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Exploring Creativity, Advocacy, and Authenticity with Aaliyah Fafanto

Aaliyah Fafanto spoken word poet from Las Vegas, Nevada. Portrait smiling with happy energy!

Welcome to another edition of Raw Femme’s Creator of the Week, where we shine a light on the bold, the brave, and the unapologetically artistic voices, making waves in the arts community of Las Vegas, Nevada and beyond. We’re thrilled to feature an individual whose dynamic spirit and profound work embody everything Raw Femme stands for. Meet Aaliyah Fafanto—an artist, activist, educator, and a beacon of creativity whose journey and insights are as diverse as their roles. In this exclusive interview, Aaliyah delves into their path as a spoken word poet, their process of creating art that resonates deeply with personal and communal truths, and their upcoming projects that promise to inspire and challenge us.

Join us as we explore the raw and real world of Aaliyah, a true Raw Femme at heart, whose story and vision are not just compelling, but also crucial in today’s conversation on art, advocacy, and authenticity.

My name is Aaliyah. I am an artist, filmmaker, producer, director, an activist, an educator, a student of life, a world traveler, a cat parent, and sibling, a child, a lover, a friend, a safe space, a curator. I am a creation created to create. I am not one thing, I am everything.

I started doing spoken word for a venue called Level One downtown. I started going with a then friend to support her and her artistry and then gained the courage to go on stage myself. It was perfect alignment because I was going through a heartbreak at the time so I had a lot to say. To my surprise, other folx felt what I had to say and I was inspired to keep speaking for those who weren’t ready for the stage, yet.

My writing is solely based on my life experiences. My pains, my triumphs, struggles, traumas, etc. It all comes out in my writing. Because of this, you get the raw writing and performances you see. I don’t memorize my work and that is with intention. I have a message I want to be heard and I’m releasing traumas as I go. If I memorize it, I hold those traumas. That’s not my style. It also adds to the experience of seeing me perform because you won’t hear the same thing twice. Every performance is exclusive.

The first step to empowerment, for me, is bringing tough, and somewhat taboo, topics to light. These topics are ugly, and traumatic, and all of these negative things BUT they need to be heard. Our stories feel unique and isolated because we feel as though we are the only ones experiencing them. However, when we share our stories, we find we are not alone at all. That’s my goal for projects like “Who’s Protecting Black Girls?” To let Black womxn know they are not alone and also, someone is advocating for you!

I won that same slam the year prior and was crowned the first winner. That was motivation to really go hard for the 2023 slam. I knew it was a long shot to win the same slam twice a year apart but the first one gave me all of the confidence in the world that my story matters. I write poems about being Black, gang life, traumas, etc. and a lot of times the crowd demographic doesn’t reflect my story. So it scared me the first time that the poems I prepared weren’t going to touch the crowd because there was no way they could relate. After winning, I realized, it’s not all about relating but more so about FEELING. I give it to people RAW. They kind of have no choice but to listen and feel my shit! So going into the slam in 2023, I knew as long as I was myself, raw, the crowd would receive me. Low and behold, they did. I will say though, of all the slams I’ve won, times I’ve been published, etc., these make me feel more isolated than they do make me feel included.

These accolades, while nice, have shown me that my platform isn’t for me anymore. There is no more ego in my work. I need to use my platform to speak on things bigger than me while people are still listening. That is what distinguishes me from being a poet to a real artist. I don’t create for a victory, anymore. I do it to be a vessel, a mouthpiece even, to those who may not be brave enough to speak, yet.

My art is for the community because I am a part of the community. African proverb of Ubuntu: I am because you are. I speak for my community. I advocate for my community. I represent my community. When I say community, I mean BLACK, QUEER, NONBINARY folx specifically. I am open to teaching ALL of my community, but my work is for them/us. The reason it’s important for me to do so is because 1) I didn’t have a community leader that looked like me or held my same intersectionalities; at least not openly. 2) I feel that my community doesn’t always back me how I back them. That is a change I’d like to see, especially in the poetry community. If you’re going to call yourself anything: an artist, a poet, an advocate, whatever, at least show up for those folx! A lot of times in the poetry community, people only showcase certain people because of popularity, or only extend help for their friends, etc. This is nice and all, but do all of our stories not matter? How do I show up for you if you do not do the same for me? When I have projects that require community support, they only see the end result and praise me when it’s done; although they weren’t there for the grueling process of it. That has to stop. Because I am no celebrity or big name brand, there is no prize for supporting me. However, these same people support businesses funding genocide, celebrities who don’t even know they exist, or anything with clout attached. It’s crazy to me. Support people who support you!

I am premiering my first documentary in April titled “Black Butterflies” which follows Black womxn’s life journeys. It will serve as advice and guidance to young Black children navigating their own metamorphism. It is a way for us to see ourselves within each other and know that the journey of evolution is never ending. I curated, directed, and produced this film so I’m excited for its debut. The community can support by buying a ticket to the premiere when they drop. The price of the tickets are donation based so that everyone can come without the financial burden to enjoy this community project.

A “Raw Femme” is ME! It is all of us who dare to be bold, real, authentic, and most strikingly, unapologetic. Being raw is unfiltered. I feel most people live their life filtered and jaded. I choose, intentionally, to be raw and real because I can only be myself. Even if I could have it another way, I’d still choose to be me. While it may come off harsh, or bold, or blunt to other folx, it really is just how it is and I don’t apologize for not being digestible for other people’s palettes. I am for the real, not the mainstream.