The Last Poets

Harbourfront Centre, Toronto ON — August 1, 2005

BY Kevin HaineyPublished Sep 1, 2005

It's been a whopping 36 years since the Last Poets were born on May 16, 1969 at a memorial for Malcolm X, but the potency and relevancy of their radical messages of self-empowerment, self-determination and black nationalism haven't lost one iota of their original strength. If anything, the critical tease of a song like "Niggers are Scared of Revolution" rings even truer in light of all the pacifism that's swept our world since those tumultuous days, when the idea of revolution and drastic social reinvention still seemed a possibility. Often credited as the godfathers of hip-hop for their blend of venomous street-level poetry and foot-moving bongo thumping, the Last Poets wisely sidestepped the misguided full-band arrangements of past years for their original stripped-down sound. Original members Umar Bin Hassen and Abiodun Oyewole (two of the four founding Last Poets) took the stage with a single bongo player and performed such classic poems as "Jones Coming Down," "This Is Madness" and "Related to What" before an appreciative and diverse audience. Hassen was decked out in casual hip-hop-flavoured gear and displayed a laid-back attitude that played the needling foil to Oyewole's more classically Afro-centric style of dress and outspoken political righteousness. The two traded jokes and took gentle jabs at each other in-between poems, criticising each other's stage bantered statements like cranky old friends. But as serious and deadpan as their messages and poems can be, Hassen and Oyewole took certain pleasure in their jabs, laughing at themselves like only wise and humble men can. Their hard-hitting and completely riveting performances of these timeless writings was a highly memorable event, made all the more heartening by the Last Poets' jovial spirits.

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