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This Far by Faith

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Witnesses to Faith Abiodun Oyewole

Ni'Mat Abdus-Sam'ad Ingrid Askew Cornelia Bailey Horace Clarence Boyer Sister Clare Carter Cain Hope Felder Rachel Harding W.W. Law James Lawson Lena McLin Abiodun Oyewole Charles Sherrod Zohara Simmons Cornel West


Abiodun Oyewole

Photo of Abiodun Oyewole [Malcolm X] was our pathway to revolutionary understanding. Malcolm went through a series of rites of passage — from Malcolm Little to Detriot Red to Satan to Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. All this because the best this man never stopped tring to develop and recognize the best of himself. He was self-determined. Malcolm was saying we need to be more. And we heard that. And he said it better than anybody ever said it. He made things clear to us. So al we wanted to do was to be disciples of Malcolm, in a sense, using poetry to illuminate the same values that he planted in our heads." --Abiodun Oyewole on the birth of the Last Poets, 2001

Abiodun Oyewole grew up Charles Davis in Queens, NY. Listening to his parents' jazz and gospel records and studying Langston Hughes and other great poets in school helped nurture Oyewole's love of poetry. His mother taught him to "throw [his] voice" by making him recite the Lord's Prayer in their basement so that she could hear him in the kitchen.

When he was 15, Charles Davis and a friend went into a Yoruban Temple in Harlem out of curiosity. The Yoruba priest there performed a ceremony with Charles and gave him the name Abiodun Oyewole. He began reading about the Yoruba gods and the significance of one's ancestors, and felt a deep spiritual connection to the religion: "I could say a prayer to my ancestors every morning so they could help me through my life. [That] made all the sense in the world to me."

The Last Poets were born on May 19, 1968, when David Nelson, Gylan Kain, and Abiodun Oyewole read poetry at a memorial for Malcolm X. Their goal was to be a poetic voice for Malcolm's call for self-determination and black nationalism. Like many black activists of the time, they were tired of Martin Luther King's integrationist agenda. They were much more influenced by the politics of radical members of the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), and the Black Panthers.

Their style of poetry reflected the radicalism of the day: "...with the Poets, we were angry and we had something to say. We addressed the language. We just put it right in front of your face." But Yoruba also had a profound influence on Oyewole's poetry: "It's given me a foundation to elevate my way of thinking and to connect me with the Motherland, as well as to create images that are wholesome and holistic, as opposed to having to repeat the Tarzan madness that has been given to us."

The Last Poets went through many incarnations as members came and left - including Oyewole, who served four years in a North Carolina prison for robbery. They released several albums and wrote the classic poems "Niggers are Scared of Revolution," "This is Madness," and "When the Revolution Comes." They are widely acknowledged as being the fathers of the hip-hop movement.

The Last Poets, consisting of original members Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan, enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the 1990s. They participated in the 1994 Lollapalooza, released a new album, "Holy Terror," in 1995, and a book, On a Mission: Selected Poetry and a History of the Last Poets, in 1996.

Selected Last Poets Discography
1. The Last Poets, Douglas 1970
2. This Is Madness, Douglas 1971
3. Chastisement, Douglas 1972
4. Hustlers Convention, w/Jalal Nuriddin recording as "Lightnin' Rod," Douglas 1973
5. At Last, Blue Thumb 1974
6. Delights of the Garden, Celluloid 1975
7. Jazzoetry, Celluloid 1975
8. Oh! My People, Celluloid 1985
9. Freedom Express, Celluloid 1991
10. Be Bop Or Be Dead, Umar Bin Hassan w/Abiodun Oyewole, Axiom/Island 1993
11. 25 Years, Abiodun Oyewole w/ Umar Bin Hassan, Rykodisc 1994
12. Holy Terror, Rykodisc 1995
13. Time Has Come, Mouth Almighty/Mercury 1997