Words have power. And when people come face to face with wordsmiths who have learned to harness this power with poetic resilience, the connection becomes more powerful than mere language.
Umar Bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole, members of “The Last Poets,” have been honing their powers since May 19, 1968, Malcolm X’s birthday when the group was born in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. And on Friday, Feb. 6, students, faculty and residents caught a glimpse of a revolution personified.
The handful of people sprinkled about Lee Hall Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. swelled to a hefty crowd by 7:10 p.m., and as the lights dimmed, eyes widened with expectancy.
Alice Mathis, director of the office of student union and activities, stepped to the podium and gave a welcoming speech. Then Jessica Durand, student coordinator and host of the show, introduced the four preliminary local poets.
John Warford, a business administration professor, Keith Rogers, a community poet for the “Back Talk Poetry Troupe,” Sabrina Davis, president of the student chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, and Larry “Love” Morris, a FAMU campus poet, performed original poems to whet the audience’s appetite.
A track from an upcoming tribute to “The Last Poets” compilation CD had verses from hip-hop artists and spoken word from “The Last Poets” woven together over a bass-laden beat that made heads bob instinctively. Then it was quiet.
After a few moments, there was a tapping of a conga drum. The red velvet curtain parted and behind it was a man drumming. His rapid hands slowed the beat to a rhythmic pulse.
“This is the heartbeat,”
Don “Babtunde” Eaton said into his microphone.
Then, the voice of Oyewole rippled through auditorium speakers before he stepped onto the stage, but the crowd’s anticipatory applause. For the next two hours, “The Last Poets” recited collective and individual pieces that dabbled in subjects of self-worth, identity, violence and upward mobility.
With the drum pounding in staccato patterns in the background, Hassan and Oyewole painted images with words that made some cringe, some laugh and others raise their fists in approval. The chemistry on stage was potent and the two unique poetic styles complemented each other like jigsaw pieces. From Hassan’s intricate rhyme scheme and vocal inflections to Oyewole’s melodic arrangement, it was evident the two, anointed as “the foundation of hip-hop,” were born for this.
“The Last Poets” performance was followed by a question and answer segment, when students and faculty expressed appreciation and admiration for their language, legacy and life lessons. And whether it was to seek autographs or simply to be in the poet’s presence, the crowd that lingered afterwards indicated “The Last Poets” definitely left a lasting impression.
contact russell nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org.