Late at the Library: Superjam – 50 Years of Radical Words

The Last Poets

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Featuring The Last Poets and Michael Horovitz with Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and guests

This extraordinary session features some of the most outspoken voices of the last six decades in an unflinching celebration of the power of words and ideas.

Marking 50 years since they were formed in New York in May 1968, The Last Poets remain an incendiary live act. Fluid, politically charged and mischievous lyrics from Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan meet the inventive drum rhythms of Baba Donn Babatunde to intoxicating effect.

Jazz poet Michael Horovitz has been performing, writing, publishing and re-consitituting the literary applecart since the late 1950s. His appearance at the International Poetry Incarnation in 1965 alongside Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti remains landmark counter-cultural moment. For this event he re-ignites his Bankbusted Nuclear Detergent Blues project, recorded in 2014 with Paul Weller and tonight’s guest musicians Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon.

Also appearing are more of our finest wordsmiths and performers including Zena Edwards, Kat Francois, Salena Godden, Ben Okri, Joelle Taylor and Vanessa Vie.

DJ on the night is Don Letts, film maker and BBC6 Music host.

Doors open at 7.30. First act on stage 8.15pm

This is a standing event.


The Last Poets formed 50 years ago on 19 May 1968 at an event in East Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, NY to commemorate Malcolm X’s birthday. This influential group of spoken word artists, poets and commentators now make a glorious and relevant return with their first album in over 20 years, ‘Understand What Black Is’, ten tracks that speak of a revolutionary struggle defined by both race and identity, that has never sounded more relevant.

Since the initial line-up of Dahveed Nelson, Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano formed The Last Poets have produced under various guises over the subsequent years. However, it was their seminal output, namely 1970’s ‘The Last Poets’ under both Umar bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole that secured their legacy, becoming one of the most important influences in early hip hop.

Throughout the last 20 years, the band have remained largely on hiatus. But their influence could still be felt with their tracks being sampled by The Notorious B.I.G, NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, Dr.Dre and Snoop Dogg. Umar has recorded various solo albums and featured on Common and Kanye West’s Grammy Nominated ‘The Corner’. Abiodun appeared on the Red Hot Organization’s album, Stolen Moments which was named “Album of the Year” by Time. He also conducts weekly open house poetry readings, where he constructively critiques upcoming poets, helping to nurture them. He has also conducted classes at Columbia University, where he teaches creative writing. The inauguration of Donald Trump as US President in 2016 inspired Hassan and Oyewole to resurrect the group to create a brand new record, modern and edgy, and deeply relevant and reflective of our times.

Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon are members of the band Blur, and known for their many individual music projects.

Zena Edwards is a writer, performance poet, singer, radical arts educator and creative director of Verse in Dialog – an arts and public engagement organisation dedicated to championing the arts for positive change. Raised in Tottenham, North London, Zena Edwards has become known as one the most unique voices of performance poetry to come out of London. Zena has with choreographer and dancer Akram Khan, visual artist Theaster Gates and radical Film Maker Fahim Alam and performed worldwide. Her music collaborations include The Last Poets, Femi Temowo, Soweto Kinch, Baba Maal and Pops Mohamed. Her poems articles and blogs for social and environmental issues, race and power are published in Open Democracy, Dance the Guns to Silence in Commemoration The Ogoni 9, Platform London and Loose Muse, New Writing for Women.

Kat Francois is a performance artist, broadcaster, playwright and director. The first person to win a televised poetry slam in the UK, a year later she won the World Slam Championships. As a playwright, Kat has written and performed two internationally staged solo plays, and two comedy shows. Raising Lazarus, Kat’s play dealing with the experiences of Caribbean soldiers in World War One, continues to tour globally to critical acclaim as part of the WW1 centenary and featured at Imperial War Museum. Kat has worked with young people for many years, as a youth worker, PHSE Facilitator, also teaching dance, drama, poetry and performance skills. She is an established playwright and director of youth theatre, devising plays for theatres including Theatre Royal Stratford East, Roundhouse Camden, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. Kat appears on BBC radio’s Front Row and Woman’s Hour, and runs her own young person’s poetry collective “Mangoes and Mustard.”

Salena Godden is one of Britain’s foremost spoken word artists and poets whose electrifying live performances and BBC radio broadcasts have earned her a devoted following. She is the author of the collections, Under The Pier, Fishing in the Aftermath: Poems 1994-2014, and the literary memoir Springfield Road.  Her live spoken word album LIVEwire was released with indie spoken word label Nymphs and Thugs and shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry 2017. A collection of new poetry 'Pessimism Is For Lightweights' by Salena Godden will be published by Rough Trade Books in June 2018.

Michael Horovitz (OBE) is the youngest of ten children who were transplanted from Frankfurt to London in 1937, when he was 3. A pioneer of oral verse, New Departures editor and Poetry Olympics torchbearer, he was dubbed a ‘Popular, experienced, experimental, New Jerusalem, Jazz Generation, Sensitive Bard’ by his friend Allen Ginsberg. His 40 books include Wordsounds & Sightlines and A New Waste Land: Timeship Earth at Nillennium, which D J Taylor described on choosing it his Book of the Year 2007 in The Independent as “A deeply felt clarion-call from the radical underground.” Michael now fronts the William Blake Klezmatrix band, which performs, among other things, the Nigunim and songs that filled his head from synagogue and Shabbat tables till he left home for Oxford in 1954.

Don Letts is an artist, documentary maker and DJ who has been firmly established in both the film and music worlds since the late 70's .His work has been exhibited in The Kitchen N.Y.C, The ICA and Brooklyn’s BAM. He turned a whole generation of punks onto reggae while DJ at 'The Roxy' in 1977, and time that led to his first film 'The Punk Rock Movie' with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and many others. He directed over 300 music videos for artists ranging from Public Image to Bob Marley, and then documentaries on Gil Scot-Heron, The Jam, Sun Ra, The Clash, George Clinton and Paul McCartney. Feature films include the legendary Jamaican movie ‘Dancehall Queen’. Don was also the subject of the documentary film ‘Superstonic Sound: The Rebel Dread’ in 2010. He currently presents a weekly radio show on BBC 6 Music called 'Culture Clash Radio' and still DJs nationally and internationally.

Ben Okri is a poet and novelist and has published many books including The Famished Road which won the Booker Prize, and The Age of Magic. He has written several poetry collections, including An African Elegy, Mental Flight and Wild, and has just published an anthology of political poetry – Rise Like Lions: Poetry for the Many. His work has been translated into 27 languages and won numerous international prizes. Born in Nigeria, he lives in London.

Joelle Taylor is an award-winning poet, performer, playwright, educator and author. A former UK slam champion, Joelle is founder and Artistic Director of the national youth slam championships SLAMbassadors. She is the host of Out-Spoken, London’s premier poetry and music night. Her collection Songs My Enemy Taught Me was inspired by workshops with vulnerable women across the UK, and The Woman Who Was Not There was named as one of the UK’s top ten recommended collections in the Morning Star, and was described by Benjamin Zephaniah as ‘poetry with purpose’. Her collection of short stories The Night Alphabet is due in 2019.

Vanessa Vie was born in Asturias, Northern Spain and her move to London in 2000 was inspired by reading William Blake’s Jerusalem. She has been collaborating with her muse Michael Horovitz since 2012. The duo is currently recording Lyrical Soulmates Unanimous, a CD and booklet of original song, music, poetry and wordsound improvisations, also featuring celebrated jazz pianist Peter Lemer of Paraphernalia fame. Vanessa’s poems have been published in small magazines, pamphlets and anthologies. She has also been part of the rock bands Ithaca and Rockatron and collaborated with musicians, poets and artists.

This is a standing event.

Look out for a pre-show event in the Piazza Pavilion with Ben Okri presenting his new political anthology Rise Like LionsClick here to see The Last Poets in Conversation on Thursday 17 May

In association with Gearbox Records and Apples and Snakes, with the support of the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library

Part of a short series of events inspired by the protest movements of 1968.


Name: Late at the Library: Superjam – 50 Years of Radical Words
Where: Entrance Hall
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Show Map      How to get to the Library
When: -
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546