Monday, April 23, 2007

RIGHT ON ! The Last Poets

Everything started when two Poets and a percussionist decided to become spiritually and artistically responsible for the beginning of a movement born for continuing the African oral traditions but above all for becoming reason bringers to the Afro-American population. David Nelson, Gylan Kain, Charles Davis aka Abiodun, Raymond Hurrey aka Nilija Obabi, Felipe Luciano, Umar Bin Hassan, Sulieman El-Hadi and Jalaluddin Mansur Nurridin (Jalal) are the most famous pf those who would go on to become ‘The Last Poets’. It all started in New York in 1969 when Nelson and Davis, whilst celebrating the birthday of Malcolm X in a park, decided to form a collective for reading poetry continuing the African verbal method, used this time though for putting in evidence the situation of the black social classes in America during that period. The first idea was that of creating some musical bases over which you could read writings, even if not all of the Poets managed to sing in the same way, thus it was decided to make up a neutral base of percussion bongos as a background. “Are You Ready Nigger? You Got To Be Ready” was the first ‘message’ from the trio that was made up of Nelson, Kain and Oyewole and that is how the legend started. The ‘Last Poets’ was chosen as the name through an inspiration from a poem by K. William Kgostile from South Africa: “This wind you hear is the birth of memory. When the moment hatches in times womb, there is no more art talk. The only poem you’ll hear will be the spear point pivoted in the punctured marrow of the villain, the timeless native son dancing like crazy to the retrieved rhythms of desire fading into memory” to which Nelson added: “Therefore, we are the Last Poets of the World”. At that point the ‘Last Poets’ were officially born. The formation was, and still is today, very elastic and interchangeable, Jalal for example entered on the second album after being in prison for refusing to take part in the Vietnam war. The first recordings were on the Douglas label of the jazz producer Alan Douglas. The first album “The Last Poets” was a manifestation against the white oppression as well as the passiveness and lack of wanting to create and fight back by the blacks… “The Last Poets” Douglas 1970, “This Is Madness” Douglas 1971, “Chastisement” Douglas 1972, “Hustlers Convention” (with Jalal Nuriddin recording as ‘lightning rod’ Douglas 1973, “At Last” Blue Thumb 1974, “Delights Of The Garden” Celluloid 1975, “Jazzoetry” Celluloid 1975, “Oh My People” Celluloid 1985, “Freedom Express” Celluloid 1991, “Be Bop Or Be Dead” (Umar Bin Hassan with Abiodun Oyewole) Axiom/Island 1993, “25 Years” (Abiodun Oyewole with Umar Bin Hassan) Rykodisc 1994, “Holy Terror” Rykodisc 1995 and “Time Has Come” Mouth Almighty/Mercury 1997 are just a few of their records from the 70’s onwards. As the years passed the sound of the Last Poets became ever more structured and the support band changed regularly characterising every time their sound which was always different. In 1971 “This Is Madness” got the Last Poets added to the ‘Counter Intelligence Programming lists’ of Nixon… some of them were put under surveillance and were also interrogated regularly by the FBI. In 1972 Jalal added the jazz drummer Sulieman El-Hadi to the band who introduced a jazzy sound, thus “Jazzoetry” was born, poetry over a jazz base. In 1973 Jalal, under the ‘Lighting Rod’ pseudonym (already used in 1969 for recording with Jimmy Hendrix and Buddy Miles “Doriella Du Fontaine”) recorded an album entitled “Hustlers Convention” that, supported by bands like Kool And The Gang, Buddy Miles and many other musicians of the Funk/Blues scene consecrated definitely that which today we call RAP. The Last Poets carried on, as they still are today, even in smaller numbers or also as solo artists like Jalal who has recorded for other lesser known labels… Today Umar Bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole continue on their own whist Jalal has moved to England in the 80’s where he keeps his career going at coming out some time ago with the album “Science Friction” for the English label Subtonix as the singer Bernard Alexandre. These so called precursors of modern day RAP have had their albums sampled by many rappers and hip hop bands: “Run Nigger” from their very first self titled album was sampled by NWA, Hurricane and Paris, “Niggers Are Afraid Of Revolution” by Brand Nubian and Third Eye, “When The Revolution Comes” was used by Notorius BIG in his “Party And Bullshit”. Galliano, the first Acid Jazz rapper was clearly inspired by Jalal who also contributed on the recording of “Acid Jazz And Other Illicit Grooves” in 1988, a manifestation of the first English scene of this genre. Today these Poets of civil rights, black and non, are considered guru’s and their albums are collected by lovers of rap, jazz and also be-bop! To finish off I would like to leave you with a couple of lines from a letter that Jalal wrote to me some time ago: “The people require affection, protection and direction and there are eight points on a compass, the east and the west are only two”. Peace all over the land.

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