THE LAST POETS
Supported by Poetic Pilgrimage
Jazz Café Camden
Sunday 20th August 2017
“First of all, when you start letting other people get inside your head that’s when you become f****d up…this (points to head) is yours y’all …”
-Umar Bin Hassan (The Last Poets at the Jazz Café Camden)
I remember being in Secondary School and hearing ‘The Corner’ by Common ft. The Last Poets. I remember this was the first time my ears perked up to the name: ‘The Last Poets’. I was already obsessed with Common but being a young poet and hearing this prolific group was manna to my inspiration.
Listening to their records, I could hear how they had sown seeds into modern Hip Hop for groups such as A Tribe Called Quest (moment of silence for Phife Dawg) and individuals such as Nas and as mentioned before Common.
They were messengers from a time where expression could do more than get you blacklisted by Twitter or a get a meme created. They were from a time where being politically outspoken could get you killed. Still they continued on spreading the unadulterated, raw and uncut truth to brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, grandchildren, the government, the police and to anyone who could tune in consciously or subconsciously.
To those who sought real and human voices on the reality of black struggle, black achievement and the agenda of those who opposed freedom, their music and poetry was a do-it-yourself guide to non-conformity and fresh thinking.
So, in saying all of this, you can imagine my excitement when I found out I was going to their show at the Jazz Café and I was to review it too?!
The only way to describe it is the feeling you get when you see fresh, fried plantain…yeah…that feeling!
Fast forward to Sunday 20th August 2017 and I was inside the Jazz Café with my bestie vibing to tunes spun by the DJ of the night, I loved the fact that he wet our appetites by including songs from The Last Poets in the playlist.
The crowd was very eclectic and the energy in the room was positive.
Ty (TyMusic) was our host on the night, bringing his great energy and gave the right hype to get everyone amped for both acts.
The supporting act on the night and to be honest after watching them that night, they did more than just ‘support’ was the British Muslim duo Poetic Pilgrimage consisting of Muneera Rashida and Sukina Abdul Noor. I had never seen them live, but I remember my love for this group came from seeing a video of them and listening to their music.
Here are two dynamic, enlightened, cultured, lyrical and may I add beautiful sisters who with their lyricism, sincerity and humour (they had us rolling too!) united the whole audience and upgraded everyone from ‘shy and unsure’ to ‘we are the world’ after just one song!
Muneera started off their set with an entertaining and punchy spoken word piece about the state of current affairs that evoked laughs, clicks (no cliché seriously there were clicks!) and murmurs of agreement.
Their opening track ‘Unlikely Emcees’ pretty much acted as a Q&A for people who were not familiar with the group and their dynamics. Muneera and Sukina complimented each other well in their delivery song after song and you could see more of a sisterhood and artistic connection between them rather than ‘hype woman’ theatrics.
They flawlessly used their Islamic and Afro-Caribbean roots to keep us hooked; Oh, you know my hand was in the air when I heard that reggae coming through during their song ‘Rise Up’.
What I found interesting was that all of these themes like non-conformity, fresh thinking, self-love and realizing the power we have as people, ran through their music but also ran through The Last Poets repertoire. Here were two different generations spreading the same message. The truth remaining the same throughout the ages.
Sukina’s ‘Black Girl Twirl’ just had to get a mention. This spoken word piece should be part of every little black girl’s childhood. Self-love, strength and appreciation of the black girl who was being encouraged to ‘Twirl’ no matter what challenges got thrown at her.
I think it is safe to say that I overused the terms ‘Fam’, ‘Cheez’, ‘Preach’ a little too much during this piece.
Their electrifying performance was met with a roar of applause and an encore which was more than deserved.
I must add that the sound engineer on the night was amazing. I know this is supposed to be a review of The Last Poets BUT not a lot of people give the sound engineer a shout unless the sound sounds like heavy static on a 1994 model TV, I’m just saying!
Chronixx ‘Likes’ came through the speakers in the run up to The Last Poets gracing the stage and all I kept thinking (minus the fact that the tune needed to be on maximum volume because it’s too much!) is that this whole show was a preparation for all of us to let go of our concrete thinking and open up to new ideas. NON-CONFORMITY (I know I have said that word a million times already, there’s a prize in it for whoever can tell me how many times I said it! Okay there isn’t but it would be interesting to know!) is the main theme of the night and the encouragement to believe in yourself and thoughts that oppose the norm.
The house lights dimmed blue and in enters the cool-looking Babatunde. Taking a seat behind his bongos he started playing effortlessly his presence almost hushed the crowd immediately. He even got the audience involved with timed claps and whoops of appreciation. He then started chanting beautifully, I’m unsure about what language it was but it sounded of African origin. This created such a beautiful atmosphere. The Last Poets are often looked at as story tellers and this reminded me of the drumming that I was told about as a kid when elders wish to start telling a story to the village around an open fire.
In this case we were the village and they were our ever-wise elders.
With a calm tone Babatunde then – without missing a beat – introduced the remaining members of The Last Poets Abiodun Oyewale and Umar Bin Hassan yet to join him on the stage.
The Last Poets were stood in front of us like, fathers, grandfathers, forefathers, brothers you name it. You could feel the reverence for these amazing figures in the room.
Abiodun and Umar began introducing themselves as well as paying homage to their beginnings on Malcolm X’s birthday on 19th May 1968 and their founding members and members who had passed on (Rest in Peace).
They were so humble, these were men who had seen and spoken about things that we could only imagine. Yet they found it fitting to remind us that there was no them without us. We all in that instance became Last Poets.
Abiodun Oyewale then jump started their set with a powerful pledge that we all took part in that I’m sure that any person in the room who was feeling anyway except for good was revived after that pledge. It was a pledge that had the words “Free, Grow, Misery, Down, True, Sad, A Lift, Here”. We all were finishing off his sentences with a shout of positive affirmation which ended with all of us saying “We are blessed to be here”.
I sure was feeling blessed at this point.
Umar Bin Hassan then held the torch and started performing the piece ‘Personal Things’.
As the name suggests it was a personal log of all the eye had seen in society and then some, at first it had an almost individualistic view.
However, all of us in the room seemed to find ourselves nodding to everything he was saying.
Every piece was relevant and current, although some pieces were written long before any of us had taken our first breath. Everything was relevant, the only difference was that it is currently 2017.
No matter who was holding the torch, including Babatunde on the bongos. They all held individual power that when put together almost didn’t fit on the stage.
Their piece ‘Rain of Terror’ resonated with me. Abiodun delivered this powerful piece unapologetically with the backing of Umar and Babatunde hauntingly mentioning the word ‘terrorist’ while he spoke. Listening to this now it seems like it was taken out of the book of Revelations. What is going on now in our world and who is at the mantle of almost total world control is an unnerving thought. Although I could hear hangings and shootings in his piece and the injustices of his time and his explanation at why the very country who accused everyone else of terrorism was indeed the very evil they spoke of.
I could also hear “I can’t breathe”, “Don’t Shoot” and I could see the Black Lives Matter Movement’s birth amongst his words. The past and present were running concurrently here. It reminded me that the ability to be outspoken and unapologetic in writing and in expression were weapons in themselves.
Umar then took a moment to pay homage to Prince, which was received readily by we the village. Everything he stood for, how his interactions with people made him a better person.
How it molded him into being an individual that didn’t rely on singing from the same hymn sheet as society and this subsequently made him an icon.
He finished this piece by saying, “…no purple rain will get stuck in the clouds…” which was a heartwarming touch to remembering one of the kings of (you guessed it) non-conformity.
Listening to piece after piece from The Last Poets was empowering, uplifting and invoked a sense of relief. I say relief because it can often feel like you are alone in your true views of the world but hearing these wise men speak life into old and new works gave a sense of unity in our community.
‘This is Madness!’ was a perfect way to sum up how everyone felt about the current state of the world, Donald Trump or Brexit anyone? This was written long ago but its ripples were still very much needed on our shores in this present day.
The trio brought every word to life, using the heartbeat of the bongos and the candid, no B.S humour that each member possessed made sure to capture and keep the attention of we the village sitting cross-legged (metaphorically speaking) in front of them.
One of my favourite pieces of this whole show was ‘Niggers are Scared of Revolution’. The word nigger as we all know has become a selectively offensive word. However, in this piece its sole purpose was not to label all black people ‘Niggers’, it was in essence describing those who are using their energy to do everything except rise up and take responsibility for effective change.
We can apply this to today, we have people from all walks of life who worry about what filter to use on a post but when it comes to the time to spread awareness about things that matter they disappear like wisdom teeth at the dentist.
Towards the end of the show I was hoping time would just stop and they would go on forever.
The Last Poets were not going to leave without telling us the importance of caring about ourselves as individuals and the true power that lies in all of us. Through their pieces they empowered us with what empowered them during times of great struggle. The fact they are still around to tell us all of this means that there is great strength in truth and expression.
The importance of not getting brought down by the artificial truths of the world and for me specifically the power in poetry.
The Last Poets at a glance and listening to their music would appear to be a blacks only club. Although they heavily speak about the black struggle and the problems faced by an opposing government. Their views and words resonated with everyone in the audience who was by the way of mixed race and gender.
The message that night was simple no matter who you are, where you are or what you are. We are all ONE people, who by exercising our freedom of expression and self-love can influence change and develop self-awareness.
We need not be afraid of the world and its lies but rather believe in ourselves and our truths.
Irrespective of race, gender, religion and sexuality we are ONE people.
We the village want to say THANK YOU and that WE LOVE YOU to you The Last Poets.
There aren’t enough stars to rate this to be honest, I would recommend to anyone reading this to see them perform live. It is an experience NOT a show.
Special thank you to I Am Hip Hop Magazine!
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