Abiodun Oyewole, a founding member of the Last Poets, has a new book out, Branches Of The Tree Of Life: The Collected Poems Of Abiodun Oyewole 1969 – 2013 published by 2 Leaf Press. As hard as it is to believe it’s his first published volume and it spans over 40 years of his poetry.
Along with Gil Scott Heron and the Nuyorican Poets, the Last Poets were the harbingers of Hip Hop. They were the foundation that Hip Hop was built on. Their albums from the 70’s – The Last Poets, Right On, This Is Madness, Chastisment and Jazzoetry are where you can hear that foundation being poured.
On December 5th of last year i got together with Abiodun to shoot a book video for Branches Of The Tree Of Life. The shoot began in Morningside Park and then moved to 125th Street in front of the Apollo. While we were shooting word came that Nelson Mandela had passed away. The Apollo stopped promoting its shows on the marquee to let Harlemites know that the great South African revolutionary had passed.
Abiodun did his infamous poem America Is A Terrorist on 125th street in front of the Apollo. It’s a poem that Def Poetry Jam refused to air because it was so controversial but it was the kind of poetry that Abiodun was known for, political, incendiary, passionate and insightful. It was a fitting tribute since the South African government got the idea of instituting Apartheid from the US policy of segregation.
A few weeks later i got together again with Abiodun to do another poem called Something Beautiful. We shot that on a rainy day on 125th Street under Riverside Drive. Something Beautiful is dangerously subversive poem. Unlike America Is A Terrorist which is an unmistaken indictment on the myth of America, Something Beautiful is a poem that derives its power from its ability to pull you in and make you feel at ease all the while making a statement as powerful and as inflammatory as America Is A Terrorist.
When i was editing the book video i did the first cut with an excerpt from Something Beautiful but Gabrielle David the fearless publisher of 2 Leaf Press thought it lacked something. i did another cut this time using an excerpt of America Is A Terrorist. Again Gabrielle thought it was missing something. She felt that both version were lacking, in expressing the complexity of someone like Abiuodun.
i knew what she meant but we had created a rule for the 2 Leaf Press book videos that stated that the videos not be longer than 5 minutes and 30 seconds. To try to hint at the complexities of Abiodun we would need more time. Gabrielle stated that maybe it was time to break our 5 minute 30 second rule. i went back to the edit and took an excerpt from Something Beautiful and America Is A Terrorist and added an extra minute and 55 seconds to the video.
Gabrielle loved it and although it could never portray the complexities of Abiodun it at least made brought a multi-dimensional element to him that allowed you to see and understand him better. Check out the video here…
[vimeo 96130113 w=600&h=337]
Abiodun’s book Branches Of The Tree Of Life is available now on Amazon… Do yourself a favor and cop yourself a copy…
PS… i also shot and designed the cover…