The Godfather: Interview With The Legendary Spoken Word Artist Ngoma

"His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; ... His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; .. He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength."

My first visit to the Nuyorican Poets Café was a life changing event. I am sure that many poets consider the Nuyorican to be the Yankee Stadium of the spoken word arena. Not only was I about to visit this historical café, but I was about to witness a legend at work, the Babe Ruth of poetry. It was an experience that would forever alter my artistic path.

The Nuyorican was packed that night. The crowd was filled with beautiful people making meaningful impressions on my psyche. The hostess announced a break in the slam competition as tonight’s feature took the stage, Ngoma. What a performance! I never knew how impactful the song of words could be. The audience stood enchanted by his use of metaphor and prose, the Sermon on the Mount is for real! All I could think about during my train ride back home was the hook to one of his poems. “This is not a dress rehearsal!” I was born-again. I was saved.

The following week, I kept thinking to myself how I wanted to visit more poetry venues. Not only the beatnik outfits, but the soul spots that I had heard so much about. Lifting my eyes across the street, I could see an older man walking towards me with long locks of wisdom, like the poet that I had seen on stage three days ago. It was him. It was Ngoma. I don’t know if I could approach this dude? He’s a celebrity or something! It was at this time that I reflected on the content of his poem, and remembered that he is an Elder in the community.

You should have seen the expression on his face as I complemented him on his performance. He gave me a list of venues off the top of his head that I could attend. I became a disciple of the spoken word and dedicated myself to the path of poetry. Since this time I have witnessed this poetic god walk on water. Ngoma has healed the sick and given sight to the blind. His activities as an activist, artist, and mentor have changed the lives of thousands of people in the world far and wide.

Although Ngoma sits on top of legendary status, he is still the type of brother that will sit down and have a cup of tea with you. It has been some time since I last saw the general of the ghetto war soldiers. We reconnected recently, first on Facebook, and later in person. I thought you would like to listen to the Wise One, as he returns with his masterpiece Poetry from A Smartphone.

An inside look at The Legendary Godfather of Spoken Word- Ngoma

Warlock Asylum: It is a blessing to have an Elder in the community, such as yourself. For some of our subscribers who might not be familiar with the name Ngoma, how do you describe yourself?

Ngoma: Ngoma is a kiswahili name. Its’ meaning is music or drum. It also is a term for shaman (a european term) or the (misnomer) bush doctor. The name was given to me as an attribute by Amiri Baraka

Warlock Asylum: After meeting up the other day I must say that it was an amazing experience just listening to some of the history that you lived. When did you first begin writing poetry and what was going in your life that inspired you to do so?

Ngoma: I wrote my first poem in Vietnam where I served for a year as an infantryman in the U.S. Army.The poem was a declaration and a vow that if I survived the experience I would use my skills to raise consciousness and do work to uplift my people. The Vietnam experience shifted my paradigm. I was fortunate to have friends here in the states (who majored in history, political science and sociology)that would send me books and radical periodicals that gave me a better understanding and perspective of what has been and is still going on.

Warlock Asylum: The era that you started writing poetry was also the time period where other noted legends were putting a lot of work in. Among these are Amiri Baraka, Felipe Luciano, and many others. What was your relationship with some of these artists at the time?

Ngoma: I returned home at the beginning of what was coined as “The Black Power Movement” Upon my return I was introduced to the work of Amiri Baraka,The Original Last Poets(Gylan Caine,Felipe Luciano & David Nelson), Sonia Sanchez, Don L. Lee (now known as Haki Madhabuti), Carolyn Rogers and Askia Muhammad Toure. These artist were the influences for my work. In the early ’70′s I was a member of Amiri Baraka’s organization-The Committee For A Unified New Ark-where I was a member of his theater group “The Spirit House Movers and Players”. During this time I was also fortunate enough to meet,attend lectures and have discussions with the likes of the previously mentioned as well as Dr. Ben Jochanan, C.L.R James,Maulana Karenga, Kwame Toure a.k.a Stokely Carmichael, Dr. John Henrik Clark and Harry Haywood, to name a few.

Warlock Asylum:  Aside from your work as an artist, you have contributed much towards the development of the Black community, Civil Rights, Human Rights, and the social equality of all people. If you don’t mind, and with all due respect, I am going to list certain time periods and maybe you can share some of the activities that you were engaged in during these years:

a. Late 1960′s to 1975?

Ngoma: I’m from Richmond ,VA. I came of age in the Black Belt South before integration. My father was a plaintiff in the Brown vs. Board of Education Suit. As a High School Senior, I was a member of the NAACP and participated in the sit in’s and demonstrations in Richmond and also in Petersburg,Va as a student at Va. State University where I majored in instrumental music education. My entre into political art was a role as folk singer in the drama club production of the play “In White America”. Upon leaving school I was drafted and served in the U.S Army in ’68’9. When I returned, I moved to Newark, N.J where I was a member of the Committee For a Unified Newark and it’s national organization, The Congress of Afrikan People. I also taught music and art in the Afrikan Free School.

b 1975 to 1979?  

Ngoma: In ’74 I left Newark and returned to Richmond where I worked at General Electric assembling Industrial Computers and trying to organize a union. I also continued to do political work i.e. we organized the first African Liberation Day Event. I also continued to develop my craft as a musician and poet and was fortunate enough to record two poems on the album – Juju Chapter II-Nia on the independent artist cooperative label “Strata East with James “Plunky”Branch and his band “Juju” 

c. 1980′s to the Present?

Ngoma: In late’79 I moved to New York and along with my ex-wife Jaribu Hill formed the Contemporary Freedom Song Duo “Serious Bizness: We recorded 2 albums on the Folkways Label(Serious Bizness:For Your Immediate Attention and Serious Bizness:How Many More) owned by the great archivist Moses Asch, which are now part of the Smithsonian Collection, and also released one album (Serious Bizness:Storm Warning) completely on our own. We performed at numerous rallies and events in New York, toured the U.K. twice with the poetry ensemble “The African Dawn”. We also performed at the largest Anti-Nuclear rally in the U.S. in Central Park in ’82 for over a million people. I was a founding member of the National Black United Front that was started at Rev. Herbert Daughtry’s House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn where I co-chaired the cultural arm with Sister Wilhemina Banks .In the summer of ’82 I participated in a month long five city study tour of United Front Work in the Peoples Republic of China, where I lectured at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music on “The Music of Struggle and the Culture of Resistance in the U.S.” In ’95 the marriage and the duo (Serious Bizness) dissolved and I started to do more poetry. I participated in Slam Poetry as a member of the Connecticut Slam Team that competed in the National Poetry Slam Competitions of ’95,96 and was the winner of the Prop Slam in’97. I was also featured in the P.B.S. Documentary “The Apropoets with Allen Ginburg, Ava Chin and Xavier Cavasos. Since that time I continue to write, record and perform spoken word using the platform of the one man band “Ngoma’s ”Not Your Average String Thing” I have also been the curator and host of the poetry slam for the Dr. M.L.K Jr Family Festival of Social and Environmental Justice Social  at Yale/Peabody Museum since ’95. In the fall of 2009 I was selected and participated in The Badilisha Poetry Xchange in Capetown, South Africa

Warlock Asylum: Having touched the lives of many through you work as an artist, activist, mentor, it would be interesting to hear what personas have inspired you along your path?

Ngoma: As an artist and activist I am inspired by the work of those that I’ve mentioned previously and continue to be inspired by those from this generation that are doing work such as Suheir Hammad, Taalam Acey, Carlos Andres Gomez, Iyaba Mandingo, Kyle Brooks, Darian Dachaun, Jessica Care Moore, Osunyoyin Alake, Sunni Patterson, Kasim Allah, Saul Williams and Caroline Rothstein just to name a few.

Warlock Asylum: I find it amazing that you are still able to get around well after all this time and people who are half your age seem to tire out quickly. How do you remain so energized? Is there a Ngoma diet that you’re writing a book about? Lol! How have you maintained that youthful vigor for all these years?

Ngoma: I haven’t thought much about writing a book. However I try to live a healthy lifestyle and not to consume food that is detrimental to my body nor info that is detrimental to my mind and spirit. I’m energized by the realization that we as a people are still not free and there is still much work to be done. One of my teachers and mentors, Mr. Joseph Kennedy, once told me that music keeps us young. Other than that I just struggle to stay current, to grow and to evolve so that my work doesn’t become stagnant.

Warlock Asylum: Since your involvement in the world of poetry, what changes have you witnessed?

Ngoma: Obviously styles change and some subject matter is cyclical. We also had a movement to shape our work and experiences that do not exist today. The best thing to happen though is that thru modern technology we have the ability to have more control of what is produced and a better means of distributing it.

Warlock Asylum: Seeing you perform as a solo artist is quite an experience since you have a strong stage presence. However, you spent some time working in a group, how was that experience for you?

Ngoma: I enjoyed working with groups and still do occasionally. In working with groups there is the ability to critique the work and to work off of the collective energy that’s missing from solo work. The advantage to working alone is that the group is not depending on one person’s creativity to get paid. It’s also more convenient to be able to produce whenever one feels like it as opposed to on demand.

Warlock Asylum: Before moving on to your current work, I must ask, what advice would you give to those newly-born artists who are interested in pursuing a path of poetry? 

Ngoma: Take a good look at your purpose for writing and be sure that it serves you. Remember that most famous poets don’t write poetry solely for a living. I’d like to see poets writing about more than just themselves and to remember that some of the work will go on into perpetuity so poets should think about how they’d like to be remembered.

Warlock Asylum: Your new CD “Poetry From A Smart Phone” is a classic! The music and the poetry is really what’s up for 2011. The tracks seem to just melt into each other. I can immediately see the difference in your work. Where were you at spiritually while working on this project?

Ngoma: In my lifetime I have explored many expressions of spirituality such as Christianity ( as my parents did), Buddhism, Taoism, and some doctrines not as spiritual such as Kawaida. For awhile I practiced Marxism-Leninism- Maoism, which actually negates spirituality. At present I am exploring traditional African Spirituality by doing such things as setting up an ancestral altar and making offerings at the cross roads. Perhaps you can pick up this imagery in the poems. You could say I’ve come full circle.

Poet Supreme Ngoma a.k.a Ironman


Blue Steel’s Review of Poetry From A Smartphone

I’ve heard a lot of Ngoma’s poetry over the years, but I must say that this album is his masterpiece. The packaging is good. The cover art is captivating, and the music and poetry are made for each other.

Track 1: My Pen

This piece is a perfect introduction for the album. It has a real funky bass-line and violin overtones, as the godfather of spoken word makes it known that his pen is gangsta.

Track 2: Conversations With Bumble Bees on Earth Day

Musically the track is simply put together to give the listener time to absorb the depth of the words. Excellent use of prose.

Track 3: Jesus Wept

This track puts me right in the front row of a closed-room venue, a skillful use of overdub vocals and the classic Ngoma flow.

Track 4: String

I must have played this track about seven or eight times before moving to the next selection. The beat is organic and will immediately take you to a golden place. The lyrics are a little lighter than other points of the album, but it works with the music.

Track 5: Ghosts of Harlem Past/babbling On In Babylon

This is definitely a reflection piece. Ngoma guides you like a tour guide to the changes in Harlem over a musical track that seems to sink into the mind like butter on bread. Nice piano chords.

Track 6: Frontin Da Script

The music is a little experimental, but is a good transitional track.

Track 7: Zoology

When I first heard this piece, I knew that it took careful planning to layout this album. This track works without music, but outdoor sounds and reminds the listener there is power in the word. The method of this poem I leave for those who buy the cd to enjoy.

Track 8: Orwell Revisited

This track grew on me. The music is cleverly put together and the poem is very intense, as Ngoma writes about the present state of the world and political despair.

Track 9: This Poem Is Free

After a heavy assessment of the world today, This Poem Is Free, lifts up the listener to another subject. Free and careless, it reminds me of A Tribe Called Quest track off the Low-End Theory album entitled What.

Track 10: A Tip to the Pretty Young Waitress Behind The Bar

I must have listened to this track all weekend long. The music is good and the poem is an exceptional piece. Definitely a message for the ladies.

Track 11: The Crow on the Cradle

Another gem on this album. This is a straight song, but the lyrics are so poetic. It’s a classic piece, one that falls in the same category as Bob Marley’s Redemption Song Overall this album features some of Ngoma’s best work. It is his masterpiece. On a scale from 1 through 5, it’s a five-star album. The Godfather has returned!





Michael Geffner


‎Ngoma Hill is one of my faves on the NYC spoken word scene. His words - beautifully crafted, infused w/wisdom, packing a wallop of a punch. He also has some of the best pipes on the planet. My advice to young guns in spoken word: Listen to his new CD, Poetry From A Smart Phone. See the the art form done at its best. Stripped of ego & BS, but someone w/ something to say & looking to make a difference.


Sondjata Olatunji

Ngoma's latest release Poems from a Smart Phone is another "spusical"

experience, to borrow a term from a fellow poet. Ngoma is a multi

talented old school poet who regularly moves audiences with his

baritone voice and Yiḏaki (that's Didgeridoo to the unitiated). Every

performance is an eclectic mixture of electric violin, singing and

conscious spoken word and this CD is no different. Sometimes the music

plays the major part of the track and sometimes it's only Ngoma

speaking with himself as backup. There is something here for everyone.


As with most CD's I get there are tracks that I enjoy the most and in

my opinion the best tracks are Conversations with a Bumblebee on Earth

Day, Jesus Wept, Ghosts of Harlem and Tip To The Pretty Young Waitress

Behind the Bar.


Bumblebee starts us off with the Yidaki which sets our mind in a

proper state as Ngoma weaves a discussion of religion with the

defilement of earth by those who proclaim to love God and His

creation. This is followed by Jesus Wept, where Ngoma brings us a

Negro Spriitual that hangs a haunting background to another critique

of religious people who have a problem following their own beliefs. If

you like this track you should try to run into Ngoma or contact him

for his track "They Are Falling All Around Me", from his CD “Ngoma's

Take Out”. Worth it. Trust me. And if that tickles you, you go get

“Reflections” and download "On The Day the Pope Died". If that

sounds controversial well, it is and it's

how Ngoma rolls and I like it. And besides, how many poets you know

that can do three part harmony behind their own material?


Ghosts of Harlem is easily my favorite of favorites because I'm

partial to just about any track with piano in it. Even more partial

when I hear Jazz chords. Ngoma did this on Garageband and it's a nice

piece. The poem's good too. HA! Really though, Ngoma discusses the

numerous changes that Harlem is undergoing while he verbally walks

around the neighborhood in his memory.


The last track on my favorite list, Tip, would probably irk some

people, Ngoma dishes out some sage advice to a hypothetical young lady

at a bar on how to protect herself from those men who would violate

her. It's unpopular in some circules to even suggest that kind of

talk, but Ngoma doesn't victim blame just handing out advice born of

experience. Musically it's a complete difference from Ghosts but that

underscores the wide taste in music that Ngoma has.

 These are my favorites but there is something here for everyone who's

into spoken word.


 Sondjata K. Olatunji

Garvey's Ghost

In the Spirit of Marcus and Amy


Lessons from The Book of Osayemi (Chapter 1) is a powerfully and masterfully crafted CD. Ngoma Osayemi writes in an uncompromising voice, each poem providing much food for thought. Osayemi does not straddle the fence, says what he means, speaking in a clear voice. It is this voice that resonates with his audiences. It is this voice that touches and connects with our core self. We can only acknowledge it as truth.
Lessons from the Book of Osayemi takes us on a historical and spiritual journey with Poem For the Absent Minded. He evokes the memories of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, H. Rap Brown, The Black Panthers among many others. I didn’t Want to Write This Poem rips at America’s psychosis. His words are visually powerful and colorful. Who can deny the rhythms and images of Palm Sundays Ritual, or Mom Believed in Jesus?

Lessons from the Book of Osayemi is infused with passionate and superb musicology! Instruments live, breathe and speak to us. While this journalist found herself responding to the rythmns. It was far more than rhythms. Nor was this simply a listening experience. This was the blessings of ancestral spirits bestowing centuries old messages. Singing became chants and translated messages from sacred ancestral spirits. Yes, there are middle passages in my DNA!ord w/Jazz-Funk-Fusion w/a side order of World Beat from My newest CD release “Lessons from the Book of Osayemi”

You can purchase Lessons from the Book of Osayemi @

iTunes,Amazon and Bandcamp

©Lorraine Currelley 2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author is strictly prohibited.



    Ngoma is a living sage amongst those who do not have the courage to see their greater selves. His poetry is profound,poignant and necessary at a time like this or any other. This CD should be listened to with understanding. It is not traditional but it is our tradition.Once again in the midst of madness sanity creeps through to remind us all is not lost and if we chose to we have the power to make a better day.

Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets





Performance and CD Review of Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter ll) Spirit/Blues/Prophecy

Barrio Poetic’s featured poet was Ngoma Hill. Ngoma Hill is a dynamic wordsmith and musicologist. His performance was passionate, his words explosions of truth. Words and music tearing through and breaking down strangling societal isms and ills. Turning our collective anger,  and outrage into haunting passionate poems and songs of protest. All responding eloquently to the cries of the people for justice, equality, peace, and life. His musicology is  superb. “Ngoma’s Not Your Average String Thing -Vocals, Bamboo Flute, Electrik Violin, Acoustic Guitar, Yidaki (Didgeridoo) & Garage Band Tracks. Ngoma Hill performed works from his CD Lessons from the Book of Osayemi and his latest CD release Ngoma Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter ll) Spirit/Blues/Prophecy.
Ngoma Hill’s performance ended with a standing ovation from audience members.



Hill’s latest release Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter ll) Spirit/Blues/Prophecy continues his legacy of producing great music and poetry. Music for My Soldiers, Love Song, Where I Come From and Up South are four of the outstanding poems on Ngoma Hill’s latest release. The authenticity of his poems content resonate with his audiences. There are no lies here, only truth telling. His poems and music is earth and soul grown. His words are love notes to listeners, those seeking truth. There is the presence of unrelenting hunger, thirst and raw passion. His poems had audience members moving and clapping in their seats, leading to a call and response. We became a chorus united in the refrain music for my soldiers, when he performed Music for My Soldiers. Where I Come From, another of Ngoma Hill’s poems is one man’s declaration of his rich heritage and that of a people. All poems are life explosions unabashedly unapologetic and uncompromising.

You can purchase both Lessons from the Book of Osayemi and Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter ll) Spirit/Blues/Prophecy @
iTunes,Amazon and Bandcamp
©Lorraine Currelley 2015. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author is strictly prohibited.


Wordsmiths such as Ngoma Hill will always make use of their right to freedom of expression to draw attention to everything that’s wrong with the world. In the name of all the oppressed, they use their craft to protest against the many injustices they face on a daily basis. The performance poet, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Hill has meanwhile lived and survived seven decades of American reality. From the 1940s to the 21st century – the age of modern slavery – he has experienced a time of upheavals and contradictions, a time of uncertainties and risks. Born and raised in the “Black Belt” of the South, Hill is a contemporary witness to the long and arduous struggle of the civil rights movement against segregation and discrimination and for the integration of black people in American society. In the early 1960s, he joined the civil rights movement in the then still segregated Virginia, and he has been a political activist ever since. Now living in Harlem, Hill was influenced by people such as Marcus Garvey, Harry Haywood, E. Franklin Frazier, C.L.R James, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Amílcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Askia Muhammad Touré, Richie Havens, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Haki R. Madhubuti and the Last Poets. He learned several instruments, including violin, bamboo flute, yidaki, guitar and an assortment of African drums and percussion instruments, and was influenced by a variety of musical styles such as jazz, blues, gospel and folk music. He wrote his first poem during his army days in Vietnam, where he joined the resistance movement against US involvement in the war. In the early 1970s, he went to Newark, New Jersey, where he joined Amiri Baraka and his organisation The Committee for a Unified New Ark and became a member of the Spirit House Movers and Players. Towards the end of the 1970s, he co-founded the singing duo Serious Bizness together with his then-wife, Jaribu Hill. Since splitting up with Jaribu in the mid-1990s, he has released several solo albums, including “Poetry from a Smart Phone”, “Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter I)” and “Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter II) Spirit/Blues/Prophecy” available on iTunes and Amazon. Hill performs wherever people struggle for a better life – at colleges and universities, in community centres, clubs, coffee houses, prisons, churches and subways, on street corners or on concert stages. He has shared stages with artists such as Pete Seeger, Odetta, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Richie Havens, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mutabaruka, Roger Bonair-Agard, Saul Williams, Jessica Care Moore and muMs da Schemer. Just like these artists, Hill uses poetry and music to express himself. They are the driving force behind his political activism. The themes he tackles revolve mainly around issues of social justice and equal rights. He uses the power of words and sounds to raise, social and political consciousness and to voice social criticism. His aim is to raise and further a critical awareness. He grapples with the connections between the past and the present in order to be able to tackle the challenges of the future. Many of his works contain historical and cultural references, for example “Ode to the Black Belt South”, “Birmingham Sunday”, “Ghosts of Harlem Past” and “Poem for My Egun”. They speak of life and death on American soil, of the ghosts of the past and the souls of departed ancestors.

Ngoma Hill was born in 1945 in Alexandria, Virginia, his mother’s hometown. A year later the family moved to Richmond, Virginia, his father’s hometown, where Ngoma spent his childhood and teenage years. For the next twelve years the family lived in Jackson Ward, the historic district of Richmond’s African-American community. It was before integration. “The atmosphere that I grew up in was more like the Cosby’s. Most folks were churchgoers, well-employed homeowners and professionals,” Ngoma recalls. “It was affected by segregation though.”

Ngoma’s first formative influence came from his father due to his commitment to the community. “My father was a printer for the Board of Education. He was active in the church and in the Parent-Teacher Association,” he says. “He was president of the Parent-Teacher Association during the entire time that both my sister and I were in school. Due to his status as a community leader most of my associates were from families of professionals, i.e. doctors, lawyers, teachers, ministers, etc.”

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Jackson Ward was an economically and culturally vibrant place. Segregation caused the “Old Dominion’s” capital to be split into racially divided quarters, which furthered the rise of this predominantly black neighbourhood, which also went by the name of “Little Africa” and “Black Wall Street”. The inhabitants created their own sustainable economy with banks, publishing houses, charitable organizations, insurance companies, medical practices, restaurants, barber shops, churches and other institutions. This was the home of Maggie L. Walker, the first woman in the United States to set up a bank. Jackson Ward was also the home of tennis legend Arthur Ashe and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the famous tap dancer and actor, who was born near 2nd Street.

With venues such as the Globe and the Hippodrome Theatre, which had its heyday in the 1930s to 1950s, the famous 2nd Street in Jackson Ward was the vibrant centre for black entertainment in Richmond and attracted many major artists such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. During the Jim Crow era, 2nd Street was one of the safe havens for black artists in the “Black Belt” of the South.

“Music played a major role in my development as a child and has continued to do so,” Ngoma says. “I was an instrumental music education major and a self taught musicologist. My mother was the Sunday school pianist at church. I started taking violin lessons at age seven. I’m a multi-instrumentalist. My primary instrument is violin but at this time I also play acoustic guitar, bamboo flute, upright and electric bass, Yidaki, Voice and an assortment of African drums and percussion instruments. During the days of elementary school through college I played cello, piano, flute, and baritone horn. I’ve performed solo, duos, in small jazz ensembles, concert bands, big dance bands, orchestras and marching bands.”

“At first I was influenced by music from the church and European classical music (It was all that was available to me at the time),” he continues. “As I reached my early teen years I was influenced by rhythm and blues, also blues, gospel, folk music and freedom songs. During my late high school and early college days I was introduced to and influenced by jazz. I began to use music as a tool early by teaching myself guitar and learning music from the movement.”

In the 1950s, Jackson Ward played an important role in the civil rights movement. Amongst other things, it was home to the law office of Oliver Hill and Spottswood William Robinson III, the lawyers of the plaintiffs in the Davis v. County School Board case, one of the five cases that made up the class action suit Brown v. Board of Education. This was the only one of the five cases, which was preceded by a student walkout. In 1954, the case Brown v. Board of Education concluded, and the US Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional and illegal. This decision caused massive resistance, and the State of Virginia subsequently passed new laws to prevent the abolition of segregation.

“My father was a plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education suit in Richmond and was fired from his job at the Board of Education,” Ngoma recalls. “He later worked for the Southern Aid Insurance Co., which was Black owned.”

Urban renewal plans and the construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (I-95) led to a creeping demise of Jackson Ward. The highway split the community in half, and many citizens were displaced, among them Ngoma’s family.

“At age twelve there was a highway built through the neighborhood and we were displaced”, Ngoma says. “We moved into a neighborhood that was transitioning from white to black and created what is known as ‘White flight’. The neighborhood we moved into was more middle class but still segregated.”

Civil rights lawyers and activists in Jackson Ward meanwhile continued to put every effort into promoting integration. Students were essential for the development of the civil rights movement. They organized rallies, marches and protest campaigns such as sit-ins and boycotts to protest against segregation. Many sit-ins, like that of the Richmond 34, and boycotts of shops and public institutions played a major role in the social integration of the African-American population in Richmond. These were the early 1960s and the height of the civil rights movement.

“I graduated from High school in 1963. It was during the Civil Rights era. My best friend, who was a year and a half older than me, was a student at Virginia Union University. He invited me to come and picket the stores and businesses that were segregated at the time. It was my entrance into the movement,” Ngoma recalls. “I attended Virginia State College (University now) where I continued to be active and participated in pickets and sit ins coordinated by the NAACP, CORE and SNCC.”

The struggle for integration into American society made hardly any advances. The nonviolent protests by African-Americans were countered with terror by the white society. Important laws passed by the Congress to fight racial discrimination were only implemented very slowly and didn’t really improve life for black people in America. In the mid-1960s, violent riots started to break out in many parts of the country. In response to the continuing discrimination and oppression, many African-Americans – especially the younger generation – hardened their attitude towards the deeply racist white society. New organizations emerged, such as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which called on the people to resist the repressive regime. Black Power became the slogan of a new and massive movement and emphasized black racial pride. The movement, whose inspirational figures included Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, demanded the right of self-determination and independence for Americans of African descent.

“Around this time I became quite disillusioned with school and took off a semester to regroup. As a result I was drafted into the US Army and spent a year as an infantryman in Vietnam,” Ngoma says. “My friends who were activists, sociology and history majors, sent me books such as Black Bourgeoisie by E. Franklin Frazier, The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James, Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon, The Autobiography of Ho Chi Minh and The Auto-biography of Malcolm X to name a few. It was books like this being read at this point in my life that helped shape my political thought. It also gave me an informed perspective regarding the happenings of the time. It was like taking a course in Black Studies before such courses were available.”

The Vietnam War, which raged between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, mirrored imperialist activities. Under the pretext of fighting for freedom and democracy in Vietnam, tens of thousands of US soldiers were lured to Southeast Asia, where – under orders of their superiors – they experienced a campaign of total destruction against the local Vietnamese population. Gradually, a resistance movement against the war in Vietnam developed within the US army, and Ngoma became part of this movement. “I wasn’t a happy camper,” he says. “In fact I was a part of G.I.s that resisted.” Half of the US American troops deployed to Vietnam mutinied against the war. The resistance movement started out small, but grew with the ever more indescribable atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people. In the late 1960s, the US military prisons around the world were filling up with US soldiers who had refused to take part in what was becoming a genocide. At this point, however, the US government was unable to halt the course the war in Vietnam was taking.

“I decided that I wanted to use my skills and energy to benefit my people,” Ngoma says. “I wrote my first poem while I was in Vietnam. When I returned to the states I was introduced to the work of Amiri Baraka (Imamu at that time), Sonia Sanchez, Askia Muhammad Touré, Haki R. Madhubuti and The Last Poets. I realized that I could use poetry and music as a tool to raise consciousness and began to pursue it more. I had already been introduced to political culture through the freedom songs and chants used during my earlier activism. During my freshman year in college I was in the cast of the play “In White America.” So this was just an extension.”

The Last Poets, who strongly influenced Ngoma, debuted in their original setup in the spring of 1968 in a highly volatile climate. The political assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the last great hopes, drove a wedge into the heart of “Black America” and heralded a new age of growing fatalism. As spokesmen of their nation, the Last Poets expressed the thoughts and feelings of their brothers and sisters with a burning passion. The collective used poetry and music as a tool to strengthen the self-esteem in the black community and to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of their own cultural heritage. The Last Poets’ debut album, released in 1970, became a huge influence on later members of the hip hop scene, which emerged in the 1970s.

“The Last Poets was one of the performance groups that influenced me to do poetry,” Ngoma says. “They are still popular. I’ve shared the stage with them on several occasions. Felipe Luciano, Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan and Baba Don Babatunde are friends of mine.”

In October 1966, in Oakland, California, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale developed a Ten-Point Program for the Black Panther Party, which appeared weekly in the party newspaper. “The Black Panther” first appeared on 25 April 1967 and was designed to inform, educate, mobilize and organize the people. Among the things the party demanded were land, full employment, bread, accommodation fit for human habitation, education, clothes, justice and peace for their people. With their presence, they expressed the demands of the black community for freedom and self-determination. Due to its social and political commitment, the Black Panther Party became a target of the fascist regime. Just like in Vietnam, the US government stopped at nothing to eliminate this opposition and even sacrificed some of its own people to do so.

“The Black Panthers played a very important role in the struggle for social change,” Ngoma says. “When I was in Vietnam my friends would send me copies of The Black Panther Newspaper. I would distribute it amongst my buddies. When I returned to the states, we started an organization in Richmond in formation to become a chapter. We sold the paper and had a free breakfast and free clothing program. This was in the days of COINTELPRO and the party was being decimated. Most of the members were being called back to California, so we couldn’t get if off the ground as we intended. It was then that I left Richmond and moved to Newark to be a part of Baraka’s organization.”

In the mid-1960s, in Harlem, New York, the poet and playwright LeRoi Jones was joined by other black artists to lay the foundation for the Black Arts Movement, the artistic branch of the Black Power movement. The movement promoted black pride and black art, which should reflect the history and culture of their people. Jones also founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, a cultural centre for the African-American community, where he staged politically motivated plays and poetry readings. A short time after that, he moved back to his hometown, Newark, New Jersey, where he opened the Spirit House, a combination of playhouse and artist residency. Jones took on the name Imamu Amiri Baraka, which he later changed to Amiri Baraka.

“I met Amiri in Newark at Hekalu Umoja, which was his organization’s headquarters at the time. It was spring of 1971,” Ngoma recalls. “I moved to Newark specifically to do revolutionary art. This led me to Amiri. I was a member of his organization The Committee for a Unified New Ark. The Spirit House Movers and Players were made up from cadre of the organization. Baraka was a mentor and served as a father figure to me. He was quite charismatic and had a revolutionary sinister sense of humor. I feel quite fortunate to have been a part of the organization. I was also a part of a group that he formed called The Anti-Imperialist Cultural Union. It was an invaluable learning experience.”

“The Black Arts Movement (as per the Spirit House Movers and Players) was self-contained,” he continues. “It was a hands on learning experience where we did everything from production to advertisement to performance. It was organic and exciting to perform in different cities and in different environments. The world was our stage. Not only did we perform in conventional theater spaces but also in the street, parks, community centers, colleges and project courtyards. The most impressive moments were when we shared stages with Amiri’s array of artists friends such as Pharoah Sanders, Gary Bartz, Hugh Masekela, Babatunde Olatunji and Randy Weston, just to name a few.”

Near the end of the 1970s, Ngoma and Jaribu Hill formed the singing duo Serious Bizness. Both continued the tradition of the freedom songs and expressed their social criticism by using artistic means like music, poetry and performance art. In the early 1980s, the duo recorded two albums for the label Folkways Records, “For Your Immediate Attention” and “How Many More?”. They are also represented on the sampler “Frontliners” with their song “How Many More?”. They performed in various cities and at different places such as theatres, community centers, universities and project courtyards. Highlights included a five city tour in UK with a concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, their performances at the Solidarity Day march for the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. in 1981, performances at Madison Square Garden in New York and the Clearwater Festival founded by Toshi and Pete Seeger as well as their tenth anniversary concert with Odetta and a concert they produced in 1985 in protest against apartheid. In the early 1990s, the two released their self-produced album “Serious Bizness: Storm Warning”.

“I met Jaribu in Newark in Baraka’s organization,” Ngoma says. “Not only did we form a singing duo but also we were married (by Amiri Baraka in fact) for 20 years. Although we are divorced, I still have the highest amount of love and respect for her. She has been and is still one of the most committed people that I know. I’m proud to have been with her and proud of the work that she does. I highly commend her for consistent work for decades where as many activists have fallen from the path, she stays the course.”

In the 1970s, artists arrived on the scene, who – just like Ngoma and Jaribu – used the power of words and sounds to call attention to persisting injustices. Dub poets such as Oku Onuora and Michael Smith raised their voices in protest against the many injustices they faced on a daily basis. They boldly spoke the truth – and do so to this very day. Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Dread Beat an’ Blood”, Mutabaruka’s “Outcry”, Michael Smith’s “Mi Cyaan Believe It” and Oku Onuora’s “Pressure Drop” are among the most powerful and influential dub poetry albums.

“The dub poets of Jamaica were also instrumental to my doing poetry with music,” Ngoma tells me. “I’m very appreciative of their work. I’ve been fortunate enough to share stages with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mutabaruka and Oku Onuora. I still communicate with Linton and Oku. We often try to see each other when they’re in New York. Linton brought ‘Serious Bizness’ to perform at the International Black Book Fair in London put on by Race Today.”

The duo Serious Bizness split up in the mid-1990s. Over the course of the following years, Ngoma released several solo albums, including “Reflections”, “State of Emergency”, “Poetry from a Smart Phone” and, in honor of the Orishas, “Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter I)” and “Lessons from the Book of Osayemi (Chapter II) Spirit/Blues/Prophecy”.

Ngoma visited the continent of his ancestors several times. He spent time in Senegal, C’ote D’Ivoire, The Gambia, South Africa and Nigeria.

“My first trip to Africa was as a tourist. It was a group trip sponsored by one of the Black Sororities,” he recounts. “We visited Dakar (Senegal), C’ote D’Ivoire and The Gambia. The first thing I noticed was the effect of Imperialism, Colonialism, Islam and Christianity. It was quite empowering to be someplace where everyone looked like me and people that I know. Overwhelming though was the poverty that existed. I wasn’t in shock though. I had visited other so-called 3rd world countries in the Caribbean and in Asia. The most moving part of the trip was visiting Goree Island. It’s the port where Africans were stored and taken to America. The spiritual energy was very heavy there.”

“My second trip to Africa was to Cape Town, South Africa. I was a participant in the Badilisha Poetry X-change. It was after apartheid and I was very excited about the visit having been a part of the Anti-Apartheid movement. I was there for a week performing in Clubs, bookstores and an amphitheater at the Spier Estate, which is a luxury resort with a winery, swimming pool, golf course, horse back riding and tennis courts. I also performed at a school for the arts and conducted workshops for some of the local poets. Cape town is very beautiful with the sea on one side and Table Top Mountain on the other. Although apartheid was over, there is a pervasive economic apartheid. Cape Town is mostly a tourist haven and most of the indigenous people live in the nearby townships and are quite poor living in tin roof shacks. The end of apartheid has not given them their homes back.”

“I’ve been to Nigeria twice for spiritual purposes,” he continues. “I was there to be initiated as a Priest of Obatala and of Ifa in the Yoruba Traditional Spiritual practice called Ifa. I stayed in a compound in Ibadan. It was quite different than the fancy five star hotels that I stayed in in Cape Town. Although Ibadan is the largest city it’s infrastructure is pretty rustic with few paved roads, houses with wells instead of running water and no plumbing. Electricity is sporadic and many folk have kerosene lamps and flash lights. I met a lot of people that wanted to come to the US. Due to movies and social media many Africans think that everyone in the US has big cars, fancy homes and well paying jobs. Occupy Wall Street was going on in the states the first time I was there. I showed them video footage of the protests. They were amazed that even white folks were protesting.”

“I had my DNA traced as far back as my family being from somewhere around Benin or Nigeria.”

“My spiritual practice is Yoruba,” Ngoma says. “While I was in Vietnam I read ‘The Black Jacobins’ by C.L.R. James. It is the history of the Haitian Revolution. It tells of how the Haitians invoked Ogun to overcome the French. I thought it was something to check out, so I also invoked Ogun. I was an infantryman and I escaped the war unscathed. I felt that invoking Ogun saved me. After the war I sought out the practice of African Traditional Religion, which eventually led me to Nigeria where I was initiated as a Priest of Obatala and Ifa.”

© 2016 Daniel Polivka