Tag Archives: Brother Ah

A Guide to Spoken Word on Bandcamp

Tanesha-the-Wordsmith-1244

Tanesha the Wordsmith

In May 2018, The Last Poets celebrated their 50th year with a new LP, Understand What Black Is. Back in the late ’60s, the group used politically charged raps and militant rhythms to raise black consciousness and spread awareness throughout Harlem, Manhattan. At the same time, in a different part of the city, Gil Scott-Heron was using his own barbed verse to attack consumer culture, mass media, and systemic racism, setting spoken word poetry to steady-boiling free jazz. And while spoken word verse had been around for centuries—think back to the storytelling of 13th century griots in the Mandé Empire of Mali, West Africa, or even further back to the original wordsmiths of Ancient Greece—Heron and the Last Poets were among the first to see its value as a popular art form, and a way to comment on the turbulent world around them.

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The Rich, Meditative Essence of Brother Ah

Brother Ah

When Brother Ah comes to the door, he extends one hand to shake and carries an autoharp in his other. “C’mon in,” he says, smiling broadly. He is remarkably spry for an octogenarian, eager to explain the ritual he was engaged in. “I was just playing to the plants.”

We’re at his house in Takoma Park, a largely residential neighborhood in the northwest corner of Washington, D.C. There are several potted houseplants in a sunny alcove of his living room; he says he can tell when they respond to the sounds he makes every day. He later tells me he also plays for animals and insects, often during early mornings in the forests of Rock Creek Park a mile to the east. He’s also played for his late dog, or for the robins which took up residence above his front door. Brother Ah plays to connect with, amplify, or complement the naturally-occurring frequencies found in nature, and for his own meditation, circulation and self-healing.

“People feel as though they’re superior, or separate,” he says. “We think we’re the only ones with a higher consciousness. We have to realize that we don’t have the intuitive understanding of many of the other aspects of nature. They’re far ahead of us.”

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