Sunday, August 26, 2007

Everlasting Life: To Sekou Sundiata

Some eight years ago I took a rag-tag group of brilliant, rebellious, artistic, marvelous students to the Geraldine R. Dodge poetry festival at Waterloo Village, NJ. It was my third trip to the biennial event, but my first with students. In preparing the agenda for the day, some of my students noted the presence of a poet, muscian, and all around performer named Sekou Sundiata. (He was also a teacher at the New School for Social Research--students included Mark Doughty of Soul Coughing and Ani DiFranco). While we didn't get to see Sekou Sundiata that day, I soon after purchased a copy of his recording longstoryshort. I was hooked. His ear for the musicality of language, his rhythm and timing (is that "flow?") . . . if Jazz were words, this is what it sounded like. In his theater pieces, he mixed poetry, music, drama, and image into a carnival of histories, both personal and national. Indeed, his most recent theatrical work, The 51st Dream State was exactly that. (You may need to sign up for NYTimes website in order to read that article.) You can see a sample at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The last time I heard Sekou Sundiata was in September of 2006 during his appearances at that year's Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. In what was the most remarkable event I've ever seen at the poetry festival, Sekou teamed up with fellow poet and Kora player Kurtis Lamkin in an improvisational celebration called "Everlasting Life." To Kurtis's Kora playing, these men wove a tapestry of lines from their poems and improvisations. The atmosphere itself became a liquor of poetry, intoxicating all of us in the tent. What flavor it was only we knew. You had to be there because it was, as all things of supreme beauty, ephemeral. It is gone, and sadly, so is Sekou.

Sekou Sundiata died on July 18, 2007. He left behind him a body of challenging work in a myriad of media, and a voice that sounded of lazy city streets on humid summer afternoons . . . a voice that just won't leave my head.

In addition to those links above, check out:

The Blue Oneness of Dreams

Audio Clip

In Memorium

Sekou on Fresh Air--interview or Remembrance


And then, these incantations from You Tube:

And this one...

You'll also find him in Bill Moyers' book based about poetry at the Geraldine R. Dodge Festival, The Language of Life, which seems to be where most people found out about him.


New American Theater

Come on and Bring on the Reparations

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