That was the plan anyway, but instead it was "AMIRI BARAKA: A RETROSPECTIVE," co-sponsored by the University of Kent (well represented by conference organizer Ben Hickman) and The Institute of Contemporary Arts. I'd been planning to go from the first announcement as it would have meant helping to celebrate the approach of Baraka's 80th birthday (would have been this coming October) beginning at the Black Arts conference at U.C. Merced, picking up a month later in London, and then into the home stretch.With Baraka's death I felt even more compelled to join in. I'd known Amiri for over 35 years, and had been reading him even longer. This was just a one day symposium, but it made a good opening for the many symposia and panels to come.
The symposium was also a chance to reconnect with several friends: Jean-Phillipe Marcoux from Canada, Amor Kohli from Chicago, Wei Yan from Wuhan, China. And as rushed as things were, I got to meet some of the British participants, including Colin Still, whose short film of Baraka reading poetry while Craig Harris improvised an accompaniment was screened at the evening program. Jean-Phillipe and I were a two person panel on Baraka and music. Jean-Phillipe spoke on ideophones and jazz vocalisms. My paper was another section of my growing work on Baraka's recordings. At the first session, on poetry, Ian Brinton did the important work of introducing Yugen and Floating Bear to an audience who mostly had never seen copies of those publications before. Paul Gilroy delivered a keynote which detoured through Obama's foreign policy for a while before getting back to Baraka. That night, following Colin's stunning film, there was a poetry reading, culminating in a now rare appearance from Linton Kwesi Johnson, who spent much of his time sharing emotional memories of his contacts with Baraka over the years.
[additional photos by Anna Everett and Wei Yan]