The Shrine’s on Malcom X blvd in the heart of Harlem. Umar Bin Hassan is sat on the island in the middle of the boulevard with Natasha “Lemn come sit here man” he says in his gravel voice “this is where we used to sit back in the day – we were the princes of harlem”. A black cadillac slows down and the window slips “Hey Umar I’m coming tonight” says the driver then he slopes off. Abiodun appears through the sunshine across the road and we head into The shrine. They tell stories about Gil Scott Heron then we rehearse the evening’s performance. The afternoon sun fades away. I walk back to my hotel and sleep. I’m deeply nervous for this to work.
Come 9pm I’m back. The Shrine’s busy. Francoise the booker is happy. I walk onto stage “ladies and gentlemen spirits and souls welcome to The Shrine at nine”. I read two poems. It’s my first ever reading in New York. I riff on the subject of time, on how the past doesn’t disappear but is celebrated within the present, within us, that we are time machines and that this is what Langston Hughes meant when he talked of Rivers. It’s what Toni Morrison explored in Beloved.
All three men walk onto stage and deliver a truly blistering wondrous performance. They tear up the Shrine. “When The Revolution Comes” scores the bleating heart. Umar Bin Hassan scaled the heights of “Related to What” and “This is Madness” ripped up the earth of Harlem and raised it’s spirits then screamed against the machine. The room sweltered with soul storms. Babatunde steadied the ship as it tacked. Everyone felt it. The rush. Shrine by name shrine by nature.
The director James Jessett had seven cameras filming the gig. Seven. Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole and Babatunde – The Last Poets – walked off stage coated in sweat. “Lemn” Francoise the booker whispered from the bar in his heavy french accent “the spirits are here tonight – Look”. The next performer was an Ethiopian singer called Ruth who had supported Teddy Afro the week earlier. As the Ethiopian music filled the air I smiled. At midnight I made my way back to the hotel. All this and more will be broadcast as five short films on Channel Four’s Random Acts with Tigerlilly Films. The shot above is of Dami Darkling and the great Jonzi D.