Hermes, The Blacker Art

Amiri Baraka - "Black Dada Nihilismus (DJ Spooky Mix)." Nothing competes with Baraka's powerful and well-seasoned voice in this minimally-adorned studio mix arranged by Paul D. Miller some three decades after the poem first appeared in the pages of The Dead Lecturer. The dj's principal decision is announced first thing, then drops out for twenty seconds as Baraka establishes his presence with the title and first three stanzas of the poem. The key sonic figure reappears as the second major segment of the poem commences ("The protestant love") and repeats at thirteen second intervals thereafter, accompanied in its decaying cycle by quiet but nimbly-played bass, drum, and cymbal passages. Baraka keeps close to his original lineation, poised between Black Mountain and the soon-to-be-born Black Arts Movement, and he works with special intensity through the "why"-lines following "Plastique, we / do not have..." (circa 1'40"). The fantasy of violence following the fourth invocation of "black dada nihilismus" (circa 2'15") curtly proposes rape and murder for abstract white personages, then turns to more intimate adversaries in one of the most sustained syntactical runs of the poem: "choke my friends / in their bedrooms with their drinks spilling / and restless for tilting hips or dark liver / lips sucking splinters from the master's thigh." The poem packs four more turns into the final minute or so: the disjointed "scream / and chant" passage (at 2'30"), the recollection of what an unnamed "you" told the speaker about a white western culture organized around the trinity of "money, God, power" and committed to genocidal cruelty (at 2'48"), the ranging dedicatory passage (beginning "for tambo" at 3'00"), and the concluding prayer, tucked within an open parenthesis that never closes, to the "lost god damballah," a notional counterforce to the unleashed negativity of the poem's titular specter. The final, echoing, occurrence of the horn figure loops us back to the beginning, lending a sense of unity to this jagged, contradictory, energetic, and enigmatic testament to the process whereby LeRoi Jones became Amiri Baraka.

An online approximation of the poem as it appeared in The Dead Lecturer (New York: Grove, 1964) at Chickenbones. About Offbeat: A Red Hot Sound Trip, the 1996 disk on which this track first appeared. More Baraka on PennSound. The poet's homepage. Modern American Poetry page, including M.L. Rosenthal writing in 1973 on "Black Dada Nihilismus." on Baraka. Pic of DJ Spooky in concert with Baraka, April 2002. For readers of The Wire, the May 2006 "Invisible Jukebox" with William Parker includes a conversation about this track.

Wednesday -- 24 May 2006 -- permalink

The Lipstick of Noise is a product of the Third Factory • Inspired by the music blogs • And by Paul Blackburn's reel-to-reel deck. Intending to make good use of PENNSound and other sources of digital audio files of poetry • Comments welcomeXML.