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The Arts Community Honors a Cultural Hero
Abiodun Oyowale is a very special man: Poet, Teacher, Cultural Entrepreneur, Father, Activist, and Man of the people. As a founding member of “The Last Poets” he is also the creator of a new style of writing and reciting poetry. To create an art style, a new aesthetic within a well defined tradition, is the Holy Grail of artistic invention. Alas while many are called to this task by a cynical Muse; very few are chosen. First of all style is a function of mastery, one must not only master the techniques of the form but also be conversant with the tradition. Only then is innovation possible…but even so, victory is not assured.
With so many creative minds inquiring into the secrets of an art form, the chances of discovering a new way of doing things which enriches the tradition rather than profanes it are slim and none! Yet that’s precisely what happened when Abiodun joined forces with Filipe Luciano and Gyland Caine to form “The Last Poets.” Using conga drums and voices they spouted revolutionary poems and were generally looked upon by political activists as the radical cultural voice of the black liberation movement.
In this regard they were heirs to the tradition of black magic revolutionary verse spouted by the likes of Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka, Yusef Rachman, Askia Muhammad Toure, Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, Amus Moore, Stanley Crouch, Calvin Hernton, et al. In poems like “I got The Blues,” “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution,” “When the Revolution Comes,” Jibaro, My Pretty Nigga!” “My Jones Coming Down!” “Black Thighs,” etc “The Last Poets” offered their take on the agit-prop movement in poetry begun by Baraka’s “Spirit House Movers,” the first group of black revolutionaries who wrote poems that conjured up a will to fight for the right.
Mao Tse Tung used poetry to buck up the esprit de corps of the Red Army on the Long March to the Mountains of Yenan; where he read his poems and held literary discourses that have become world famous as”Discussions at the Yenan forum on Literature and Art.” I know that the Last Poets were inspired by the wisdom which flowed from this forum…because they were revolutionary artists. Just like Mario Andrate, Amilcar Cabral and Augustino Neto – revolutionary poets who led the long bloody liberation struggle in Portuguese Africa – the Last Poets turned poetry into a weapon. A cardinal point of Mao’s theory of revolutionary art is:”In order for art to succeed as propaganda it must first succeed as art!”
This in a nutshell explains the enormous influence of “The Last Poets” in shaping the sensibility of their generation of black Americans, for they were wildly popular for serious poets. It also explains the astounding success of its incorrigible progeny: Hip Hop. Whether or not we like all that we get from these precocious street poets – who cavalierly dip into the rich reservoir of bawdy Afro-American folk lore that was the common pleasure of the folks before radio, and television and movies – they are keeping it real. So long as they tell us about life as they live it and the world as they see it. That’s what The Last poets did and shocked the nation! It was a performance worthy of sustained applause.
The younger poets who are prominent in the “Spoken Word” movement were generous in giving up props to the “Last Poets.” They know Abiodun’s contribution to what they are doing, and they showered their artistic Elder and teacher – who had extended a helping hand to many of them as tutor in the art of poesy and also provided them a place to perform – with joyful panegyrics worthy of a culture hero. Although I didn’t know any of them from from the women in the moon, they really wiped me out with their dynamic speakology. And I look forward to seeing them perform again. Among those who rocked the house reciting their verse was: Brother Earl, Tai Allen, Sista Zock, Scityl, AJA Monet. Ngoma, ItsrealLight, J-Ivy, Autumn Asante, Al Be Back, Ali and Ade. Taking us on a wild ride through their world of reality, these young word sorcerers really set it off!
The impetus for this long overdue tribute was the fact that Abiodun – like many longtime Harlemites – is facing an eviction proceding from his beautiful spacious Morningside Drive Apartment perched on a Hill overlooking his beloved Harlem. Most of us learned about the poet’s ordeal in a Daily News feature story and were horrified. Many of the people in attendance had performed at soirees in that apartment, and all of us – this writer included- attended his marvelous New Year’s Eve parties. For years, no matter where I spent the Christmas holidays, I returned to New York in order to make Abiodun’s parties.
Aside from beautiful black ladies hanging from the rafters and getting jiggy with the music – which was always right on the money – there was food fit for a King! Not only was the cooking contributions limited to those with obvious gifts in the kitchen; it was abundant! As was the spirits and cannabis sativa – Grog and pot! But midnight was show time; that’s when the poets began to read. Some read original poems written for the occasion…while others read published pieces. But they all got down! There was nothing like it in New York, and all the culturally hip people were there. That’s why they all turned out on Sunday; we felt like we were about to lose a cultural shrine if our High Priest of poetry lost his home.
Filipe Luciano Droppin Science
Extolling the Value Of Education
Venerable Cultural Warriors Embrace
Phillipe Luciano and Abiodun
The Magic Power Of Spoken Words
Pride and Passion!
The Last Poet!
He Spat Rhymes with Reason and wisdom in Free Verse!
The Congero Kept Time
Together They Wove A Spell
There Were Troubadours
Who Sang Abiodun’s Praises
And Politicians Sang Praises Too!
After Praising the Poet with Flawless Eloquence
The Ever Elegant Charlie Rangel Left the Stage
The Joy Of the Occasion
Beamed from his Incandescent Smile
There Were Young Poets Spitting Sacred Fire
Mr. Leslie Wyche Da “Mayor” Of Harlem Was In da House
Paying Homage to the Last Poet and Cold Chillin!
Black, Brown and Beige Beauties Were Everywhere
Elegant And Daring!
Mocha Chocolate Caliente!
In Generous Proportions!
This Poet Gave Us food for Thought…
…And Provided a feast for the Eyes!
It was a Bootilicious Affair!
There Were Vintage Lovelies
The Elegant Judy: Abiodun’s Lady!
And Round Tha Way Girls
Rockin Hip Hop styles!
There Were Silver Foxes Too
Rockin Old School Cool!
And Trendsetters Too!
Doing their Own Thing!
Old Friends Reunited
Camaraderie permeated the Ambience
There Was Wine and Song
And Fabulous Food Too!!
It Was Finger Lickin Good!
The Whole Affair Was a Blast!
Rejuvenation through Joy!
Harlem New York
March 29, 2011