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In Memory of Sekou Sundiata

July 18, 2007, 1:12 pm

Today this blog honors Sekou Sundiata, born Robert Feaster, an African-American poet and spoken-word performance artist. Sekou was born just after World War II and he left this world at 5:30 this morning. I believe he was about 60: he died of natural causes.

A review of his CD, the sound of memory by Salon in 2000 noted that: “Harlem-born poet Sekou Sundiata’s work is grounded in African-American culture, including its music. Sundiata came of age as an artist during the Black Arts/Black Aesthetic movement and his work is informed by the art of the 1960s and 1970s. His work is filled with the sounds of blues, funk, jazz, Afro-Carribean percussion and reference to musicians such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He is a teacher of literature at New York City’s New School University and has inspired the work of artists such as Ani DiFranco and M. Doughty of Soul Coughing.” You can hear an interview with Sekou that originally aired on National Public Radio on November 20, 2002 if you click here. He received multiple fellowships for his work; among other places, he was an artist in residence at Stanford University and Sundance.

Perhaps one of the most memorable performances I have seen in my life was one version of what Sekou called The Talking Book. In this event — the first piece of his work I ever saw — he performed with poets Amiri Baraka, Jessica Hagedorn and Ntozake Shange, blueswoman Nona Hendryx and jazz musician Craig Harris. And at the end of the show, everyone was on stage jamming together. It was breathtaking.

One of his most recent works, blessing the boats, recounted Sekou’s struggle with kidney disease, which led to a kidney transplant in 1999: a reflection on his own mortality, Sekou also took the opportunity to work to publicize the fact that kidney disease is a leading cause of death among black men.

Sekou’s most recent production, the 51st (dream) state reflected on American and global citizenship after 9/11: it was produced, among other places, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the spring of 2006.

Because this post is not authorized by his family, I will not presume to recount the many people who will mourn Sekou, but I can say more generally that he will be very missed by his friends, colleagues, students and many admirers who have lost his humor, genius, artistry, grace and insight.

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