The next show will air on Sunday, September 7, 2014 from 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM Monday Eastern Standard Time on WBAI, 99.5 FM in the NYC metro area or streaming online at wbai.org. This installment of the program will feature an interview with poet and vocalist Abiodun Oyewole. You can hear a short preview of the show below.
Abiodun Oyewole grew up Charles Davis in Queens, NY. Listening to his parents’ jazz and gospel records and studying Langston Hughes and other great poets in school helped nurture Oyewole’s love of poetry. His mother taught him to “throw [his] voice” by making him recite the Lord’s Prayer in their basement so that she could hear him in the kitchen.
When he was 15, Charles Davis and a friend went into a Yoruban Temple in Harlem out of curiosity. The Yoruba priest there performed a ceremony with Davis and gave him the name Abiodun Oyewole. He began reading about the Yoruba gods and the significance of one’s ancestors, and felt a deep spiritual connection to the religion: “I could say a prayer to my ancestors every morning so they could help me through my life. [That] made all the sense in the world to me.”
The Last Poets were born on May 19, 1968, when David Nelson, Gylan Kain, and Abiodun Oyewole read poetry at a memorial for Malcolm X. Their goal was to be a poetic voice for Malcolm’s call for self-determination and black nationalism. Like many black activists of the time, they were tired of Martin Luther King’s integrationist agenda. They were much more influenced by the politics of radical members of the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), and the Black Panthers.
Their style of poetry reflected the radicalism of the day: “…with the Poets, we were angry and we had something to say. We addressed the language. We just put it right in front of your face.” But Yoruba also had a profound influence on Oyewole’s poetry: “It’s given me a foundation to elevate my way of thinking and to connect me with the Motherland, as well as to create images that are wholesome and holistic, as opposed to having to repeat the Tarzan madness that has been given to us.”
The Last Poets went through many incarnations as members came and left – including Oyewole, who served four years in a North Carolina prison for robbery. They released several albums and wrote the classic poems “Niggers are Scared of Revolution,” “This is Madness,” and “When the Revolution Comes.” They are widely acknowledged as being the fathers of the hip-hop movement.
The original 1970 album, titled simply The Last Poets and released on Douglas Records, remains a landmark of Black Arts Movement spoken word.
The Last Poets, consisting of original member Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan with Don Babatunde Eaton on percussion, are now enjoying a resurgence of popularity.
Oyewole’s latest projects are a book of his collected work, Branches of the Tree of Life, published by 2Leaf Press, and a CD of new poetry, titled #Gratitude, which is schduled for release in fall 2014 and has a Kickstarter campaign to provide the necessary funding for independent production and distribution and an affiliated documentary film.
Show engineered and edited by Joyce Jones. Produced and hosted by Joyce Jones and Hank Williams. Listen for our On the Bandstand segment with NYC metro area appearances of Suga’ guests at the end of the first hour with Associate Producer Hank Williams.
Program note: Last call for Suga in My Bowl’s premium of Howard University professor Dr. Greg Kimathi Carr‘s fantastic biography of the legendary Pan African scholar Dr. John Henrik Clarke that we previewed last month on the show. You can support WBAI (and our show) by pledging for a copy of the Dr. Clarke special on CD or donating as little as $5 at WBAI’s secure online donation site.
Listen to one track from Oyewole’s forthcoming #Gratitude release.
Watch a short preview of Oyewole’s forthcoming 2Leaf Press book Branches of the Tree of Life, filmed and produced by Vagabond Beaumont.
Watch the Kickstarter video for Oyewole’s #Gratitude release.