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Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone

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Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone
Photograph by Joyce Jones
Throughout her life with her legendary husband Amiri Baraka, Amina Baraka has never received quite the same degree of recognition as he did and the field probably only became more levelled with the appearance of her work in many anthologies of revolutionary American poetry. the publication of her first collection of poems Blues in All Hues (2014) seems to have cemented that reputation. Still, Amina Baraka has been a voice no less fiery and lyrical than Amiri Baraka and the eloquent recitations of her work throughout her literary career has been marked by many a memorable performance. Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone will surely build on this reputation.

The poetry of Amina Baraka is nothing if not marked by her embrace of the visceral splendour of life in all its naked humanity and the recitation of it behind this quartet of two saxophones, bass and drums (with the occasional introduction of piano) is the very personification of vibrancy. Still, nothing can prepare you for the dramatic intensity of verse that is both lyrical and didactic, and despite pouring vitriol on the Fascist elements of American society it is completely bereft of posturing. The two saxophones not only sound the battle charge along with the roar of the electric bass to create the provocative atmosphere of “Time Step” and “The Fascist”, the bookends of this album. However, between those two theatrical recitations there is much subtlety, refined naturalness of delivery and even a soft, exquisite simplicity of line and poetry. “The Spirit of Billy Bang” and “The Things I Love” are exquisite examples of Amina Baraka’s verse.

The latter poem “The Things I Love” is an epic ballad of the African-American woman unfolding with velvet ease with lightly worn sophistication. Three other ballads: “Jayne Cortez”, “Afro American Child” and “For Margaret Walker Alexander” pay tribute to significant artists, while “Afro American Child” ponders the desolate landscape into which new life appears not only for the child born to a black mother. But its Jazz lyric is also a glorious intimation of the birth and rebirth of the Blues People from the earliest Blues shouters to the contemporary Jazz child. It is also a sensuous rallying call for the real African American Woman as opposed to the one glorified in todat’s hip-hop culture. With “Real Dreams” and “Talking Drum” Amina Baraka joins the continuum of African griots who have existed since language and speech was first used to tell of Human History as it evolved from its beginnings in the womb of Mother Africa. It is here, more than anywhere else on this record, that we experience the immaculate sound world of Amina Baraka.

Track list – 1: Time Step; 2: The Spirit of Billy Bang; 3: The Things I Love; 4: Jayne Cortez; 5: Afro American Child; 6: For Margaret Walker Alexander; 7: Real Dreams; 8: Talking Drum; 9: The Fascist

Personnel – Amina Baraka: words, lead vocals with the Red Microphone: Ras Moshe Burnett: tenor saxophone, flute and percussion; Rocco John Iacovone: curved soprano saxophone, alto saxophone and piano; John Pietaro: musical direction, drums and percussion; Laurie Towers: bass guitar; ‘amen’ chorus on “Talking Drum”: Ras, Rocco and John

Released – 2017
Label – ESP Disk
Runtime – 1:10:58

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