#25: Assetou Xango
Assetou Xango’s poetic voice is queer, black and female, and almost by requirement, a clarion for activism. Xango, aka Dominique Sample, began her slam-poetry career as a youth-level contender with Denver’s Minor Disturbance, and appeared in HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices special as a member of the group’s high-ranking 2010 national team. In the present, she’s outgrown Minor Disturbance, but not her affinity for performing on stage or coaching other poets behind the scenes: Xango, who’s traveled the world and spoken to sold-out TedX crowds, just returned from Dallas, where she represented the Denver Mercury Slam at the Women of the World. And next? After taking the reins earlier this year as the new Aurora Poet Laureate, she’ll be raising awareness and words in the community. That’s a lot for one woman to hold on her plate, but she does it with power and grace, as you’ll learn from her answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Assetou Xango: KATANI. They are a group from New York, two women dedicated to addressing and dismantling misogyny in hip-hop. This matters in that hip-hop was birthed from the struggle of black people; however, it is, as of right now, only addressing the struggle of black men. The intersectionality of being queer or trans or woman is overlooked, if not oppressed, by the genre as a whole. The division that perpetuates in the black community breaks my heart every. single. day. They are doing this work to heal such wide-open wounds. I am attempting to do similar work in my poetry. I think a collaboration would be beautiful.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
There's an up-and-coming poet named Wanderer, based in Colorado Springs. She just recently hit the slam scene, and my jaw has been on the floor ever since. She is younger than me and has been performing far fewer years, but she has me taking notes, because she encapsulates what is possible as an artist. She's phenomenal at what she does, and has such a raw talent. I can hardly wait to see how she develops. Even presently, the material she writes and the way she presents — it is inspiring. I'm just trying to be on her level.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
What's your day job?
I work as the School Program Coordinator at Creative Strategies for Change. We are a local nonprofit based in Five Points. The mission of the organization is to mobilize arts and education for social justice. We do this in a number of ways, working with organizations on an administrative and policy-creating level, as well as offering community workshops and partnerships with the goal of having a shared language around tangible and tactical social justice. I am part of the consulting team, but I mainly coordinate art programs in K-12 schools that teach the art form through a hands-on social-justice lens. It's perfect.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Okay, I'm a little concerned the question isn't, “Where are these funds coming from, and are they equitably and justly sourced?" Though that seems unlikely, we will assume the best. First, I have put my mother in tremendous debt and would want to immediately pay that back, then my own, and then — all the cruises she wants. She has never been out of the country, but due to her hard work, I have traveled to five continents. If I had unlimited funds, she would want for nothing. I would spoil her.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
The answer to this question changes almost as often as Denver's weather does. In fact, sometimes my response is based on the cold or dryness. I've left Denver many times and lived out of state twice. But there is something about being loyal to the community that raised you and being determined to make it better that was ingrained in my DNA. I will always love it, and it seems to have something of a boomerang effect on me.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Begin by believing in the arts as more than an extracurriculum to life. I'm not sure at what point our culture decided that life is working tirelessly and making money, and anything worth enjoying must be a hobby or a mistake. However, such thinking is self- and, consequently, culturally destructive. The arts tell hard truths that are otherwise impossible to face, and honestly, with this political climate, such truths are imperative in our survival as a nation. Please stop belittling the work that artists do as though it is not hard or important. Believe in us, and we will pool all of that faith back into the vision of tomorrow.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Toluwanimi Obiwole. She's incredible, and her writing reminds me of my favorite poets of all time, thus making her one of my favorite poets of all time.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
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As much writing and performing as possible. It is my first year of my two-year term as Aurora Poet Laureate, so I am very excited to begin building with my community from that platform!
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I think the arts in general are just gaining more steam and recognition in general. When things are bleak or oppressive, people seek art as refuge. Our venues and events have been far more filled than ever before. The energy surrounding the arts is booming right now, and artists are inspired by the pain and injustice we see in the world. The darkest times are admittedly the best time for arts.