Mami Watu & Avery Young – Prodigal Child
It was while serving on the panel: Pot Calling Kettle Black – Heterosexism in Homo-Hop, at the 2009 Fire & Ink 3 Festival for GLBT Writers of African Descent, that these two poets came together to answer questions about the present & future of Hiphop. Is homo-hop at its core supporting or combating homophobia, misogyny and violence through its music? Is it the responsibility of the homo-hop artist to be more socially conscious? Should homo-hop be considered a separate genre? Were but some of the issues tackled by panel & audience members.
When the smoke cleared, and all was said and done, one thing was crystal clear for poets Mami Watu and Avery R. Young, and that was that as Black writers in the Life, and as Hiphoppas, only we, as practitioners can define what Hiphop is for ourselves. Neither the mainstream media nor a homophobic/hiphopophobic society can define this cultural expression for us.
Riding the Hiphop beat, through tracks produced by Michael Troy Downing and laced with gospel, funk and jazz riffs, Prodigal brings everybody into the Hiphop Upper Room. It is a chance for the audience to experience ‘the Kultcha’ as a continuum, from weathered poets who have drunk from the cup of the Black Arts Movement and are more than willing to partake in this lyrical ritual of healing and homecoming.
Prodigal Child welcomes Hiphop home, and celebrates it, in the context of cultural Come-Unity. Using the sparse, lyrical form of Hiphop h.a.i.k.u. (higher awareness is kept underground), poets Mami Watu & Avery R. Young use the 3 line/17 syllable structure to paint word-murals that leave lasting impressions. Haiku punch-lines that say, we are in this Life, in this Village. We are Hiphop and we are home.
Avery R. Young – Bio
avery r. young has been a staple in the spoken word community since 1996. His style of writing, singing and performance is labeled “Sunday Mornin’ Jook-Joint.” His blend of spoken word, song, jazz, gospel and chant distinguishes him from any other performance artist on the scene today.
avery has traveled throughout the country and internationally performing with the likes of; Gwendolyn Brooks, Roy Ayers, Mos Def, Les Nubians, Sharon Bridgforth, Staceyann Chin, Jill Scott, Ugochi, Billy Branch, amongst others.
His work as a teaching artist and mentor for schools and community organizations has made him not only an artist but also advocate for such social dilemmas like HIV, domestic violence and education reform.
avery has appeared and work has been featured at The Museum of Contemporary Art, House of Blues, BET, WGN Morning News, MTV, VH1, Kevin’s Room 2, The Hip Hop Theatre Festival, Dance Africa, Lalapollza, Wordstock, A New World Reveal-A-Solution, Denizen Kane, New Skool Poetics, World Can’t Wait and Taste of Chicago.
He edited Abstractvision and is a columnist for Say What Magazine. His also has been featured in Today’s Black Woman, Make Magazine, Teaching Artist Journal and Blacklist.
He is the creator and choreographer of his one man show, me n em: cullud boi schitz. He is the author or lookin fo/words that rhyme: the un- spoken word of avery r. young (FayeRic) and is currently working on an album of original music and performing with his band The Urban Griot Movement.
Mami Watu – Bio
“I remember writing my first serious poem when I was in the sixth class. I was protesting against the school’s curriculum, which I felt didn’t honestly represent Black people or Native Americans. Many people were leading such protests at that time in schools and on college campuses all over the United States. In my area, Philadelphia, now imprisoned journalist and writer, Mumia Abu Jamaal was leading similar protests. I also remember my parents being very upset with me at the time because of my political activity. They felt they were sending me to school to get a good education, not to challenge the system. I felt I had the obligation to do both.”
Attending college at the historically Black, Florida A&M University, and later, at the urban Los Angeles Southwest Community College resulted in Mami Watu being grounded in both education and business. This helped to prepare her for a position which would lead to her own career as a performing artist; she began by managing the Jazzpoetry ensemble “Wordsong”, featuring saxophonist Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq and Black Arts Movement writers Robert Earl Price, Malkia M’Buzi and Askia M. Toure.
“I learned so much during my tenure with Wordsong. Such as finding my voice as a poet, layering my poetry between Jazz and Funk harmonies and discovering the vocabulary to tell my story as a Black Woman. I learned how to work, as a poet, with music and musicians. They taught me how to listen and how to make myself heard. Poet and playwright, Robert Earl Price once said that my voice is as mellifluous as a Miles Davis solo. What an honor! I do strive to write and read my poetry in between the spaces, the way Miles plays. The meanings of my poems are in between the lines, where all the mysteries are. I try to make people think, and feel.”
In 1992, Mami Watu, whose Bantu name means “Mother of the Water”, crossed the ocean and continued her creative journey in Berlin, Germany. She remained there for eleven years working as an artist, and as a cultural activist, also working with migrant women and children in Erfurt, Germany.
“While living and working in Germany as a poet and an activist, I met people who had migrated there from all over the world. They had migrated from Eastern Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia. Everyone had a story to tell and more than a pocketful of pain and memories. Many were scarred deeply by war, trauma and efforts to assimilate. But always helping to heal those scars and close some of those wounds were the artists. I have worked with some of the most formidable Jazz, Funk and Contemporary artists living in or near Germany. Artists such as the late Jay Oliver, fellow Black Arts poet Anthony Baggette, Cuban dancer Joaquin LaHabana, U.S. musicians Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq, Kenny Martin and vocalist Siggy Davis, Philippines born pianist Carolyn del Rosario, and from Poland, bassist Stan Michalak and composer/pianist Yolanda Wesolowska.”
In 2003 Mami Watu returned to the United States, where in 2008 she published a book of haiku poetry with accompanying CD, based on the themes of Hiphop culture. She also wrote original Hiphop haiku for collaborative pieces with choreographers Raphael Xavier, Emiko Sugiyama, and Chicago poet/playwright Avery R. Young.
“I am always looking for the next adventure! Poetry, for me, is motion and movement. It’s about my growth as a human being and my ability to share my human story with others. The world is a big village. And every village needs a griot, the one who holds the memories and tells the stories of the people.
Well, I am that griot, and these poems are our stories.”