I first started experimenting with live music in Detroit. I was hanging out in the hip-hop scene and getting to know the musicians in the city. The first musician I ever worked with was an electric guitar player named Dumani and this drummer cat, Gabe, who was down with P-funk. I realized then that poetry could be taken out of the cafe, trendy bookstore, academic life scene and straight to the hood (which is where I wanted my poetry to hit) with a little word sound power. The first real poetry/music CD I ever heard were from the legendary Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. They blew my mind and clearly influenced an entire generation of new school rappers and poets.
Thanks to technology it's real easy to make a book or a CD these days, but it's not easy to write good work or make good music. My poems recently vowed to never do another interlude for anybody's album. Nas is the obvious exception and my recent collaboration with incredible hip hop producer Bink. My poems, much like the poems of great musical artists (let's just call them what they are) like, Saul Williams, Mike Ladd, soul singer Anthony David, Ursula Rucker (Supa Sista), Sharrif Simmons, JJason Blackwell, Latasha Natasha Diggs, Mums, Ras Baraka (Shorty for Mayor), Imani Uzuri, Modusa Oblangata, Tracie Morris, Tree, Black Ice, Carl Hancock Rux (Sony 550), Liza Jesse Peterson, Wadud, Saturns Return, Aqiyl (Thin Line Between Poetry and Hip Hop), Sekou Sundiata and several other great poets deserve their own albums, their own songs, their own Grammys (forget Hillary raising our village), their own top billing, and their own spot in the music store.
I remember when there were no hip hop stations. When you only heard a new rap song at the basement parties or if the DJ was spinnin' them at the club. Most of us got cuts being played all over Europe, and supportive DJ's from Giles Peterson to Marcel of Atlanta's 88.5 are helping to push poetry on the radio.
Poetry is dangling off that edge of possibility right now. I've witnessed poets working with live music, drums, electric guitars, violas, flutes etc., long before many of the new white kid rock/rapper wanabees ever got down. The problem with poets is that we've been influenced by so many genres, and we connect ourselves to the Black Arts Movement, and Harlem Renaissance writers as well as hip hop, rock and blues, so we don't fit easily into a cookie cutter industry of three girl group clones.
Poet Mike Ladd, who has put out five albums, including Welcome to the Afterfuture, a new EP Vernacular Homicide, told me from his crib in the Bronx, I gotta make what's me. I can't concentrate on a market. I can concentrate on people. People like me. Yes, there are eclectic black, brown, red and white folks around the world who are looking for Ladd's silent army. Many poets with live albums or underground followings rely on college radio and students to support their art.
With the help of Def Poetry and other mainstream outlets opening up their minds and ears to the idea of poetry as a viable form of entertainment, some of the greatest artists of our generation we'll finally get a chance to be heard. I've spoken, performed and traveled to literary, hip hop, academic poetry, writing conferences, seminars and festivals around the country for several years now and the one component that is always missing is the new music being created through poetry.
I've participated and watched incredible poets/recording artists like Ladd have full-blown concerts in London. In Amsterdam I've listened to thousands sing along to a chorus of one of my poems they've never heard on the radio with the help of indie powerhouse N'Dambi. I've seen Saul Williams transform Shakespearean inspired lyrics into a drum and bass dance party. For years in New York City's underground scene, poets have nudged their way into the musical spotlight with some of the best musicians in town: Swiss Chris, Kirk Douglas, Maryam Blackshear, Maximina Juson, Vernon Reid, Greg Tate, Trevor Holder, Chris Eddleton, Survival Sounds, Black Monsoon, Detroit Read, Modusa Oblangata (the P-funk of poetry collectives), Speaking Seeds, producer Native Sun, Manic Records and others decided that poetry could hold it's weight on stages like Joe's Pub, SOB's, CB's Gallery, and Central Park Summerstage long before any A&R executive realized a poet could get a record deal.
I must admit, I haven't been impressed by many of the poetry CD's I've heard in the past, record deal or not. While I think this new movement of poetry and music stands to pimp slap a bunch of folks that were sleeping on us, just dropping a poem over someone's pretentious beat isn't the answer either. Ultimately there is nothing like seeing a poet perform live, and live music captures the essence of a poet's emotion better than any electronic beat I've ever heard. From the drum and bass heavy feel of Williams's Amethyst Rock Star to the Gil Scott meets funk-rock-soul feel of Sharrif Simmons, along with the melodic, yet powerful rhythm of Philly Supa Sista, Ursula Rucker, I think poetry stands a chance of finally getting what every artist wants and needs--some radio play! I also think we have a long way to go before it finds a place in the commercial market.
Poetry groups like Saturns Return and even the more supa popular artists with poetic songs like Jill Scott or India Arie are dominated by vocals, while the poetry is more of an afterthought. I'm still waiting to hear that poetry CD that marries the two art forms in a way that'll force poetry lovers to respect the word, while little hard rocks nod their head to the music. I know the idea of poets being "rock stars" curdles the stomachs of those purists, those writers who wanna stick only to the books, but why should we be limited? I can't keep my poetry, my black girl gangsta Detroit stories confined to the converted, the coffee drinkin' the bookstore junky. I'm already cool with them. We're friends. (lol)
The reason why I've been blessed with a career writing and performing poetry is because went to an unconventional stage and television show called It's Showtime at the Apollo and read a poem. Folks who worked late on the subways, women at the passport office, hair stylists, waiters--that's who started knowing my work. Later for the cliques, the boxes, the divisions, the boundaries, the page, the stage, whatever the debate, black folks been surviving on music for a long time, and poetry is rooted in every art form that exists.
I'm gonna continue writing and publishing lots of books to keep folks reading, trust me. Still, some of the greatest emcees I know are some of my favorite poets i.e., Nas, Kweli, Method, Lauryn, Common, Mos, Jay Z etc., and I can't wait to publish their poems in book form. But, don't get it twisted. The front-runners of this poetry music genre are those writers who've done their homework. We've traveled the ocean on Amiri Baraka's Blue Ark and sang to Jayne Cortez's Blues while listening to what Nikki Giovanni was gonna do to her lover with a full orchestra in the background. Ain't nothing new ya'll.
With a resurgence of poetry into the mainstream markets, there is a propensity for something great to happen in the music industry. I agree with poet Zac De La Rocha of Rage Against Machine. In order to hear good music these days you might need to turn off your radio. I'm waiting for the day we decide to turn it back on and the new soundtrack will sound something like "Easy Listening for Armageddon." The silent army is coming. Now, suddenly, I'm inspired.
--Jessica Care Moore is a poet. She is the CEO of Moore Black Press and the author of The Words Don't Fit in my Mouth, and the forthcoming The Alphabet Verses The Ghetto.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Moore, Jessica Care|
|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2002|
|Previous Article:||From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore. (nonfiction reviews).|
|Next Article:||Amethyst Rock Star. (poetry reviews).|