Saul Williams… CHORUS – A Literary Mixtape… a combination of trash, heart, and craft… an anthology in rant!

Saul Williams

Last week we dropped into the QEH on London’s South Bank to experience the latest lyrical venture of master poet / wordsmith Saul Williams and what a night it was. The hall was packed and anticipation high. Our host was a young poet, GREEdS, (Generating Rhymes to Engage the EnlighteneD soul) who whipped up the vibe before dropping a selection of his own works that introduced his Nigerian mother as “an African Bruce Lee”. His incisive and witty urban tales were followed by Inua Ellams, a One Taste regular with 7 books under his belt and one of a hundred poets to have his words featured in Saul’s latest venture – Chorus. Inua’s offerings dealt with “faith in a time of double dip recession” and celebrated urban gardeners and midnight runs. London based Warsan Shire, a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer, stepped up next, took up the spoken word baton and pinned us to our seats with powerful and painful reading that focused on the “art of healing through narrative”.

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Saul Williams stepped onstage to rapturous applause. He explained that Chorus came from an appeal through social media for poems. They arrived in their thousands and with the assistance of his compadres they eventually whittled them down to a thousand and then to one hundred. Saul then enlarged the poems, pasted them to his living room wall and then proceeded to live with them for the next six months in order to organise them as one voice, as if one was a DJ. Titles and names were removed and poetic mix-tape was born (the contributors poems are numbered and are listed in the back of the book  like film credits). Anthemic in vibe, Chorus introduces a new generation of poets unified by the desire to transcend the identity politics of the day and begin to be seen as one. One hundred voices woven through testimony and new testament.

Out of the words that construct this  epic endeavour Saul Williams has selected individual words (all highlighted in the book) to create a meta-poem of his own and it was that which he chose to deliver first  while scattering his notes to the floor. And believe me, when Saul Williams took flight we, the listeners, were whipped along in it’s slipstream, grasping at the essence at the epicentre of a tornado of words that spun through the air.

Saul Williams’ love of hip hop has continually collided with his frustration at the art form’s  inability to meet up with his own vision, go beyond the gangsta-ism, bling and machismo to connect with it’s feminine side … the goddess… with the earth mother. Twice The First Time is revisited…

…. i won’t rhyme on top no tracks
niggas on a chain gang used to do that (Huh) way back

i won’t rhyme over tracks
niggas on a chain gang used to do that (Huh) way back

don’t drop the beat no
don’t drop the beat noooo

not until you’ve listen to Rakim on a rocky mountain top
have you heard hip hop
extract the urban element which created it
and let a open wide country side illustrate it
riding in a freight train
in the freezing rain
listening to Coltrane
my reality went insane….

A borrowed copy of The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop was clutched, briefly referred to, sprayed with spit and finally dropped to ground after an exhausting and exhilarating rant that transported us to a higher realm of consciousness.

I have been a dedicated follower of Saul Williams from Straight No Chaser days… since those early days before his wiry presence filled the big screen in Slam. Whether in ‘Volcanic Sunlight’ or as an ‘Amethyst Rock Star’ he is a man you need on your radar. Saul Williams is a poet, a wordsmith, a ranter possessed with the spirit who trancends time and demands to be listened to. And on this night at the QEH we all listened.

CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape is Edited by Saul Williams with Dufflyn Lammers & Aja Monet. Check it.

About Paul Brad

Freelance journalist / Publisher Editor - Straight No Chaser magazine & From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz: A History Of The UK Jazz dance Scene by Mark 'Snowboy' Cotgrove / Music Fan: Interplanetary Sounds: Ancient to Future / Cultural Event Consultant & Activist / Nei Jia practitioner
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