July 24, 2013

In a Canoe with a Modern Day Voyageur

By Steve Locke

Fun fact: "TiBert" translates to "Little Robert".

This week during Fringe, I had the pleasure of taking in a show featuring everyone’s favourite time-displaced voyageur, TiBert. The story goes that TiBert was a hard working, fur trading, mangeur de lard until he took a nap under a tree and woke up two hundred years later in a very different world. Going with what he knew best, he found work singing songs and telling stories about his experiences, keeping his heritage and identity alive in a predominantly English-speaking culture.

Out of character, TiBert’s alter ego is Rob Malo, a St. Boniface born entertainer, educator, slam poet, musician, and museum tour guide. On September 23, Rob will join the readers at Thin Air’s main stage event, Voices From Oodena/Voix d’Oodena, which will take place at the eponymous natural ampitheatre, at the Forks. There, Rob will don his TiBert outfit and share some new poetic works that speak from the heart of his identity as a member of a cultural and artistic diaspora.

From his familial roots and mythical tales at Le Festival du Voyageur, Malo constructed his show with a solid grounding of evidence provided by experience as a museum tour guide. Not always a voyageur necessarily, TiBert is a stage persona that connects many identities with a liberal use of bilingualism, history, and of course, storytelling. To both Rob Malo and TiBert, it’s the oral tradition, particularly in a bilingual context, that is important discuss and keep alive:

“I’ve considered myself quite bilingual since I was twelve. I think in both languages, so for me, it’s a scary thing, because what does that mean to adopt a new culture and language? Does that mean it replaces the old one? Does that mean it becomes one culture between the two?”

Fringin' with the kiddies at school.

Having had much difficulty on finding advice on bilingualism from elder members of both the French and English communities, Malo came to forge his own sense of identity, which sits right in the middle. There, he is free of the fear of losing his language and culture, and is instead able to promote it through the perfect venue as TiBert. Despite there being a real fear of shrinking communities, Malo challenges this idea by encouraging the breaking down of cultural barriers.

“I feel as though we need to have a few leaders in our community to help make those bridges between the English and the French, and to help the younger French-Manitobans to come to terms with having two worlds in one brain, two cultures you’re living all day long.”

Malo will be bringing this attitude to Oodena in the fall, as he has done recently on local poetry slam stages. Slam offers him a venue that’s youthful and free of tradition, to explore the social commentary of his personal experience.

“If I wanted to do poetry, it seemed like slam was the option, and after a year and a half of performing, I think I’ve finally found my voice, which is bilingual, of course. I’m really looking forward to the next year’s competition because I want a chance to show that in the prairies, there is such a thing as bilingualism. And if there’s any province that could show it, it should be Manitoba.”

For a chance to hear this new, inspired work, check out TiBert at Thin Air’s Voices From Oodena/Voix d’Oodena event on September 23.

You should also hurry to see TiBert at the The Winnipeg Fringe Festival before it wraps up at the end of the week. You can catch his performance every afternoon at 3:30 at the Steinkopf Gardens stage.

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