Friday, January 10, 2014

Amiri Baraka R.I.P

On Baraka, today.

--Steve Fly

It was in the summer of 2004, and I was living on Smith street in Brooklyn, my room-mate and i treated ourselves with tickets to go see the Mcoy Tyner band featuring Pharoah Sanders, Eric Harland, Charnett Moffett, Ravi Coltrane and McCoy at Iridium jazz NYC. This was to be my only experience of a New York jazz club, and is where I really got the full experience when Amiri Baraka tripped over my chair, while reaching to hand his latest work to Ravi Coltrane, right in front of me, across the table.

This experience of witnessing the passage of the poetry to the musician, in this case Ravi Coltrane, son of the greatest jazz saxophonist of all time: John Coltrane, burnt itself into my brain with a red hot poker point. I was there, at the table, only a few feet away from some of the founding fathers of some of the hippest and innovative edge of jazz, the lineage.  

And today, here in Amsterdam nearly a decade later, I get the news from John Sinclair that Amiri Baraka passed away. John recently spent some precious time with Baraka on his last trip to America, catching up with him during his presentation on Charles Olson and the music of Sun Ra. This in turn sent me spinning off to create a radio show and some writings inspired by this theme. Since Sinclair introduced me to the works of Charles Olson I have been slowly trawling his works and porting them into my ongoing research into…the tale of the tribe. []

Baraka, like Olson, is another rare American poet who includes large slabs history in his works, and presented in a very special way, bonded to his own experiences out there 'in these streets,' in the human world. Baraka is the go-to guy for African American history, culture, poetry and music, wrapped up and bound, he got it all. Baraka also carries unique, multiple histories of the 1960s and 1970s in America.  Black and white, all those with a poetic voice and those who used it in the struggle, the beats, the Black Mountain Poets, The Black Panther Party, the Detroit Artist's Workshop, and thousands of individual jazz and poetry icons worldwide.

The tribes of Baraka have a global reach, including Asia and the Far East, Africa and the Americas. His works are in the language of, and preserve the language of the people, not in the least coming across as high brow, Baraka was another rare and radical street level intellectual, a hipsters poet proper, someone who got his feet wet, always pushing his words into the matter deeper, balancing the equation, gathering the tribes and their speech together into coherent messages, poems that bite and punch, kick and poke at the reader, forcing them to think. Bringing the reader into the mind-space of the author, the African American poet world of Baraka in this case, the tales, the tribes, the comedy and the tragedy of it all, and the echo of the music.

Baraka, for me is a giant of 20th and 21st century poetry, his poem 'Somebody Blew Up America' stands as a testament to the raw power of poetry and had a deep effect on me when i first heard it in 2001, back then as now, i rate it as the single most informative investigation into the events of 9/11. Full of good questions, exemplary contradictions, street slang surprise, horror, truth and on into special beauty, the feeling of the unstoppable force of language, gathered around the poet, Baraka, history on his side with truth and word forged deep in his soul, all this feedback artfully oozed out, extruding out into the shared world of language through his fine tuned poetic being. What a lovely cat, man. Amiri Baraka: Rest In Peace.

A cut titled bloomdido, taken from John Sinclair's latest album Mohawk is dedicated to Amiri Baraka, who was a friend of John for 40 years or more, and a fellow performance poet/scholar. Almost exactly one year after recording it, I finally got the finished CD in my hand today, and had a short thought for Baraka when scanning the dedications noted in the booklet. Later the same day I learn from John that Amiri Baraka passed away while the CD was sitting right in front of me, hence the fuel to get this dedicated musing on Baraka up and out there, love 

--Steve Fly

bloomdido for Amiri Baraka


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