Christine Otten is a Dutch writer and several years ago she published a narrative non-fiction biography about the seminal hip hop group The Last Poets. Christine along with Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodum Oyewole and Baba Donn Babtunde are making a welcome return to the Edinburgh International Book Festival after appearing last year, where they discussed Christine’s biography. The band are celebrating 50 years together and have released a new album Understand What Black Is to celebrate this anniversary. The event tonight starts with a reading from Christine. She eloquently delivers an extract from her biography and reads a section in which Last Poet Umar is looking to get the band back together. Umar heard his voice sampled on A Tribe Called Quest song and wants recognition for his influence on the current crop of Hip Hop artists. After Christine finishes her reading The Last Poets take centre stage.
The Last Poets are here this evening to play tracks from their latest album and also some classic songs for good measure. They begin with a call and response song called The Pledge. Staring with some audience participation works incredibly well and gets the crowd on their side. After 50 years as a band Umar Bin Hassan states that “it is amazing that we have been able to maintain this.” The three members of The Last Poets look delighted to be back in Edinburgh and after 50 years, they have lost none of their passion, intensity and integrity.
When The Revolution Comes from their first album fully showcases just how inspirational and important the band are in the history of spoken word and performance poetry. Lyrically the topics they highlight seem just as relevant today, and the delivery is infused with the same structure and format that many contemporary poets look to employ in their readings. The band follow the classic tune with Certain Images from their latest record. This features the refrain “honesty, justice, freedom” and the themes and content of the work is obvious in the expressive and emotive words.
The title track from Understand What Black Is is well also received with the hushed backing vocals and tight percussion adding to the enjoyment of the track. The Last Poets leave the stage to a standing ovation and let the audience know that they have enjoyed their time in Scotland. After 50 years they still make important work and are the perfect example of the marriage of poetry and music.