Alibi V.19 No.44 • Nov 4-10, 2010 

Music to Your Ears

Diction and Contra Diction

Amiri Baraka
Amiri Baraka

For a country defined by freedom of speech, America can be alarmingly intolerant when people express themselves. Amiri Baraka knows this firsthand. Over half a century, the award-winning poet, playwright, music critic, political activist and Black Arts Movement founder has stirred controversy and incited criticism for his work. In 2002, for instance, Baraka was named poet laureate of New Jersey and published the poem "Somebody Blew Up America." The poem deals with 9/11, racism and classism. The first stanza, with preface, reads:

(All thinking people
oppose terrorism
both domestic
& international…
But one should not
be used
To cover the other)

They say its some terrorist, some
A Rab, in
It wasn't our American terrorists
It wasn't the Klan or the Skin heads
Or the them that blows up nigger
Churches, or reincarnates us on Death Row
It wasn't Trent Lott
Or David Duke or Giuliani
Or Schundler, Helms retiring

The poem (read in full here) embroiled Baraka in a battle with New Jersey's governor, and some called for his resignation as the state's poet laureate. Since the beginning of his career, Baraka—a Marxist who believes that capitalism has doomed the world to hardships and war—has used his work to harshly criticize U.S. politics.

“It’s Nation Time”
"The threat of Republican takeover is the biggest challenge [to art]," Baraka tells the Alibi over the phone. "I think the people who elected Obama have gotten a little passive in that they thought it was more important to criticize him than to criticize his enemies who were our enemies before he was even president—you know the right wing, the tea party types and the backward Republicans."

Cecil Taylor piano solo
Baraka is a former columnist for DownBeat magazine and the author of dozens of books such as Black Music and Blues People: Negro Music in White America (both published under the name LeRoi Jones). His poetry performances are often accompanied by live music. He says, "It makes it more emphatic, it provides a kind of grounding for the words."

On Saturday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m., Albuquerque audiences can learn more about the warrior poet as Amiri Baraka performs at the KiMo Theatre (423 Central NW) with legendary pianist and composer Cecil Taylor. The program Diction and Contra Diction is the keynote performance of SHOUT-OUT: A Festival the Rhythm & Rhyme, which is part of the ongoing series STREET ARTS: A Celebration of Hip Hop Culture & Free Expression. The show is accented by New Mexico's own poet luminaries: Opening is Idris Goodwin, with art projections by Chaz Bojorquez. Poet Hakim Bellamy emcees and one-man beat box Zack Freeman provides pre- and post-show performances. Tickets are $10 (students) to $27 and are available at the KiMo box office, Ticketmaster outlets and the Outpost Performance Space (268-0044). For more on this event and STREET ARTS, visit