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Understand What Black Is

by The Last Poets

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Feivl das Pech
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Feivl das Pech Incroyable! The Last Poets on Bandcamp! My all-time heroes! Who would have thought that a scrawny wee white boy growing up in Scotland would have taken his inspiration from The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron and Malcolm X? I have always felt a close affinity with the African-American struggle, never more so than in these troubled times. Classics such as “White Man’s Got a God Complex” and “Related to What?” are hard-wired into my brain! Great to see you looking so well and sounding so good! Favorite track: Rain Of Terror.
kc0459
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kc0459 The Last Poets' influence on my creative and intellectual development cannot be overstated. Eternal Peace & Blessings... Favorite track: Understand What Black Is.
Jeff Shambrook
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Jeff Shambrook Masterpieces - every tune / poem makes a mountain range of pinnacles in musical and lyrical craft and progress. Greatness. Massive gratitude and respect to everyone who had a hand and mouth and mind in making this - it is a brilliant and beautiful creation. Thank you.
Phil Van Leynseele
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Phil Van Leynseele Absolutely wicked. Killing sounds with a rightfull and powerful message. Thank you!
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1.
Understand what Black is The source from which all things come The security blanket for the stars Understand what Black is It is not a color It is the bases of all colors It is not a complexion It is a reflection Of all complexions called human And out of this Blackness Passion flows like a river Feelings tell the truth Song and dance And making you laugh Are family members Understand what Black is The breath you breathe The sweat on your brow The cheers and the tears Balancing the world on your head Faith is the glue That holds us all together This is your Blackness Not some horror story Of lost souls drifting Into the land of perversion Blackness is love Is a light shinning on a path Leading to the Sun Or caressed in the bosom of the moon Understand what Black is Power you must yield to A force so strong We try to sleep it away A jolt to your circuits That say you must be electric And plugged in to the sockets of the world Black is humanity That beautiful chord On a twelve string guitar That makes you smile That offers comfort In turbulent times Provides food When there’s nothing to eat A shelter when there’s no where to live Black is humanity Making hope stand tall and not wilt Because Black knows Did it before Tested by fire Washed in the waters of life Black is hot Black is cool Black is wise And could never be a fool Understand what Black is Black is a hero not a villain Black is the essence Sealed with a kiss Black is the stone We build our dreams on A shadow at evening’s mist Bigger than reality Blending into the night To let the Sun chill And watch the stars dance In rhythm to the music in our souls
2.
The news…. North, East, West, South. Hard core Honky tonk of St. Louis Jimi Hendrix soundings and rebounding The cool slick slide of Chicago Bop The suave and sexiness of Motown The soft winds of a desert breeze. The horns, the piano and drums. Feeling astronomical, intergalactic. The sound of sounds charming snakes. The news… North, East, West, South. The swiftness and elegance if a magic carpet ride Veiled women teasing and tantalizing from the outer fringes of the market place. A sharp crisp military strut Little drummer boys playing with big drums. Innocent flirtations of the big band sound. Some astral traveling. Blues and funk gone amok Some Broadway and Hollywood sound tracking down… the truth of this beginning. How did it come to be. The News… North, East, West, South. Was it Jazz Prince? Was it classical? Or was it just some of that Razz Matazz from the upper tiers of your mind. Back to the beginning... Trudging through deep, deep snow and blizzard like winds smashing up against your face. Trying to get to somewhere, anywhere soon. The sounds and rhythms of the machines in the factories booming out there concertos to our receptive ears. And we walked with that and we talked with that. It was our swing and then our bop. The way we hipped and the way we hopped. Our clothes, our style. That Motown Wile. Those Midwestern challenges, that Midwestern funk. Brothers and sisters huddled together. That burden of anticipation. Your mother. My mother. Cowering behind fractured moments And the illusion that blind devotion could solve the unsolvable. Genius struggling against the brilliance of itself. My father ... Your father ... musicians. Talented creative ... productive ... and highly frustrated by the dead ends and dead stops that impeded and curtailed their progression. The future looking for someone to take it forward. You took up that mantle and I took up that mantle. and we never ever forgot where we came from . A soft kiss of wine emboldens the passion. A dimmed Red light eases the apprehension and doubt. The Delfonics make their presence known. The heat of the moment is so right up against the wall, under the stairs, in between the washer and dryer where it all becomes so juicy and wet. A promise. A proposition. A phenomena when those basements started to grind. Those Midwestern challenges. That Midwestern funk. That Church piano . . . on why don't you call me anymore. You could be church Prince. That Sunday Morning solo. That voice that could bring the congregation to the best of themselves. You could be that doo wop singer on the corner holding and preserving the highest note of our pleasures and fantasies. Was Warner Music a challenge? No ... Just a matter of time . Was Purple Rain a challenge? No… Just your poetic rhyme. Was all ... the music you created a challenge. No…Just the essence of your sublime. The 2017 MTV awards. Sheila E coming down the aisle Prince already at the altar. This night, this time, This union will become a force. A direct assault upon our senses. The audience had better check their immune systems. They could catch cold. Because it’s about to become very ... very ... cool... up in here. That soaring, guitar. Those scorching timbales. See mommy, see Papi. You Brother ... Yoh Sister ... We can do this, We are this. That High Order of Afro Cuban. African American Musical collaborations. Thank you Dizzy. Thank you Chano. A marvellous rendition of call and response. The meringue, the salsa, That Piano. The Horns giving a shout out to their cousins of the Blues… the Jazz and the funk of the dancers on stage giving credence to who we are and where we came from. Music ... is the sound of Beauty... and you displayed and dispensed that beauty as well as anybody Prince. A new symbol for your fans. Avid followers. Deeply devoted believers in your talent and humanity. Wherever you were was where they wanted to be. By bus by car by train By Plane. And you mesmerised... you tantalised... you romanticised them with death defying acts of musical genius. The speed... velocity... and depth of your splits and turns... The acrobatic joyous atmosphere you brung to every corner of the stage. You were that whirling dervish that baptised us in the name of feeling good about ourselves while being at ease in the presence of others. You had that magic of transforming Adults into gleeful little children. And we were okay with that we could handle that. Because we could feel the love and respect you were sharing with us as much as we were sharing it with you. You made us feel like family. The Human ... family. The women in your life loved you trusted you. They allowed you to explore their passions ... their doubts ... their moments of joy. And every moment that you were accepted into their presence you always tried to make them feel ... big ... about themselves. They adored that they cherished that. Because they knew that as long as you were trying to love and accept them. Then you would truly learn how to love yourself. Sleep well... Brave Prince ... for your deed and proclamations shall be forever renowned throughout the land. And I pledge to you that with all my heart and worth. I will try to make sure that no Purple Rain gets stuck in the clouds again.
3.
You Can’t Kill Me You Can’t Kill What You Can’t See Oh How You’ve Tried To Blow My Brains Out With Bigotry Chopped Off My Wings So I Couldn’t Fly Free And Dared Me To Be Me Took My Drum Broke My Hands Yanked My Roots Right Up Out Of The Land And Riddled My Soul With Jesus You Who Filled The Mind With Dreams And The Heart With Desires You Called America Called New York Called California Called Mississippi Or The West You With Your Red White And Blue Dress Long Straggly Beard Popped Belly And Soggy Eyes Pulling Rabbits Out Of Your Top Hat And Rats With Welfare Checks Between Their Long Yellow Fangs Play In Your Hair And Your Disease Is Spreading Everywhere But You Can’t Kill Me You Can’t Shoot What You Can’t See You Thought You Shot Malcolm But All You Did Was Multiply His Power You Thought You Shot Martin And Black Folks Got Stronger By The Hour You Thought You Blew Away Four Little Girls In Birmingham The Sweet Spirit Of A Lamb Cannot Die Or Be Denied Of Life Eternally And We Shall Live Through All The Barrages Of Madness That Try To Shoot Us Down In Full And Living Color We Will Live Inspite Of It For Clifford, For Mark, Fred, Otis Zayd, Arthur, Mrs. King, For George And Jonathan And All The Brothers And Sisters Who Were Sacrificed For The Price Of Our Freedom And Love For Living And Dancing On Clouds Sipping Sun Rays Through A Straw We Live In Awe Of Ourselves You Can’t Kill Me You Can’t Kill What You Can’t See
4.
She Is 05:03
She is the Jaliyaa She did not leave us to die in the burning and ransacked Villages. The Mandinka and Fula. She did not leave our souls to rot in the bellies of sharks. The Tiliboo & Tiligi, She picked us up and out of the bile and vomit and the blood of our prayers streaming profusely down the sides of our faith. She landed us gently on our new beginning while clothing our nakedness in the shadows of her smile. She was our death and resurrection of Jesus began a strange and difficult existence in the crack of the whip. In the rage of the overseer. In the lashes shredding and cutting into his Virgin birth. The primitive, The primitive and crudely crafted drums throbbing and pulsating, and contradictions dancing, and she is chanting whose children are· these? Moving and feeling through the high register and subtle words of New Orleans. And the Red, And the Green, And the Yellow Bandanas flowing and strolling High in the Wind. Some called it Spanish. Some called it Creole. Some called it French. She called out Bamboulal. Congo. Calindal. Ju Jun The Ring shout. The Circle dance. A free day. Some free time, Some free time to call on our science. To call on our Mathematics. To construct our Cipher to genius. To self-image. To memories. Moving in and out of this counter clockwise motion. Swaying in Rhythm. Feet stomping the earth. Swaying in time. Feet stomping the earth. Answers back: in the voices of our choirs Our Churches, Our Gospel is where she baptised us in the harmony, in the melody of Field songs, work songs and secret songs of the Mississippi Delta and the blues, Striking a familiar chord in the Clickety clack. Clickety clack. Clickety clack of the train wheels moving us up North to Memphis and the honky tonks. To Kansas and the boogie woogie. To St Louis and the rag time. And to Chicago and the funky sound of our circular breathing that taught us how to swing and to sing in the scat of jazz and the Razz matazz, of be bop and the developing magic of Hip Hop. And the Blood of Biggie. And the tears of Tupac forever resting in her sound. She is our Music. She is She is our Dance. She is our Art. She is our Freedom. She is, She is, She is.
5.
What I Want To See Having seen the afterbirth Of an aborted soul And the blind eyes Of a volunteer slave Lost in the obedience of their worth Having felt the hurt Of hearts not beating as one Tossed around like rubber balls Only to bounce back in our faces Making our vision blurred And our faith obscure Having heard the screams And the frantic sirens of a cry for help For a child on fire A drowning man And a woman consumed by hate Having smelled the stench Of a rotting heart An infected mind And contaminated thoughts Of how we treat each other Having tasted the stale bread The spoiled milk The rancid meat of a meal Not fit for a dog I know what I want my senses to feast on I know the music I want to hear I know the air I want to breathe I know the love I want to feel For all good people and things I see I want to see touch taste hear and smell The freshness in the air The integrity in our hearts The determination in our will To make this world a better place To make the rain wash clean our souls And quench the thrust of a dried out existence And make us believe All things are possible And God however you call him or her Has never left your side I want to see the sun smiling And watch him caress the moon And give her stars to wear in her hair No prisons no locks no keys no killings no laws To control the free of us But a paradise a heaven on Earth Where everyone can sing and dance To their own music And we live only to bless each other
6.
The stink of conspiracy fills the air. Devious eyes open in the park. Searching, groping, looking for ways to enslave. Shoot them, stab them, choke them, kill them. These traits, these values, these fantasies that have left us wallowing in the realms of distortion. Look at all the wildflowers smiling secretly from the cracks of their souls. Looking at life through one way mirrors. Guarding their tenderness,against attacks from themselves. Gaming in the eyes of dissatisfaction. Finding comfort and compassion in the sanctuary of Mastercharge. Three cheers for the almighty dollar! Dark clouds on the horizon. Understanding is being dashed against the rocks. The ripples of the sea are bringing forth blood. We must cling to the sun blades of the past. We must find ourselves in the warmth of a lover's kiss. struggling to feel. Struggling to breathe. Struggling to stay a human being. Long live the truth! Long live the truth! Where is the wind? Who has taken the wind? I can't breathe this foul air. An air that reeks with the stench of death. come back Mali come back Songhay! We need you. We need lovers_ who can smile the sunlight into our own darkened futures. We need lovers who can kiss the strength into our own wasted bones. We need lovers who can calm the raging nights with the softness of their sighs. There is music playing somewhere I can hear it. There is music playing somewhere I can hear it. A moan. A cry. A scream. There is music playing somewhere I can hear it. The children patronize a flaming merry-go-round. Many are riding the white horse. They nod so divinely at a lost paradise. Their ghostly playmate has left their innocence in shambles. A whirlwind has stolen their humility. What smile is this upon their face? A smile that mourns the obscenity of their youth. No flowers for them to smell. No grass to sing the praises of nature. No blue skies for them to bathe their hopes in. Truth smiles its glory to us. Can't you see that it is time for us to move on. For there must be struggle. There must be striving. The chill in the wind is so terrifying. Why is it getting so cold in the valleys of our struggle. Do not think it will be easy. For it will not. For we are talking about bringing humanism back into the world. There will be lies. There will be traps. there will be opposition from all sides. Do not think it will be easy, for it will not. But there must be struggle and striving. Struggle and striving. Struggle and striving and Peace!
7.
The Bridge 03:31
The way over, The way out, The bridge. I’m In The Jungle Going Through The Bushes Stepping Over Rocks Passing By The Animals Resting Against Trees In Search Of The Bridge That Will Take Me To The Other side I Was Told There Was A Bridge Made Out Of Wood And Rope They Say It Is Safe Strong Enough To Withstand My Weight It Leads To The Other side A Place Unlike This Place A Place Of Peace And Promise Of Calm Tides And Bright Sun Where People Greet Each Other With A Smile Where Children Can Play Without Being Hit By Stray Bullets There Are No Guns There Money Does Not Exist There Are No Gadgets People Look Into Each Other’s Eyes When They Speak Everywhere You Go You’re Greeted With A Warm Smile I Must Find The Bridge So I Can Leave Where I Am So I Can Save My Life And Live Without Barbwire Fences Without Walls And Pitfalls And Attitudes With The Stench Of Hate I Need To Find The Bridge So I Can Breathe Fresh Air And Drink Clean Water And Meditate To The Music Mother Nature Has Composed
8.
Trapped in the skylines of florescent charms, Warm and timid touches being forced into unnatural acts. Tears turning into delicate muscles that caress the night wind telling it of the truth, telling it of the pain. Aren't we all so very human. Look, look here comes the baddest dude on the block. And I turn around and see neatly dressed Death walking down the street. Charming all the grownups with a terrified smile while handing out chocolate-covered crack lollipops to the children. Where have all the down studs gone? Long time passing. Jive whispers from neon lips. Eldorado dreams in stagnant colors. Rich men dancing with limp dolls in the luxury of their shame. Their mouths foaming with dead languages while democratic lies bay at the moon. Why must the dark ages still play games with us? Blind sprinters lost in a moment of a peaceful masquerade. Evil is an intruder but why do we let it in? We have no one to blame but ourselves. We listen to the rhythm, but we never hear the musicians. We elevate and praise the wise men but get lost in their wisdom. We feel the passion and truth of the poets but kill them with thunderous applause. Is there anything not sacred anymore? Is there not anything not sacred anymore? Honesty, justice, freedom. Freedom, justice, honesty. All being devoured by western imitations of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is drowning out the tears of deception. If I ... If we ... had a power so tender as time maybe then we could wipe this savage onslaught from our minds. The children dream from the twilight of indecision. We must make their dreams come true. Let us begin to talk to the brighter days with our eyes. The night belongs. to the softness of our hearts. The new circle is beginning. Will we be there when it ends? We used to wonder why the ocean danced so childishly before the eyes of expression. We used to understand why the grass sighed so mysteriously from the days of winters gone by. Look back fallen lovers. How far have we come? How much further do we have to go? Life will never be the same. It may never again be perfect. It may never again be beautiful. But we must try at least to make it normal. To be poets and sing out the joyous resurrection of our minds. To be poets and charm the emptiness of this anticipation. To be poets and comfort this gentle grief of our souls. To be poets and bring sunshine to the mutiny of these meagre days. Peace will dance with creation in the sadness of our beings and everyone's uniqueness will fall like rain from the eyes of God is a friend. The phoenix will come from the flames this time. There will be no ashes to ashes. Love must be there when the dust clears! Ally ally outs in free! Ally ally outs in Free!
9.
You are a terroriser That's why you're the terrorist, America is a terrorist Killing the natives of the land Killing and stealing Have always been a part of America’s master plan To control the earth and everything on it To divide and conquer is all they wanted America’s a terrorist Killing the buffalo that roam the plains Killing and slaughtering animals was turned into a game Giving blankets contaminated with small pox To the natives who were here The beginning of germ warfare The beginning of white fear No respect for the land the trees or the air we breathe And Christianity was an excuse To bring others to their knees America’s a terrorist with a slave system in place To take away the humanity of a darker race Put people in chains Then beat them with whips Made them give up their names Those who survived the slave ships America’s a terrorist Chewing tobacco and eating swine Being mean and nasty to those who treated him kind Take a pregnant Black woman Cut her belly open and let the fetus fall out Stomp the baby in the ground To instill fear is what that was all about Gang up on a Black man Hang him from a tree Cut him down then set him on fire For everyone to see America’s a terrorist With a Howdy Doody grin Using the bible to keep others in check While America commits all the sin Thou shall not kill That’s not part of the American dream Because to kill is a thrill They love to show on your TV screen Romance the gun just for fun Drop a bomb just for charm This is the American way And all of this talk about equality justice and peace Spewing out of the mouths of theses governmental beast But every time Blacks tried to find a way to do for self American terrorist weren’t having it And fear is all Black folks felt Rosewood was a town where Blacks tried hard to thrive White folks burned it down and many Blacks lost their lives Now there was town in Oklahoma called Black Wall Street Blacks had homes a bank lots of money And stood strong on their own two feet But now you see the Whites nearby were jealous And just couldn’t stand seeing Blacks do so well So they drop not one but two bombs on the town And created a living hell America’s a terrorist Feeding off racism and greed Not caring not sharing But enjoying watching people bleed Every time Jack Johnson fought and beat a White boy in the ring White mobs would kill Blacks at random Because a Black man was boxing’s king And all the wars we fought To try to win respect at home But when the war was over Blacks where never treated like they belong But rather the subjects of experiments At Tuskegee and other places For over four hundred years Blacks have lived in fears of the vicious cruelty of the racist Tried to march for justice And the civil right to be treated fair Attacked by dogs and fire hoses Beaten by police Forced to live a life of total despair Bombed a church in Birmingham While the children were in Sunday school Took the lives of four little girls Yes this terrorist was just that cruel American terrorism is like a virus That’s home grown and spreads across the planet too Selling guns and chemical weapons Gift wrapped in red white and blue Soldiers boys selling guns For hard drugs in exchange It should be obvious by now that this country is deranged Yet we stand and pledge allegiance To a flag that brings lots of grief And singing that war song every day Is Americas only belief America’s a terrorist And no one wants to admit Pointing the finger at others is the ironic part of it Dropped a bomb in Philadelphia To wipe out an organization named MOVE Killed unarmed women and children Because the police had something to prove And all the Black Panthers trying to help their community Wiped out by the FBI for trying to create Black unity Put drugs in the hood Set folks up for no good Kept unemployment high Education is laced with lies Turned the people against each other Made money more sacred than your mother Caused an avalanche of grief By trigger happy police Locked the Black man up in jail Made him think he was born to fail And no place are you safe If you have a darker face Henry Dumas, Amadou Diallo Michael Griffin Yusef Hawkins Anthony Baez Clifford Glover, James Bird just to name a few died at the hands of American terrorist No terrorism here, Ain't a damn thing new, The CIA The FBI the Michigan militia the KKK And the police from coast to coast Are the real American terrorist And the government is the host So now America is ready to engage in world war 3 Because what goes around has come around But you can’t kill what you can’t see
10.
The Music 05:09
Backing {the music, the sound of life all around} I am the master of song I am the music, No you can’t use it I started out with the blues because I had been abused So I created medicine to ease the pain, So I wouldn’t go insane I found a way to heal my soul, In spite of what I was being told I created a new world of sound, To pick me up when I was down. You see I have a relationship with god. So creating spirituals isn’t odd, It is as natural as the land For me to try and understand Why every day I’m crucified. But my dreams won’t be denied. I sang and prayed the day would come When I’d be shining like the sun I gave the world a song That everyone could sing along. I am the living faith. Dreams come true, You don’t have to wait. Everyone wants to sing like me. I guess they think it will set them free. So I created rag time, when money made us poor. Then I created jazz, and opened a brand new door. I was Joplin and Satchmo, Creative geniuses of my day. Creating sounds to enhance the moment Of what where trying to say. I am the master of sound. The whole world hears me well. The love I shares clear. I’m the soundtrack of heaven not from hell. Through my music I can take to a place where life is bliss And all that I’ve created I have sealed it with a kiss I can scat and rap, sing gospel, reggae, Rock n roll, bebop and hip-hop too. Salsa, samba or rumba, Is what I was born to do. You see I put some rhythm with my blues, Because the drum is part of it too. I come from Mother Africa, Where music is how we speak. The drum is my heart beat. I am the music No you can’t use it

about

This is The Last Poets' 50th anniversary year, and they've celebrated it with an album that matters - not just musically, but as a record of the times we're living in. The Last Poets are weathervanes, warning of the future and past sins in poems that are indivisible from the rhythms they're voiced on. Think warriors reporting from the battlefield; but their work is also a test of our own courage, because are you ready to receive what they're saying? And is your heart clean and strong enough to withstand the truth?

These ten tracks speak of their own journey, and that of a revolutionary struggle largely defined by race when The Last Poets first came together at an event commemorating Malcolm X in East Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park during the spring of 1968. That initial line-up, comprised of Dahveed Nelson, Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano proved short-lived and it was a trio of different voices that would secure their legacy with a debut album, 1970's Last Poets, that sounds just as radical and challenging today as it did nearly fifty years ago. Two of their members from that time, Umar Bin Hassan and Adiodun Oyewole, still wear the mantle of Last Poets. "Back then, I wanted to see everything burned and people hanged. I wanted to see riots," says Abiodun, who's from Queens in New York, and took over from Nelson in 1969. He was missing from their follow-up album This Is Madness, after being jailed in North Carolina for armed robbery. "Each of The Last Poets has their own stories about problems with the law," he reflects. Umar, who wrote the title track of This Is Madness, was next to leave. He was living in Brooklyn by then, and struggling with substance abuse. Speaking on the phone from his home in Baltimore, he makes the point that their poetry wouldn't have the same impact had their resolve not been tested along the way, and there's an unassailable truth to this.

He was replaced by Suliaman El-Hadi, who went on to record a series of albums with Jalal Mansur Nuriddin (aka Lightnin' Rod) as the The Last Poets. The last of them was Freedom Express in 1988. Two years later and Bill Laswell invited Umar to record a solo album called Bebop Or Be Dead, with backing from musicians like Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins. In Umar's own words, "there would be no second coming of The Last Poets" without this album, on which he'd revisited This Is Madness and Niggers Are Scared Of Revolution. He and Abiodun, soon to record his own solo album 25 Years, revived the name The Last Poets for the nineties' albums Holy Terror and Time Has Come, again produced by Laswell. Such releases were well received but then little was heard of The Last Poets for another twenty years aside from Claude Santiago's film Made In Amerikkka, which documented a one-off reunion concert in France, commemorating their fortieth anniversary. That's how it is with The Last Poets - unseen forces govern their actions, and it wasn't until Donald Trump was elected US President and a renewed struggle for America's soul began that they stirred once more.

After Abiodun and Umar had resurrected the group and they'd started doing shows together, UK producer Ben Lamdin contacted them about doing some recording and sent them a few rhythm tracks that he'd got from Prince Fatty, whom he knew from their time in Brighton. Fatty's speciality is old school reggae and dub, which he records using seasoned UK session players such as Horseman and Dub Judah, who play drums and bass respectively. That's how the foundations were laid, at Fatty's Brighton studio on Blackman Street. Ben then added horns arrangements with help from his band Nostalgia 77 and set off for New York where he, Umar and Abiodun met for the first of two recording sessions.

"When they listened to the tracks they were really blown away," says Ben. "I think they were surprised to hear themselves in that context basically, because everything they've done before is resolutely American in terms of the sound and what they've been talking about. What we ended up with was a mixture of American poetry and jazz, Jamaican rhythms and African drums. It was as if Mingus and Duke Ellington had got together and stopped over in Jamaica..." Umar confirms that it was the first time the Poets ever voiced on reggae rhythms. "It's amazing how the music has opened up new avenues and taken us somewhere else," he says. "Reggae is such a deep music because it envelops your words; it closes around them and gives them a whole new meaning."

The first track they worked on was a statement voiced with absolute certainty by Abiodun, who'd previewed the same lyrics at that fortieth anniversary show in Paris ten years earlier. "America's a terrorist, killing the natives of the land," he intones. "Killing and stealing has always been a part of America's master plan to control the earth and everything on it. To divide and conquer is all they wanted." It's a vivid expose of America's collective psyche and if his words cause hearts to flutter, it's in recognition of the truth although the real danger would be to disregard what he's saying, and not act whilst we can still make a difference. The other tracks voiced at that first session - held at the studio of a friend in lower Manhattan - include How Many Bullets which bridles with defiance as Abiodun works through a litany of injustices suffered by black people in the US. "You tried to blow my brains out with bigotry. Chopped off my wings so I couldn't fly free. Took my drum, broke my hands, yanked my boots right up out of the land and riddled my soul with Jesus." A repetitive chant of, "You can't kill me. Can't you see?" mocks his oppressor, but with no loss of dignity. Tracks like this go beyond social commentary, just as the opening Understand What Black Is transcends ethnicity. "Understand what black is," he urges. "It's the source from which all things come." He explains that it's not a colour, but the basis of all colour, and it's nothing to do with complexion either. "Black is a hero, not a villain. Black is the essence, sealed with a kiss."

Abiodun also wrote What I Want To See, which describes a utopia - a refuge from hurt and those who'd make "our vision blurred, and our faith obscure." As the music builds in intensity, horns and chanted harmonies arrive together, "No prisons, no locks, no keys..." "I know the music I want to hear," he continues. "I know the air I want to breathe. I know the love I want to feel." He uses imagery like that found in old time spirituals for The Bridge - a song of transition that he wrote for the Poets' second recording session with Ben. Label boss Tony Thorpe, who'd previously worked with KLF, joined them on that occasion.

For the most part, the Poets voiced over readymade rhythm tracks although this wasn't always the case. Umar's North East West South happened the other way round because he voiced it first, and then the horns were painted in afterwards. A little-known album of Prince instrumentals called News inspired the words and prompted Umar to draw parallels between their respective childhood experiences.
"That poem took me about a year to write," he says. "I just kept writing and writing but not getting too far and then I heard that album and the musicianship was amazing. I was left wondering if it was jazz, classical, rock or maybe something new but all those images that I write about came to me from listening to that album. I loved Prince in that movie Purple Rain because my father was a talented musician but he was into brutalising Mama at times and in the movie there's a Jerome and my name is Jerome, so it was like he was telling my life story as well."
Umar was raised in North Akron, in the Elizabeth Park projects. His father spent time in jail, leaving him and his seven brothers & sisters in the care of their mother and grandparents. Umar dedicated Bebop Or Be Dead to his father, who he says was born in "the wrong family, in the wrong place and at the wrong time."

"My father and I were constantly arguing. As a matter of fact one time I nearly killed him when he was taking his anger out on my mother. I went and got this hatchet and I was going to take him down but I knew that if I did that, I'd surely kill him. My mother saw me and stopped me because she was scared that I'd do it for real, but Prince also had issues with his father because his mother was white and in the movie, his father was always blaming her for not believing in him. He'd beat her and one day Prince got in the middle of it, just like I did except I’ve come to realise that I am my father the musician, and I am those sounds that he never got to bring to the world.”

Umar's father played trumpet, and he'd often sit in with visiting musicians whenever they came to town. His quartet played local clubs such as Roxy's Cafe in North Howard Street, where his son also worked. Umar used to shine shoes there from the age of eight and he'd be out until midnight, hustling small change from the patrons at Roxy's, the Tropicana, the Hi-Hat and Joy's Lounge... It was after leaving the projects at fourteen that he became an avid reader, which then led to him meeting Fred Ahmed Evans and joining the Black United Front. He first met The Last Poets in 1968 at the Black Arts Festival in Yellow Springs, Ohio, whereupon he underwent an epiphany of sorts. Several months later and he arrived in New York "with just twenty-two cents, a book of poetry and a pair of jeans in a brown paper bag." The three original members had left by then. Abiodun found him a place to stay and invited him to become a Last Poet, along with Jalal. Their aim was to politicise the black community, and raise people's revolutionary consciousness. "Wake up niggers or you're all dead," they warned. Abiodun, speaking in Claude Santiago's film, says that the Poets set out to "de-nigger" black people, and free them of their slavish mentality. "We were raw. We didn't give a damn. We just came at you raw!"

When Umar joined them, they used to meet at a place in Harlem on the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue called East Wind. A Black Arts movement had formed in New York made up of activists, musicians, artists, fashion designers and writers like Amiri Baraka, who Abiodun describes as "a major influence and a true mentor of The Last Poets." It was 1969 and jazz, like poetry, was an integral part of the struggle. The Last Poets hosted workshops and events at East Wind featuring jazz musicians such as Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp, who shared the same cultural and political aims. Umar and Abiodun have continued to celebrate music in their poems ever since. It's a love that's deepened with age and encompasses every stage of black music's development, from ragtime, jazz and blues to artists like Prince and Jimi Hendrix - music that "gives credit to who we are and where we come from." She Is traces the development of that music from its inception in New Orleans' Congo Square, which is renowned as the birthplace of jazz. "It's a place where the slaves could go and enjoy a free day," Umar explains. "They'd come together, play music and dance... The music then spread to places like Chicago and Detroit and took on different forms as people went from being slaves to sharecroppers and then factory workers. Music has been part of our lives as black people from the beginning and it's played a vital role in our survival as well." His story begins with "the rage of the overseer, ripping and shredding" before the music emerges as a healing force, and spawns "secret songs of the Mississippi delta." The rhythm's based on Don Redman's thirties' jazz tune, Chant Of The Weeds, complete with shifting textures and colourful harmonies. It's an unlikely candidate for a reggae treatment, but then few rules apply at a Last Poets' session.

Abiodun, who grew up listening to his parents' gospel and jazz collection and has a good singing voice, also writes powerfully about music. Take the lyrics of The Music for instance, in which he refers to the drum as his "heartbeat."
"I started out with the blues, because I had been abused so I created medicine to ease the pain, so I wouldn't go insane. I found a way to heal my soul, in spite of what I was being told. I created a new world of sound, to pick me up when I was down."
Abiodun, formerly known as Charles Davis, attended a Yoruba temple in Harlem from the age of fifteen, and forged a deep, spiritual connection to its teachings that have continued to serve him ever since. Umar has studied Islam and urges us to rediscover our capacity for love in Certain Images, despite warning how "the stink of conspiracy fills the air." He wants us to believe this simple act of faith can save humanity, and talks about a "resurrection of our minds" in We Must Be Sacred, promising that "the phoenix will come from the flames this time."

"We can't change without love," he insists. "Love is the most important thing in the world but first of all we must understand how to make love a fact, because it's not there to play with. Love is everlasting, and you have to hold it and protect it and keep it strong because you can't quit. You've got to believe in what you're doing and try and make the world a better place because when I was a little boy, I'd see the bar room brawlers, the pimps and the prostitutes... Basically, what I learned is that people just want to be appreciated and that's what I try and hit upon in my poetry. I try and see what they're searching for and then I have to hope that whatever comes out of my mouth helps them to feel good, and I'm giving them the respect they deserve."

John Masouri

credits

released May 18, 2018

A Nostalgia 77 & Prince Fatty Production. All tracks Produced by Benedic Lamdin & Mike Pelanconi. All tracks written by Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyowele, Benedic Lamdin, Mike Pelanconi, Dub Judah, Winston "Horseman" Williams & Riaan Vosloo.

Mike Pelanconi Published by Because Music. Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyowele, Benedic Lamdin, Dub Judah, Winston "Horseman" Williams & Riaan Vosloo Published by Copyright Control.

Rhythms recorded at The Ironworks, Brighton. Horns Recorded at the Fish Factory, London. All arrangements by Riaan Vosloo. Horns conducted by Riaan Vosloo. Vocals recorded in NYC at Moon Studios & at 68 Jay St. Engineers: Eber Pinheiro & Sean Amery. Mixed at Evergreen Studios, London.
A&R'd by Tony Thorpe.

Mastered by Frank Merritt at The Carvery, Leyton, London.

Artwork by New Analog Design (www.new-analog.net). Layout by Rich Elson. Liner notes by John Masouri.

Thanks to Lisa Mead at Apples And Snakes for helping out.

Umar Bin Hassan would like to thank:
I want to thank the Creator of all the Worlds and my ancestors for allowing me to stay around to get this done.

Abiodun Oyowele would like to thank:
Thank you to my mother - Mattie Mae Dawson, my niece Juanita, my sister Anita and my children Pharoah, Obadele, Aina, Ebon, Sowande, Donjiman and Ademola. I would also like to thank all the mother's of my children – Biji, Ayisha, Pepsi, Nayo and Kathy - they did the work.

Thanks also to Donn Babatunde, the heartbeat of the group.

The Musicians:

UNDERSTAND WHAT BLACK IS / HOW MANY BULLETS / SHE IS / WHAT I WANT TO SEE / CERTAIN IMAGES: Drums - Winston "Horseman" Williams. Bass - Dub Judah. Guitar - Kashta Menilek Tafari. Piano & Hammond - Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie. Piano - Ross Stanley. Percussion - Lenny Edwards & Afla Sackey. Trumpet - Alex Bonney. Flute - Gareth Lockrane. Clarinet - Lluis Mather. Bass Clarinet - George Crowley. Tenor Saxophone - James Allsopp. Baritone - Sam Rapley. Trombones - Trevor Mires, Tom White & Adrian Hallowell.

NORTH, EAST, WEST, SOUTH: Drums - Winston "Horseman" Williams. Bass - Dub Judah. Guitar - Kashta Menilek Tafari. Piano & Hammond - Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie. Piano - Ross Stanley. Percussion - Lenny Edwards & Afla Sackey. Trumpet - Percy Purseglove & Rory Simmons. Flute - Gareth Lockrane. Alto & Baritone - Jason Yarde. Tuba - Andy Grappy. Tenor Saxophone - James Allsopp. Trombone - Trevor Mires.

THE BRIDGE: Drums - Winston "Horseman" Williams. Bass - Dub Judah. Guitar - Kashta Menilek Tafari. Piano & Hammond - Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie. Piano - Ross Stanley. Percussion - Lenny Edwards & Afla Sackey. Trumpet - Percy Purseglove & Rory Simmons. Flute - Gareth Lockrane. Alto & Baritone - Jason Yarde. Tuba - Andy Grappy. Tenor Saxophone - James Allsopp. Trombone - Trevor Mires.

WE MUST BE SACRED: Drums - Winston "Horseman" Williams. Bass - Dub Judah. Guitar - Kashta Menilek Tafari. Piano & Hammond - Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie. Percusion - Lenny Edwards & Afla Sackey. Bass Clarinet - James Allsopp. Additional vocals - Shniece Mcmenamin.

RAIN OF TERROR: Drums - Winston "Horseman" Williams. Bass - Dub Judah. Guitar - Kashta Menilek Tafari & Graham Coxon. Piano & Hammond - Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie. Piano - Ross Stanley. Synthesizers & Rhodes - Matthew Bourne. Percussion - Lenny Edwards & Afla Sackey. Trumpet - Alex Bonney. Flute - Gareth Lockrane. Clarinet - Lluis Mather. Bass Clarinet - George Crowley. Tenor Saxophone - James Allsopp. Baritone - Sam Rapley. Trombone - Trevor Mires, Tom White & Adrian Hallowell. Additional vocals - Shniece Mcmenamin. Backing Vocals - John "Segs" Jennings.

THE MUSIC: Drums - Winston "Horseman" Williams. Bass - Dub Judah. Guitar - Kashta Menilek Tafari. Piano & Hammond - Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie. Piano - Ross Stanley. Percussion - Lenny Edwards & Afla Sackey. Trumpet - Percy Purseglove & Rory Simmons. Flute - Gareth Lockrane. Alto & Baritone - Jason Yarde. Tuba - Andy Grappy. Tenor Saxophone - James Allsopp. Trombone - Trevor Mires.

P 2018 Studio Rockers
C 2018 Studio Rockers

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