Patrick de Belen and the Power of the Spoken Word
This year's elections, both federal and municipal, and recent leadership debates bring to mind a spoken word video that went viral when it aired in 2019 for CBC's live federal election special. The piece was "Raise Your Voice Above the Noise" by Patrick de Belen, with singing vocals by Victoria Marie and musical arrangement by Zlender. In that same year, Patrick also released "Make Your Voice Heard", on youth voting.
Patrick de Belen (PDB) is a spoken word poet, performer, speaker, host, educator, and director based in Toronto. Born to Filipino immigrant parents, growing up surrounded with music served as his introduction to storytelling. Brandon Wint writes, "Patrick is one of the most well-respected voices within the local, national, and international spheres of performance poetry. He is an undeniable pillar of insight, devotion and energy for poets in his home city of Toronto, and has garnered praise and attention in the United States and the Philippines as well." Patrick is the first recipient of the Poet of Honour award from YouthCanSlam - Canada's national youth poetry festival. His commissioned works include: "True North" for Sportsnet for the Toronto Raptors during the 2017 NBA Playoff Season; "My Coach Taught Me", for NFL Players Association youth training camps in Chicago and Houston; "Raise Your Voice Above the Noise", for CBC on the 2019 Canadian Federal Election; "Hidden Hero Spoken Work", for World Vision Canada, highlighting how the pandemic is changing the world.
Patrick's works are commentaries on social issues: "Where Things Come From" for anti-child labour campaign; "Orange is the New Crack", a piece in retaliation to an incident where his parents were harassed by a Canadian Trump supporter, and was part of the CBC Arts series "Poetic License"; "Laugh" about the "complexities of coping, resilience and the search for silver-linings in the darkest of places". His works cover a wide range - i.e., of childhood memories, prejudices and racism, abandonment and the disorientation of immigrating, belonging with family but away from home, and solace in writing.
In 2020, he released In Between Lines, a multimedia project consisting of a spoken word album, animated videos, digital chapbook, tele-poem experience and writing challenges via social media platforms as a way to engage the community, and spur creative juices. Tia Julien of Dominionated.ca writes, "In Between Lines is the unholy offspring of music, poetry, dance, cinematography, and friendship; a tribute to the power of collaboration... The simple mix of instruments lends an affective softness to de Belen's profound lyricism, setting some harsh realities against gentle tones. Dealing with some of the human experiences that are often omitted or obscured from popular media, de Belen dives headfirst into fear." Here, he talks about his mental health illnesses, spirituality, and finding purpose.
Aside from his performances, Patrick works on arts education and mentorship, he is the Director of BAM! Toronto Youth Poetry Slam, and the facilitator of the Filipino Storytelling workshop series, "Poetry is Our Second Language". Patrick has also designed and facilitated spoken word curricula, for advocacies on social justice, mental health, arts therapy, leadership and team building, public speaking and creative writing. He has partnered with schools, libraries, correctional facilities, mental health centers and youth spaces in the delivery of his programs.
Patrick de Belen uses storytelling to build and serve his community. He works to rally the youth in living the life they aim to have, and own their voice. He works in providing "more platforms for Filipino-Canadians to share their writing and that storytelling spirit that has always been important in being connected to Filipino culture".
David Silberg wrote about Patrick de Belen: "He has accomplished more than some artists twice his age... Also, I noticed how his writing talent and performance presence recharged Toronto's spoken word scene and inspired many young poets to put their name in the slam hat. It's one thing to be a great poet, but it's another to be someone hoping to open doors for other artists."
To know more about Patrick de Belen and his works: patrickdebelen.com; Twitter: @Patrick_deBelen; Instagram: @patrick_debelen
Photo credits: Christian Peterson
* This article was published in the September 2021 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.
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