All depends on the skin.

All depends on the skin you’re living in.

All depends on the skin.

Sekou Sundiata: 1948 — 2007

July 21, 2007 — NEW YORK

Sekou Sundiata, a poet and performance artist whose work explored slavery, subjugation, and the tension between personal and national identity, especially as they inform the black experience in America, died Wednesday in Valhalla, N.Y. He was 58 and lived in Brooklyn.

The cause was heart failure, said his producer, Ann Rosenthal. At his death, Mr. Sundiata was a professor in the writing program of Eugene Lang College of New School University.

Mr. Sundiata’s art, which defied easy classification, ranged from poems performed in the style of an oral epic to musical, dance and dramatic works infused with jazz, blues, funk, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. In general, as he once said in a television interview, it entailed “the whole idea of text and noise, cadences and pauses.”

His work was performed widely throughout the United States and abroad, staged by distinguished organizations like the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Spoleto Festival U.S.A.

Among Mr. Sundiata’s most recent works was “the 51st (dream) state,” an interlaced tapestry of poetry, music, dance, and videotaped interviews that explores what it means to be an American in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Mr. Sundiata was born Robert Franklin Feaster in Harlem on Aug. 22, 1948; he adopted the African name Sekou Sundiata in the late 1960s. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from City College of New York in 1972 and a master’s degree in creative writing from the City University of New York in 1979.

Mr. Sundiata, who performed with the folk rock artist Ani DiFranco as part of her “Rhythm and News” tour in 2001, released several CDs of music and poetry, including “The Blue Oneness of Dreams” and “longstoryshort.” His work was also featured on television, on the HBO series “Def Poetry” and the PBS series “The Language of Life.”

© 2007, Chicago Tribune

Here is Sundiata’s page at the Academy of American Poets:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5809

And here is the poet performing his “Bring On the Reparations”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWhnZPeW644

This is an NPR interview with the poet:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4561097

And, finally, Bill Moyers’ blog has a great clip of Sundiata performing:

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/blog/2007/07/remembering_sekou_sundiata.html

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  1. Anonymous

    a quick Sekou Sundiata story… In 2000, I took six students from Michigan to the Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey. We were then in the third year of a youth performance poetry program we’d started out of a teen center in Ann Arbor, but we had no official name for our group. On our way to the festival, we made it a goal that we would figure out a new name for the program, but we were having little success. We brainstored for hours and were getting nowhere. Our front runner was The Scruffy Vandal Poets, a name I didn’t think was likely to attract a lot of grant money. That year as well, in an effort to attract more young people to Dodge and to the art of poetry in general, the festival organizers had asked Sekou if he could recommend a hip hop artist with strong poetic sensibilities that they could invite to the festival. Sekou suggested a group called The Roots, a band with a signature album called “Things Fall Apart,” which, of course, was inspired by Chinua Achebe, who was going to be a guest of honor at the festival that year. When The Roots performed on the main stage, they performed loudly and young people at the festival loved it, ran down to the front of the stage and danced and head-bobbed, etc. Older more sedate folks, however, did not feel nearly as appreciative, and hundreds of them literally ran from the main tent with their hands covering their ears. The next day, my students and I attended a panel discussion where Sekou was one of thespeakers and somebody asked him what he thought about what had happened when The Roots performed the previous evening. In his typical thoughtful, gentle, yet uncompromising manner, he explained that, in fact, some of the older people were supposed to run from the tent, that a big purpose of hip hop is to rattle the complaceny of people and to let them know that there are people whose voices are often silenced who exist, who suffer, and who will no longer allow their struggles to be ignored. In many ways, he went on to say, “the volume is the message.” When he said that, I looked at my students and they all nodded. We had our name. 7 years later, The VOLUME Youth Poetry Project (the recipient of lots ooof grant money) has worked with thousands of students to help them find their voices as writers and Sekou was a great friend to our program. In fact, this past Janurary, in the midst of his 51st Dream State tour, he held a special two-hour workshop at our teen center where he shared his wisdom and generous spirit with our current students. So big ups to Sekou, a ground-breaking writer and performer who liked nothing more than to inspire young people and to share his art with the world. Best – Jeff Kass