The Last Poets - Blessed Are Those Who Struggle - Dec. 1985
This was the first of two visits by the iconic group The Last Poets to the Blackie - the 2nd being in 1988 as part of the Blackie's 20th Birthday Celebrations.
The Last Poets since their inception in 1968 have had various line-ups. Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin and Suliman El-Hadi have worked and recorded together under the name The Last Poets since the early 70s. A review of their work by Chris May can be accessed by clicking here.
They also brought with conga player Mustapha Rahim who had worked with them for some ten years.
As can be seen from the leaflet (pictured left) on their first visit The Last Poets spent much of their time in Rap sessions and conversations throughout Liverpool 8. Equally when they performed they did so with other artists both from Liverpool and nationally. The visit was very much about enabling the local Black community and Black performers to meet, learn from and work with The Last Poets.
The full programme, as taken from the Leaflet, is laid out below.
CHAT & RAP SESSIONS led by The Last Poets unless otherwise indicated.
TUESDAY 3 DECEMBER
11 a.m. Charles Wootton Centre for Further Education, Black History Project 248 Upper Parliament St., L8, tel. 708 9698.
2.30 p.m. Charles Wootton Technology Centre, 8 Myrtle Parade, Myrtle St., L8, tel. 709 0340.
5.30 p.m. Merseyside Caribbean Centre, Youth Section, Amberley St., L8, tel. 709 0340.
8.30 p.m. The Methodist Centre, Beaconsfield St., L8, tel, 727 2035.
WEDNESDAY 4 DECEMBER
11.00 a.m. Liverpool 8 Law Centre and South Liverpool Personnel, 36 & 34 Princes Rd., L8, tel. 709 7222 and 709 2096 (provisional).
2.30 p.m. Rialto Community Centre, 70 Upper Parliament St,L8, tel. 708 0903.
5.30 p.m. Elimu Wa Nane Readers and Writers Group, The Methodist Centre, Beaconsfield St., L8, tel. 727 2035. Led by Maud Sulter.
THURSDAY 5 DECEMBER
11.00 a.m. Black Media Group, 64 Mount Pleasant L3,tel. 709 2321. Led by The Last Poets and African Dawn.
11.20 a.m. Women's Technology Centre, MTUCURC, 24 Hardman St., LI, tel. 709 4356. Led by Maud Sulter.
1.00 p.m. University School (Paddington Comprehensive), L7,tel. 709 9934. Two sessions:
- led by The Last Poets with African Dawn, everyone admitted
- led by Maud Sulter, for young women writers.
FRIDAY 6 DECEMBER
2.30 p.m. Black Women's Centre, Old Coach House, back of Sandon St., L8, tel. 709 5057. Led by Maud Sulter and Amryl Johnson, women only.
Admission free to all sessions. Some sessions may be subject to change - please check with The Blackie or the venue.
At The Blackie, Great Georges Community Cultural Project Great George St. LI, tel. 709 5109 (corner of Great George St. & Nelson St.)
There were three performances and all three had the same format - the first half consisted of people paying tribute to the Poets and for the second half The Poets plus musicians took the stage.
7.30 p.m. THE LAST POETS with African Dawn opening
7.30 p.m. THE LAST POETS with Abike Ajilowura, Amryl Johnson, Saphena Aziz, Shereen & Ebony, and Maud Sulter opening.
7.30 p.m. THE LAST POETS with Leroy Cooper. Deanko, Urban Griot, Jennifer John, Eugene Lange, Levi Tafari, Michael Wray opening
Admission free. All performances were followed by discussions. Invitation-tickets (from The Blackie) guaranteed a seat up to 7.15 p.m.
Guardian Review Dec. 6th 1985
The importance of this interaction is neatly caught by the Guardian Review by Robin Thornber of the visit which is replicated below.
"Of the three cultural phenomena that have burst on to the world from the streets of Harlem — the art of graffiti, break dancing and rapping — it’s the rap poetry that is currently clicking with the urban young in Britain.
There was a whole GLC festival of rap (monologues chanted against a backing of black soul rhythms) and toasting (rhyming over reggae — the words provide the crisp surface to the music) in Tottenham last night.
And just as a new generation is discovering the mesmeric power of this astonishing art form, the big daddies of the rap movement — the two men who lifted rap poetry out of the black ghetto and declaimed it to the world through their recordings 15 years ago — have been in Liverpool this week.
Suliaman El Hadi and Jalal Nuriddin are known as the Last Poets, a title they took from the poem by a black South African refugee who visited their poetry workshop in Harlem in 1968.
" We are the last poets,” they say, “because this is the last age of poems and essays, before guns and bullets take their place. This is the last period when there will be an opportunity for dialogue after that it's just chaos and bloodshed."
Their early work born out of their experience of survival in the hostile environment of the inner city, is powered by militant black Muslim consciousness, as is Nuriddin's Wake Up Niggers from 1970 and’ El Hadi's Ho Chi Minh — " Before we would submit/you see, we ALL would rather die".
More recently, they have moved into a wider concern for all oppressed and threatened humanity, a concern with universal issues like the nuclear holocaust, drugs, technology and pollution.
They are still fuelled by anger towards the white ruling elite, but now they know that it oppresses white people as well as black and brown, and threatens the existence of our planet. Their urgent revolutionary message — passionately, wittily, hypnotically expressed — is for all of us.
While their work is essentially to he heard rather than read, (they have issued 10 LPs on the Celluloid label from The Last Poets 1970 to Oh My People this year) they are meticulously painstaking wordsmiths and storytellers.
l caught them at a workshop in the Charles Wootton centre, a black further education centre in Upper Parliament Street, named after the first black man killed in the Toxteth riots.
“ When Lincoln emancipated the slaves" Nuriddin was saying, “he set the black people free but he didn’t give us the second part of freedom — the dome, the do-main, the land still belonged to the whites.’
The Last Poets are in Liverpool for a week of activities which culminate with a performance tonight involving local black artists and groups at the Great Georges Community Arts Project, known as the Blackie from the grimy exterior of the church it’s housed in. They are in London next week, at the Africa Centre on Tuesday, and the new Bookspace at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday.
But it was the “ chat and rap " sessions with black writers' groups, media groups and women's groups around inner City Liverpool that were the real point of the visit. "We're here to deliver a message," they said. “What we can do, those of us who are awake, is to raise the level of consciousness among our brothers and sisters, to give them confidence. Whether they open the letter and read it is up to them"
In addition to the Chat & Rap sessions and the Performances
There were Exhibitions:-
Open from Tuesday 3rd - Saturday 7th. 11.00 a.m. to midnight
The African National Congress' Private Collection of Paintings and Prints (with thanks to the People's Gallery, who recently premiered the exhibition in London).
'Feeling of 8' - A photographic exhibition by The Liverpool Black Media Group
Wood sculptures by George (Buster) Swabey
'Heroes and Sheroes' - charcoal, pastels and mixed media works by pupils from the University School and Brian Thompson
Mixed media works by John Savage
Photographic and oil pastels by Maud Sulter
Photographic works by Leroy Cooper
Photograph of 'Women in Struggle Quilt' by the Women's Quilt Project - loaned by Ebony
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO STRUGGLE was organised so as to allow both for planned contributions and for contributions which may arise during the programme. Any group or individual wishing to contribute, could contact Judy Bates if they wanted to exhibit works, or Pam Williams/ Sarah Norman if they wanted to perform. And indeed this process which meant that the performers and exhibitors were largely self -selecting
Vegetarian wholefood in Caribbean style was provided by Triplicate, 248 Smithdown Road. A creche was available. Notice in advance, was needed for wheelchair access.
Blessed Are Those Who Struggle was produced and created by Bill Harpe Judy Bates, Gopal Birdy, Janet Hodgson, Sally Morris, Sarah Norman, Wil Savage, Helen Scott and Pamela Williams, with assistance from Marie Agatha, Martin Brems, Adrian Carr, Stephen Doyle, Colette Farrel, Colin Goddard, Miek d'Herripon, David Mabb, Anna Newell, Seto Newman, Joan O'Shea, Rebel Effect, Claudia Rizor, Enrique Sanchez, Jimmy Tagoe, Ronnie Taylor, Dot Thomas, Brian Thompson (poster design), and Jean Whewell.
Blessed are those who struggle was made possible by
- a special promotions grant from the Peter Moores Foundation
-the generosity of artists
- support from Merseyside Arts, Merseyside County Council, Marks & Spencers Charitable Trust, The Joseph Rowntrees Trust, Liverpool City Council
- and by the generosity of the following companies, organisations and individuals: Abike Ajilowura, The Atlantic Towers Hotel, Car Rental Ltd., The Crawford Arts Centre, Eye Ekipo, Bill Harkin, Leyland Paints Ltd., The Littlewood organisation, Liverpool City Council Public Relations unit, Liverpool Cathedral, Merseyside Play Action Council, Runcorn Library, The Shiffren Centre, Street Sounds, T.J.Hughes, The Walker Art Gallery, The City Libraries (William Brown Street), and Jean Whewell.
It is a sad fact of life that we have no photographs of this visit. We did have a video made but the copies were either lost of stolen