Photo: Amiri Baraka | Joyce Jones
The next show will air on Sunday, October 19, 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 Suga’ will focus on the legacy of the Black Arts Movement and feature talks by Sonia Sanchez and Drs. John Bracey and James Smethurst of the University of Massachusetts Amherst at a release party for their new book on the Black Arts Movement, SOS: Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader. You can hear a short preview below.
Sonia Sanchez, whose been previously featured on Suga’ in My Bowl, while best known for her poetry and central role in the Black Arts Movement, is also a playwright, activist, and educator. In her presentation, Sanchez recalls the origin of Baraka’s decision to come to Harlem and help organize Black artists and discusses the beginning of Black Studies programs. She also speaks about the role of the Black artist and what she expects of herself as a poet. Sanchez also talks about her discovery of the Schomburg library and Micheaux’s legendary Harlem bookstore and Malcolm X’s influential role in her political and intellectual development.
Dr. John Bracey is chair of the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro American Studies at UMass Amherst, where he’s taught since 1972. In the 1960s, Bracey was active in the Civil Rights and Black liberation movements in Chicago and has focused on this time period in his research. In his presentation, Bracey discusses Baraka’s contributions to the Black Arts, provides context for the emergence of the movement, and makes connections to current artists in hip hop.
Dr. James Smethurst is Professor of Afro American Studies at UMass Amherst. He is author and editor of several books, including The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s and The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946. He is also working on a history of the Black Arts Movement in the south. Smethurst gives a timeline of the Black Arts Movement and discusses the role of Amiri Baraka in the movement.
SOS—Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader brings together a broad range of key writings from the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, among the most significant cultural movements in American history. The aesthetic counterpart of the Black Power Movement, it burst onto the scene in the form of artists’ circles, writers’ workshops, drama groups, dance troupes, new publishing ventures, bookstores, and cultural centers, and had a presence in practically every community and college campus with an appreciable African-American population. Black Arts activists extended the reach even further through magazines such as Ebony and Jet, on television shows such as Soul! and Like It Is, and on radio.
Special thanks to the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn for permission to record the presentations at their event and to WBAI producer Dred Scott Keyes, who gathered the sound and presented parts of it on his WBAI show Cutting Edge.
Show engineered, produced, hosted, and edited by Joyce Jones. Sound recording and engineering by Dred Scott Keyes. 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.
This show will feature highlights of our premium for the fall fund drive, which is a 2-CD presentation of the book release event at the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College on October 9, 2014. Discussion panelists were co-editors Sonia Sanchez with Drs. John H. Bracey Jr. and James Smethurst. For your generous financial support to WBAI-FM, you will be able to get a copy of this program. You can also support WBAI (and the show) by donating as little as $5 during the fund drive.
Photos: John Bracey via UMass Afro Am | Sonia Sanchez via Wikimedia Commons / Slowking
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.