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


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


For these of you who could not find out 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 varsity’s literary journal and have become concerned in each the Author’s Workshop and the Pupil Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; she acquired her B.A. diploma in 1967. Giovanni grew to become 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 Nineteen Sixties and Seventies grew to become the voice of many African People. 

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 write 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. You’ll want 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
   consuming nectar with allah
I obtained sizzling and despatched an ice age to europe
   to chill my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
   the tears from my beginning pains
   created the nile
I’m a fantastic lady

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):

To start with was the phrase

And the phrase was

Loss of life

And the phrase was nigger

And the phrase was loss of life to all niggers  

And the phrase was loss of life to all life  

And the phrase was loss of life to all

   peace be nonetheless

The genesis was life  

The genesis was loss of life  

Within the genesis of loss of life  

Was the genesis of battle

   be nonetheless peace be nonetheless

Within the identify of peace  

They waged the wars  

   ain’t they obtained no disgrace

Within the identify 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 allow the unicorns, noah

Huh? why’d you allow 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 an enormous 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 way of
my door

most time once you’re round
i really feel like a observe
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 into a best-seller when it was printed in 1943.

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

The mushy sensual pull of Prysock was no match for the fired-up agony of a world the place younger Black and Latino of us have 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 several other younger male poets, and drummers got here collectively to create a gaggle who would turn into generally known as “The Final Poets.”

Final 12 months, Ron Magliozzi wrote in regards to the Museum of Fashionable 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 Nineteen 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 Tune, 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 the complete movie obtainable on YouTube. 

I used to be near each Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano; Felipe would go on to turn into 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 a couple of years later. Earlier than he left america for Amsterdam, he left a legacy of highly effective poetry behind him; his album The Blue Guerilla stays an underground traditional. 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 hear.

This solo album by Gylan Kain, one of many unique Final Poets — earlier than the group recorded for Douglas Data — is a examine in indignant 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 towards the same old vital issues, but in addition towards 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 put his poetry in a context of the African-American oral custom and the Dwelling Theatre. And he provides no quarter.

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

One of the vital fascinating, and humorous discussions of blues and poetry I’ve ever heard was delivered by Gil Scot 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 acquainted with Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” I like the lyricism of his tragic “Did You Hear What They Stated,” which opens with:

Did you hear what they mentioned,

Did you hear what they mentioned,

Did you hear what they mentioned,

They mentioned one other brother’s lifeless,

They mentioned he is lifeless, however he cannot be buried,

They mentioned he is lifeless, however he cannot be buried,

Come on, come on, come on, come on…

It’s a lament we hear all too typically right now.

It ought to come as no shock that these poets and musicians would lay the muse 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 beginning 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 right now:

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

Take pleasure in!

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

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