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Who Is Abiodun Oyewole, The Last Poet?

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Abiodun Oyewole grew up Charles Davis in Queens, New York.

In an article published by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Abiodun Oyewole developed his love for poetry while listening to his parents’ jazz and gospel records and studying Langston Hughes and other great poets in school . 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 Yoruba 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.

 

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