Hip as folk: Rap founders Last Poets play Folk Fest

Folk fest newbies: Pioneering rap group the Last Poets, featuring Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan, will make its Brooklyn Folk Festival debut on April 30.
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It’s the music of all the people!

The Brooklyn Folk Festival is expanding its scope this year, welcoming folk performers from around the world, as well as the traditional music of the exotic island of Manhattan — hip-hop! One of the featured guests at this year’s fest, happening at St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn Heights from April 28–30, will be the pioneering 1960s band the Last Poets, which helped to lay the foundation for rap music. The festival’s founder says that the trio personifies the meaning of folk music.

“One aspect of folk music is that it is grass roots community music and the Last Poets certainly embody that,” said musician and festival founder Eli Smith, who lives in Park Slope. “Since the 1930s, the idea of folk music in the United States has been very much connected to left-wing politics — the Last Poets bring that as well. At its roots, rap and hip-hop are one of the first things that you would think of when you think of folk music and New York City.”

The frontman for the Last Poets said that he is excited to appear at the Folk Festival for the first time.

“I’m looking forward to everything at the moment, and because I am a poet and I like people — I love to see a diverse a group of people at festival or any major activity,” said Abiodun Oyewole. “Considering the diverse group of cultures that is going to be there, I’ll be looking forward to check out what I can.”

The trio will present a mix of music and poetry, said Oyewole, with the exact mix depending on how he reads the room.

“We are basically going to perform some poetry and I will sing — I might sing before I do a poem,” said Oyewole. “Singing is something I have always done, and our conga drummer is a master drummer and he knows how to complement voices.”

The ninth annual festival is stacked with an international array of performers, including artists from India, Ireland, and Puerto Rico, along with performances from the Thunderbird Native American Dancers and a broad selection of bands from the Brooklyn area. The diverse line-up is an attempt to counter the anti-immigration rhetoric coming from the Trump administration, said Smith.

“Since the election, which exemplified intolerance, hate, and fear, we want to make sure that the Brooklyn Folk Fest offers a very clear vision of America — and a fest where people can come where it’s open and welcoming to everyone,” he said.

The three day festival will feature more than 30 musical acts, as well as sing-alongs, discussions, music workshops, and the popular annual banjo-tossing competition at the Gowanus Canal, on April 30 at 1 pm.

The Last Poets at the Brooklyn Folk Festival at St. Ann’s Church [157 Montague St. between Clinton and Henry streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 875-6960,]. April 30 at 8 pm. $20. Festival runs April 28–30 at various times. $20–$35 (three-day pass $85).

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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