Monday, July 23, 2007

Sekou Sundiata, flying onward

I found out about the passing of Sekou Sundiata (August 22, 1948 - July 18, 2007) at the BDC screening of Woodie King, Jr.'s Segregating the Greatest Generation. Curator Michelle Materre shared the news with the audience during the Q&A for the film. In the row ahead of us was an actor who was growing out his hair for a role; people there swore he could have been Sundiata, or at least his twin, but sadly, no.

Sekou Sundiata, as Mark Anthony Neal penned, had truly "gone home." I wish I had heard him read and experienced more of his work, but I'm going to be one of those folks relying on the historical record and memory of others to fill in the gaps. Here's the Academy of American Poets obituary for Sundiata (thanks J.), a J'stheater post on Sundiata which includes video of Sundiata from Def Poetry, one from SWEAT, Louis Reyes Rivera's obituary on ChambaNotes, and The New York Times.

When Materre mourned the absence of footage of Sundiata performing or of interviews, filmmaker Nicole Franklin remembered that she had shot some of his performances for an arts center. So fortunately, that does exist. The other question was one of interviews, and access. When I got home I went into research mode and found a few interviews available online.

One of them moved me deeply, a 2002 NPR interview with Terri Gross in which he reads from his work blessing the boats (the title is taken from the Lucille Clifton poem), and talks about his experience dealing with kidney failure, on which the work was based. He also speaks on his friends' response to his kidney disease, and the subsequent auto accident in which he broke his neck, but was not paralyzed. Another interview focusing on his creative process appears on the KadmusArts webpage, "In Memorium: Sekou Sundiata." has audio of Sundiata reading "The Sound of Memory" from Righteous Babe Records release longstoryshort.

Sekou Sundiata Praise Day
at the Bowery Poetry Club
Saturday, July 28 3-5pm


Gather to praise share further remember forget bring up stories recite poems
perform dreams discover new loves energize yourself continue invent greet
tolerate lie dance

We’ll play Sekou’s CDs and watch his videos, and there will be as many
poems for him as there is room for.

Donations may be made in the name of Sekou Sundiata to the New York Organ
Donor Network or to the National Kidney Foundation.

Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery (Bleecker-Houston)
#6 to Bleecker B,D,F,V to Broadway-Lafayette

The video below is from a performance that aired on Bill Moyers Journal, 20 July 2007 in remembrance of Sundiata.


At 1:05 PM, Anonymous MAPP International said...

A Message from Sekou Sundiata’s family and friends:

When Sekou Sundiata passed away in July 2007 he was in the midst of touring his acclaimed music/theater production, the 51st (dream) state – a work he considered his personal and poetic “State of the American Soul Address.” Sekou’s family, the entire cast of the 51st (dream) state, his artistic collaborators and his producers are committed to carrying on Sekou’s voice and vision by continuing to bring this important and timely work to stages around the country.

The premiere of the re-mounted the 51st (dream) state is coming up in November and we invite you to show your support, help us fill the house, spread the word and join us in Miami as long-time performer & collaborator LaTanya Hall steps into Sekou’s role as "the voice of the poet" backed by an all-star ensemble of singers and musicians.

Performances are being presented by Miami Dade College at The Colony Theater in Miami Beach on Friday & Saturday November 16 and 17 at 8pm. We hope you can make it for this premiere of the re-mounted show! Click here for details.

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