ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
I hope you understand that is the history of our culture, where
our music comes form because it is the same, it can not be defined
or categorized, it’s all from the same root.
The Last Poets’ Umar Bin Hassan
Enthralls Hip Hop 101
By Junious Ricardo Stanton
On Thursday evening May 8th, Umar Bin Hassan a member of the legendary incendiary group The Last Poets closed out Michael Coard’s Hip Hop 101 class, part of the Pan African Studies and Community Education Program a grass roots cultural and educational program operated out of Temple University in Philadelphia. Hassan had been scheduled a few weeks earlier but he had to cancel to return to New York to receive an award. Hassan returned to Philadelphia and spent several days promoting his appearance on black owned radio stations WHAT, WURD and black oriented WDAS.
An intergenerational overflow crowd packed Anderson Hall to hear Uma Bin Hassan share the history of The Last Poets how he became involved with the Black Arts Movement and to recite samples of his poems and spoken word artistry. The Last Poets are celebrating thirty-five years and Hassan dipped into his bag from his large body of works to enthrall and mesmerize the audience with both classic and new material. Hassan started off giving a mini-history lecture about the oral story tellers and keepers of the culture in Africa and how that tradition was impacted by slavery and the adjustments Africans in America made to their oppression to allow them to keep their music as an integral part of their daily lives.
He talked about Congo Square in New Orleans, the work songs, the shouts, the circle dance. He explained how the Europeans took the drums away and gave them Christianity but Africans took their hymns and fused them with dynamism and vitality and even used them to send messages about escaping.
“I hope you understand that is the history of our culture, where our music comes form because it is the same, it can not be defined or categorized, it’s all from the same root. There are five things that unify us in America in our music: call and response — most of our music is call and response whether its Rap, Hip Hop or Spoken Word. The second one is our art has always been part of our community. We’ve never made art separate from our community. Europeans say art imitates life, for us art was life.
“The third unifying factor in our music is that for every beat that somebody knew — the tribe had a dance to it, every rhythm had a dance to it, we knew the dance and we knew the beat. As long as you knew the dance and the beat you were hip. The fourth as that every time you saw us making an instrument whether it was a horn or we were beating on the jawbone or beating on the drum we were trying to imitate the human voice by speaking to each other, singing to each other expressing ourselves.
“And fifth and most important thing was the rhythm, the beat. They (white folks) have been trying to get to our rhythm and our beat forever. That’s one of the basic things about Hip Hop; even if I hear some nasty words on a funny TV Show, it’s the beat. Some of these kids are making beats that are really out of sight — I’ve got to give them that.”
By the time Hassan brought the audience from Africa all the way up to Hip Hop he had us eating out of his hand, hanging onto his every word. He even explained the phrase Hip Hop was not new. “We used to have hops or dances back in the day. We all used to go to them in the schools, churches, and dance halls. If we went to a hop that was really fun and afterwards we talked about it saying ‘that was really a hip hop we had last night.'”
Hassan shared the history of The Last Poets how the group got its name and how he joined the group. The Last Poets was founded on May 19, 1968 in Harlem, New York. Hassan was not an original member. He heard them when they came to Ohio, after he had been introduced to Amiri Baraka, Richard Wright and James Baldwin’s writings and the bourgeoning militancy, black nationalism, and revolutionary tenor of the times. He informed the audience he was the only member of the group that was voted in by the public who heard his poems, his work with the group and their legendary conga player.
After the history lesson Hassan recited a variety of his poems, old some new. The audience shouted out requests and Hassan obliged them (call and response). They clapped, recited along with him on the classic “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution,” and sat in rapt attention as he did several new poems. There was a genuine exchange of mutual respect, admiration and love between the audience and Umar Bin Hassan. Hassan was given several standing ovations, a fitting tribute to close out the Hip Hop 101 Spring semester with one of the keepers of the legacy of African culture and one of the progenitors of Hip Hop.
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The Last Poets were formed on May 19, 1968 (Malcolm X’s birthday), at Marcus Garvey Park (formerly Mount Morris Park, at 124th Street and Fifth Avenue) in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The original members were Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, and David Nelson. The group continued to evolve via a 1969 Harlem writers’ workshop known as “East Wind.” Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Umar Bin Hassan, and Abiodun Oyewole, along with percussionist Nilaja, are generally considered the primary and core members of the group, as they appeared in the group’s 1970 self-titled debut . . ..Luciano, Kain, and Nelson recorded separately as “The Original Last Poets,” gaining some renown as the soundtrack artists for the 1971 film “Right On!” . . . .
With jazz or funk as a backdrop, percussions rolling and words shooting out like bursts of machine gun fire, the group denounces the oppression of African Americans, while painting a devastating yet humorous picture of life in the ghetto. Nearly forty years after their separation, the members of this legendary groupthe founding fathers of today’s hip hop, rap and slamcome together in Paris for a one-time concert at the 2008 Banlieues Bleues Festival. The Last Poets: Made in Amerikkka is a film that erases the boundaries between different genres. It’s a live recording, a musical documentary and an art film, all combined into one, and yet it goes beyond any of these. It is a film event, faithful to the spirit and the image of The Last Poets. Umar Bin Hassan, and Abiodun Oyewole still perform under the name “The Last Poets.”Wikipedia
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By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest.
Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
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By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King’s birthday ended up becoming a national holiday (“The Last Holiday because America can’t afford to have another national holiday”), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Jamie Byng, Guardian
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationPublishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 5 July 2012