Spoken Soul

"You hear poetry in these commercials on television, and it's almost like the kiss of death," chuckles poet Sekou Sundiata, referring to the TV spots featuring Star Trek's William Shatner singing the praises of Priceline.com in full beatnik mode. "How far can the end be?" Although Sundiata can giggle about the commercialization of his art, he ruefully acknowledges there's a slim chance the spoken-word trend will last beyond the next big thing that is picked up and inflamed by the media. "[The commercialization] reduces the art of it to a product, and you know what happens to products in our consumer culture? You get tired of them."

Such sentiments thankfully do little to deter the New York-based Sundiata, who declines to call himself a performance poet, preferring instead the term ritual poet, because he actually crafts words and writes them down formally. "I think of myself as being connected to the very first poets who were rooted in drama, dance, chant, magic, and costume," he explains. "The only difference is my drama, dance, and chant take place on the stage."

Whatever you want to call him, Sundiata will be, er, performing onstage along with his back-up band this Saturday at Miami-Dade Community College's North Campus. In his graceful staccato style, against a backdrop of jazz, funk, or soul sounds, he'll regale the audience with tales of life as a black man in America, political rants about rampant violence, and odes to the fragility of one's self in love, carrying on the tradition begun in the Sixties by other lyrical types such as Amiri Baraka and Gil Scott-Heron.

Those who wish Sundiata's words to resonate for more than just a brief concert appearance can check out the poet's two albums: 1997's lush The Blue Oneness of Dreams on the now-defunct Mouth Almighty/Mercury label, and this year's edgy and spare longstoryshort, released on the Righteous Babe record label run by his onetime student Ani DiFranco. The prolific wordsmith also writes plays for the stage, works for the silver screen, and teaches at the college level, but when talk turns to attaining some degree of immortality Sundiata knows well it's his role as a poet that is most meaningful. "There's something about poetry that is stubborn, that just does not want to be squeezed into a fifteen-second spot on television and does not always want to have a dance beat behind it," Sundiata notes. "Poetry endures."