Forming in 1968 (on Malcolm X’s birthday) The Last Poets have been delivering their brand of rhythmic, political poetry for over 40 years and have lost none of their revolutionary fervour. Original members David Nelson, Gylan Kane and Felipe Luciano are no longer involved but Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan are still here bringing the authentic Last Poets sound. They dedicate this show to Gil Scott-Heron (who organised a show featuring the group when he was still at college then told them he would form a group just like them). Their show is a fitting tribute to a like-minded soul, uplifting and hard-hitting in equal measure.
As well as rhyming over drums, The Last Poets also used to rhyme over jazzy instrumentals, something they called “Jazzoetry”, and it’s this sound they bring with them tonight. The band consists of congas/timpali, drums, bass and lead guitar and add just the right blend of funky instrumentation to perfectly compliment the two voices of the poets. Their poetry is still as insightful as ever, multi-layered lyricism that’s in turn poignant, funny, insightful and emotional. The fact that the poems they wrote and recorded in the 60’s and 70’s are still relevant today is perhaps an indictment in itself. I remember a quote from them where they said that they didn’t wage war against white people but against black people who were not being black, poems like “n**ger’s are scared of revolution” being a case in point.
They take it in turns to recite a poem while the other vocalist will chant a chorus. It’s an effective and evocative way to deliver poetry and puts to rest the argument from MCs who say poetry is boring or irrelevant (especially as 9 times out of 10 those same MCs have a lame live show themselves). A stand out song is Umar Bin Hassan’s “Poem to Jimi Hendrix” accompanied by funky guitar licks worthy of the man himself. It’s a powerful ode to the legacy of Jimi and goes down really well. Of course, former Last Poet Jalal Nuriddin recorded the awesome 9 minute poem “Doriella Du Fontaine” featuring Buddy Miles on drums and Jimi Henrix on guitar, so the poets have always had a long standing respect for Jimi.
Always worth going to see live, and representing a crucial link in the evolution of Hip Hop, The Last Poets are definitely a refreshing change in these X Factor and American Idol manufactured musical times. With rhymes reflecting the anger but ultimately the hope of people surviving within a capitalist system, they remind us of the humanity and community that still exists amongst those who are still prepared to ask questions. A typical lyric asks “The global economy becomes the global slave, whom do we dispose of and whom do we save?”. Nuff said.
The classic “Doriella Du Fontaine” by Jalal Nuriddin aka Lighting Rod: