted the community by making contemporary poetry relevant here.”
Rooftop Rhythms has grown organically over the years, seeing attendance at events increase and become more diverse, but being embraced by host venue NYU Abu Dhabi has provided a welcome boost.
“We are very thankful to have an on-going partnership with The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi,” Dorian says. “That has been a major part of our growth. For the first four to five years we were operating out of bars, which often have food and beverage expectations, so that was very stressful trying to provide a cultural event when you have certain financial expectations.
“Around 2014, the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi brought the show on as part of its seasonal programming to provide that spoken word element to its performing arts line-up. It gave us a home and removed certain expectations and we were able to focus on the art form.”
In just seven short years, Rooftop Rhythms has set the standard in Abu Dhabi for performance poetry. The organisation has been embraced by the local community and
even government entities such as the US Embassy of Abu Dhabi.
Armed with his passion for spoken word, Dorian has given Abu Dhabi more than a series of poetry events – he delivered a movement that shows no signs of slowing down.
WORDS Tamara Clarke