Mar 28, 2011

Last Poets, modern hip-hop inspiration, may lose home

Abiodun Oyewole and The Last Poets once produced black nationalist raps credited with inspiring the modern hip hop movement. Now, Oyewole might lose the Morningside Drive apartment where he has hosted "Open House Sundays" for poets and musicians for more than 30 years.

Oyewole told NBC New York he began struggling to pay his rent when cutbacks in arts education programs left him without a steady source of income. He had been doing arts workshops with kids.

When Oyewole began to receive eviction warnings after paying his rent late, his son urged him to ask for help from the many people who visit Oyewole's home every Sunday for food, community, and creativity.

Flutist Bobby Humphrey, rapper Doug E. Fresh, entertainer Paul Mooney, and The Last Poets themselves have banded together to perform a fundraising concert this Sunday to honor and support Oyewole's "Open House Sundays."

The Last Poets were originally formed on May 19, 1968, at a celebration of Malcolm X's birthday in Mount Morris Park, which is now Marcus Garvey Park.

According to Oyewole, the group was formed as a thoughtful response to the death of Martin Luther King weeks earlier.

"When King died, I knew I was going to be radical," said Oyewole. "I could pick up a gun or pick up a pen and drop some bombs. I decided to pick up a pen."

The group, which now consists of Oyewole, Felipe Luciano, Umar Bin Hassan, and drummer Don Baba Tunde, got its name from a poem called "Towards a Walk in the Sun" by South African author William Kgositsile.

"The poem said that it was the last era in music, dance and the arts," said Umar Bin Hassan. "So we decided to call ourselves The Last Poets."

"People thought, who are you, young, black guys, calling yourselves the Last Poets?" said Hassan. "The name was a blessing and a curse."

The Last Poets soon developed a national reputation. Their second album, "This Is Madness," was named one of the best albums of the century by Vibe Magazine. The album was released while Oyewole was in prison for the armed robbery of a Ku Klux Klan recruiting meeting.

More than 30 years later, The Last Poets still tour across the world and maintain a large international following.

The concert will take place from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the National Black Theatre on Fifth Avenue in Harlem. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

The concert could possibly save "Open House Sundays" as well as Oyewole's apartment, where he has lived for 33 years.

"I'm scared to death, I don't like to ask people to do anything for me," said Oyewole. "But if it's a hit, my rent will be paid for the next year, maybe the next two years."

"On Open House Sundays I have people from all parts of the country and the world come to share their creativity," he said. "I buy food, and we have poets, and singers, and tap-dancers, and every kind of artist."

Tickets to the benefit concert are available at or by calling (646) 688-5366.

source - TheGrio


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