[sixties-l] THE LAST POETS At La Pea Cultural Center, Berkeley

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri Feb 23 2001 - 23:35:18 EST

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    At La Pea Cultural Center, Berkeley, Saturday, February 17.


    By Sylvia W. Chan

    Due to the overwhelming turnout for the Last
    Poets' initially-scheduled one-night engagement
    at La Pea, another show was added for
    Saturday so those who were turned away from
    Friday night's performance would get a chance
    to witness the legends in action. Though we
    could have purchased standing-room tickets for
    opening night, my companion and I opted to
    return for Saturday's show (which also ended up
    being sold out). We wanted to sit down for this
    one, to fully absorb what poet/vocalists Abiodun
    Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan, and drummer Don
    "Babatunde" Eaton had to say.
    Friday's opening act, Los Delicados, did not
    return the next day, and instead, poet
    Mariahdessa "Ekiere" Tallie filled the slot, and delivered
    a lovely spoken-word performance with grace and ease.
    With her tell-it-like-it-is delivery, the young talent embodied
    the legacy the Last Poets have passed on to a new
    generation of socially conscious wordsmiths.
    "Like bamboo, I only look fragile," Tallie
    exclaimed, eyes twinkling as she read from her
    poem "Height" in a sweet, honeyed voice. Her
    final piece, a poem "for all those people who are
    label whores," sent the crowd into a flurry of
    hollering and applause, as Tallie took to task all
    the ballers and flossers out there, exposing how
    folks have been duped into fronting supposed
    status symbols (i.e. "Hilfiger," "Nike," "Polo"),
    symbols that perpetuate a new form of slavery
    on the streets. "You should be tired of being
    branded," Tallie scolded emphatically. "The rent
    is dangling from your elbows."
    Babatunde and local percussionist Raymond
    Graham (Mingus Amungus, Hueman Flavor) took
    the stage immediately after Tallie's performance
    with an impassioned shakere (a hollow, beaded
    gourd instrument from Africa) duet, the two
    masters circling around each other in a swirl of
    rhythms. Then, Graham left, leaving Babatunde
    to deliver a fiery conga solo. Midway through it,
    a dreadlocked man sporting a Bob Marley jersey
    rushed onstage, and stuffed a dollar bill under
    the brim of Eaton's hat, causing audience
    members to wonder what the hell was going on.
    Then Oyewole and Bin Hassan emerged. Two of
    the founding members of the Brooklyn-based
    outfit birthed on May 19, 1968, the anniversary
    of Malcolm X's birthday, the duo came out
    blazing, chanting, "When the heart beats, the
    river flows^" Now in their late forties, they both
    looked gloriously spry, with Oyewole swaying
    back and forth with a dancer's grace and Umar
    sporting b-boy style cargo pants and black
    T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Tuff Bong."
                  The two poets launched into an
    almost-hour-long introductory rap session of
    swapping barb after caustic barb, a
    conversation that speared and deconstructed
    everyone from Tiger Woods ("We're waiting for a
    real black person to play golf") to Jalal
    Nuriddin, the former Last Poet who allegedly
    stabbed Bin Hassan in the early 1990s over use
    of the group's name. Oyewole called Nurridin
    "very talented, but very fucked up," and stated
    seriously that if Nurridin walked into the room
    right then, he'd "kick his ass."
    Unsettling moments of tension such as these
    peppered the evening's performance, with Bin
    Hassan seeming to become genuinely angry
    when the same dreadlocked fellow from before
    ran up again and asked if he could play shakere
    with the group later on. "I hate surprises,"
    muttered Bin Hassan, as Oyewole explained that
    he knew the man, who was later identified as a
    local percussionist named Shango. But it was
    also these moments that revealed the humanity
    of the featured performers onstage. The Last
    Poets are not saints. They are ordinary men
    fighting for what they believe in, and as they
    delivered their stunning spoken-word invectives,
    such as "The Time Has Come," "For the Millions,"
    and the heart-wrenching "Streets Are Calling" (a
    piece Bin Hassan dedicated to "all the young
    brothers," and "for my son, who thinks he's a
    Brooklyn gangsta"), their willingness to expose
    their own vulnerabilities and faults only served to
    illuminate the wisdom behind their words.
    During a rendition of their 1971 classic "This Is
    Madness," the two conveyed a fervent, desperate
    frustration that was absolutely bone-chilling, as
    Oyewole and Bin Hassan screeched the lyrics with
    abandon. Furthermore, the chemistry between the
    men remained electric throughout. Oyewole and
    Bin Hassan traded looks of complete respect as
    they swapped lead vocals.
    "We are still in the business of revolution,"
    Oyewole said at one point, a serene smile on his
    face, the bottomless, tar-thick timbre of his
    basso profundo rumbling gently through the room
    on this cold, rainy Saturday evening. And thank
    God. Through the power of the spoken word and
    the beat of a drum, the Last Poets continue to
    remind us that a revolution is still possible, viable,
    and in so many ways, completely and utterly necessary.

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