Home Politics The intersections of spoken phrase poetry with the blues, gospel, jazz, and...

The intersections of spoken phrase poetry with the blues, gospel, jazz, and rap

Let me first supply belated however heartfelt birthday needs to Ms. Giovanni.


For these of you who could not learn about her or her work, right here’s a brief biography from The History Makers:

Award-winning poet, writer, and civil rights activist, Nikki Giovanni, was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr,. on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A poet and spoken phrase artist, Giovanni entered Fisk College in 1960, the place she edited the college’s literary journal and have become concerned in each the Author’s Workshop and the Pupil Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; she obtained her B.A. diploma in 1967. Giovanni turned lively within the Black Arts Motion, organizing the Black Arts Pageant in Cincinnati; throughout this era of her life, she developed sturdy and enduring friendships with fellow writers James Baldwin and Sonia Sanchez. Radicalized by the assassination of Malcolm X and the rise of the Black Panthers, Giovanni’s poetry within the Sixties and Nineteen Seventies turned the voice of many African Individuals. 

I nonetheless bear in mind listening to her “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why),” for the primary time (of many) on Black radio in New York. She impressed me, and an entire lotta younger sisters, to jot down poetry that celebrated us.

I’ve solely posted the beginning of the poem, written in 1972, as a result of it’s what I bear in mind most from again within the day, boppin’ down the road with my boombox and snapping my fingers to her beat. Make sure to try the entire thing:

I used to be born within the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and constructed
   the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so robust {that a} star
   that solely glows each 100 years falls
   into the middle giving divine excellent mild
I’m dangerous

I sat on the throne
   ingesting nectar with allah
I obtained scorching and despatched an ice age to europe
   to chill my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
   the tears from my delivery pains
   created the nile
I’m a wonderful girl

Earlier than “Ego Tripping,” Giovanni additionally expressed militant Blackness with an open critique of racism, spoken as an ironic gospel prayer to peace.

The Great Pax Whitie” (excerpt) (1968):

At first was the phrase

And the phrase was


And the phrase was nigger

And the phrase was demise to all niggers  

And the phrase was demise to all life  

And the phrase was demise to all

   peace be nonetheless

The genesis was life  

The genesis was demise  

Within the genesis of demise  

Was the genesis of conflict

   be nonetheless peace be nonetheless

Within the title of peace  

They waged the wars  

   ain’t they obtained no disgrace

Within the title of peace

Lot’s spouse is now a product of the Morton firm  

   nah, they ain’t obtained no disgrace

Noah packing his spouse and kiddies up for a vacation  

row row row your boat

However why’d you permit the unicorns, noah

Huh? why’d you permit them

Whereas our Black Madonna stood there

Eighteen toes excessive holding Him in her arms  

Listening to the rumblings of peace

    be nonetheless be nonetheless

Giovanni melded her poetry with each jazz and gospel on the1975 launch of “The Way I  Feel.”

She opens with a cool love poem from 1975 “The Way I Feel,”  which additionally serves because the album title:

i’ve observed i am happier
when i make love
with you
and have sufficient left
over to smile at my doorman

i’ve realized i am fulfilled
like a giant fats cow
who was simply picked
for a carnation contentment
once you kiss your particular place
proper behind my knee

i am as glad as mortar
on a brick that is aware of
one other brick is coming
once you stroll by means of
my door

most time once you’re round
i really feel like a notice
roberta flack goes to sing

Giovanni was not the primary poet whose work would function in Black music circles. In 1959, jazz theorist and composer George Russell, launched the album New York, NY. It not solely featured poetry by vocalese master Jon Hendricks, however a stellar forged of musicians together with Invoice Evans, Max Roach, John Coltrane, Milt Hinton, Bob Brookmeyer, Artwork Farmer … and extra.

In 1968, the nice baritone jazz balladeer Arthur Prysock recorded This Is my Beloved, that includes the poetry of Austrian-American Walter Benton, which had turn out to be a best-seller when it was printed in 1943.

My pals and I wore out a number of of the unique LPs: The mix of Benton’s sensual phrases and Prysock’s deep attractive tone, mixed with a mellow jazz accompaniment, made for an ideal night with a glass of wine with the thing of your affection sitting subsequent to you. 

The comfortable sensual pull of Prysock was no match for the fired-up agony of a world the place younger Black and Latino of us had been becoming a member of actions of resistance to the prevailing white supremacist tradition in these U.S. of A. Harlem was central to the event of the Black Arts Movement, and a number of other younger male poets, and drummers got here collectively to create a gaggle who would turn out to be referred to as “The Final Poets.”

Final 12 months, Ron Magliozzi wrote concerning the Museum of Trendy Artwork’s (MoMA) restoration of Herbert Danska’s documentary movie on the Final Poets, Proper On!

Billed as “a conspiracy of formality, road theater, soul music, and cinema,” Proper On! is a pioneering efficiency movie, a compelling file of radical Black sentiment in Sixties America, and a precursor of the hip-hop revolution in musical tradition. It options the unique Final Poets—Gylan Kain, David Nelson, and Felipe Luciano—performing 28 numbers tailored from their legendary look at New York’s Paperback Theater in 1969, shot guerilla-style on the streets and rooftops of decrease Manhattan. Opening months after the better-known music documentary Woodstock and virtually concurrently with Melvin Van Peebles’s Candy Sweetback’s Baadasssss Music, Proper On! was described by its producer as “the primary ‘completely black movie,’” making “no concession in language and symbolism to white audiences.”

MoMA has made your complete movie accessible on YouTube. 

I used to be near each Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano; Felipe would go on to turn out to be a founding member of the New York Younger Lords, (of which I was also a part), and chairman of its Central Committee.

Kain and I each lived on sixth Avenue within the East Village just a few years later. Earlier than he left the US for Amsterdam, he left a legacy of highly effective poetry behind him; his album The Blue Guerilla stays an underground basic. Accompanied by Gregory ‘Saint’ Strickland enjoying the blues, Kain is a Black prophetic phenomenon. Nonetheless not satisfied? Tom Jureks’s review for All Music ought to tempt you to pay attention.

This solo album by Gylan Kain, one of many unique Final Poets — earlier than the group recorded for Douglas Information — is a examine in offended poetics, efficiency artwork, and killer presentation. Recorded and issued within the early ’70s, The Blue Guerrilla is a freestyle set earlier than such a factor was even a dream. Kain’s one pissed-off cat, raging not solely in opposition to the same old essential considerations, but in addition in opposition to the stereotypes in his personal neighborhood. Free jazz-funk grooves on guitars, electrical violins, a slew of drums, and ghostly keyboards accompany his beautiful and disturbing ranting that’s removed from pointless. From the opening ritual scarification of “I Ain’t Black,” with it is free jazz strategy and over-the-top screaming, to the poignant indictment of “Harlem Preacher,” to “Black Satin Amazon” and “Constipated Monkey,” Kain is a hipster and not using a nation, a road poet with out an viewers, an activist with out sympathy. And quite than succumb and stylize his thang to get his message throughout, he turns into angrier, slyer, slicker, much less forgiving, and extra insightful. Music is positioned right here not as accompaniment, however as a framework for Kain to position his poetry in a context of the African-American oral custom and the Dwelling Theatre. And he offers no quarter.

Right here’s the titular-in observe, “Look Out for the Blue Guerrilla.”

Probably the most fascinating, and humorous discussions of blues and poetry I’ve ever heard was delivered by Gil Scott Heron in Robert Mugge’s movie, Black Wax. Heron places his finger on a streetwise view of “poetry” when it’s wrapped in Eurocentric language, and mocks it, saying “this should be deep.”

Although most individuals are conversant in Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” I really like the lyricism of his tragic “Did You Hear What They Mentioned,” which opens with:

Did you hear what they stated,

Did you hear what they stated,

Did you hear what they stated,

They stated one other brother’s useless,

They stated he is useless, however he cannot be buried,

They stated he is useless, however he cannot be buried,

Come on, come on, come on, come on…

It’s a lament we hear all too usually in the present day.

It ought to come as no shock that these poets and musicians would lay the inspiration for the artwork that we now classify as hip-hop or rap.

Although there are older of us who dismiss these newer musical types, and like to stay steeped fully prior to now, I used to be round for the delivery of Bronx deejays and the start of hip-hop in 1973. Near 10 years later, in 1982, “The Message” from Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five was a spoken word special delivery that I nonetheless really feel in my intestine in the present day:

Do not push me
‘Trigger I am near the sting
I am attempting to not lose my head
It is like a jungle typically it makes me surprise
How I maintain from going beneath

Get pleasure from!

With COVID-19, the right-wing riot and gun craziness, in addition to more and more open racism and ongoing white supremacy, I too usually “really feel like going beneath” … however what saves me every day is the cathartic energy of music and poetry.

Be a part of me within the feedback under; let’s submit and focus on what Black spoken phrase music and poems are on your playlists.

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