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Spoken-word poetry at the Mill

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | JANUARY 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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mp3 sample: Desdamona

"The Source"

In Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, the character Desdemona is murdered by her husband for an act she didn’t commit. While many see her fate as heartbreaking, Heather Ross saw it as an opportunity.

She changed the spelling and claimed the name in an attempt to redefine the character.

“As a woman, a lot of times we are quiet and we stay in the background,” the artist said. “Desdemona is killed by a lie, so I decided to take this name. I’m not going to be silent, and I’m going to tell my story, whatever that story might be.”

Spoken-word artist Desdamona will perform at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., at 9 p.m. today, with David the Saint opening. Admission is $6.

A native of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Desdamona moved to Minneapolis in 1996 to explore her art form. She used open mikes as a medium and became a local success. Now, 14 years later, the artist’s résumé includes three albums with the most recent, Inkling, released in November 2009.

Inkling contains strictly poetry as opposed to her previous albums, which were based on hip-hop.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m more of a poet, sometimes I feel like I’m more of a rapper,” she said. “My poetry definitely comes from a place of hip-hop, but I also like to not categorize it. It is what it is, and you like it or you don’t like it.”

Although reluctant to place her work in a genre, Desdamona does believe certain themes ring true, regardless of its classification. Often referred to as a feminist, she emphasized that, although she cares greatly about female artwork, she wants a more global appeal with her work.

“It is relevant, because sometimes women in music don’t get the same exposure or respect as men,” she said.

Friend, and former booking agent, Stephanie Devine, calls Desdamona’s work “emotional” and “powerful.”

“A lot of it is about self-empowerment,” she said. “Love, harmony, and accepting who you are and being harmonious with yourself.”

Desdamona wants to promote the idea of togetherness, believing that it’s a concept that’s lost some value in our culture.

“The ego is ruling us right now, and I wish we could come back to some deeper sense of community and accountability,” she said. “We’re getting lost in the Internet and the ‘me, me, look at me’ type of thing.”

Outside of the performances, the spoken-word artist makes stops at schools on her tours, teaching workshops that mix writing and hip-hop.

“We show kids what they can do with just a little rhythm and some words,” she said.

Desdamona said she fell into being an educator because of her choice in career.

“In reality, we are all educators and role models,” she said. “We can act like we aren’t, but we are. Educating through music and through creative output opens it up to other, new people.”

But ultimately, she said, she just wants to make art — anything else that happens, just happens.

“When I make music, I don’t go on stage saying, ‘Hey this is about me,’ because if no one is in the room, there is nobody to hear it, respond to it, or ask me a question about it,” she said.


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