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Hip-hop Griot

[whitespace] Kamau Daaood
Greg [email protected]

Riff Rapper: The spoken word is a community-
building tool for Kamau Daáood.

Kamau Daáood rhymes about redemption

By Andrew Gilbert

SWAYING ON THE BANDSTAND of the World Stage, a small store-front performance space in L.A.'s Crenshaw district, Kamau Daáood leans down toward a microphone and pours out a torrent of words, painting images of a community in search of redemption and healing: "I stand on the OG corner and tell old-school stories with a bebop tongue to the hip-hop future / I see new rainbows in their eyes as we stand in the puddles of melted chains."

For some 30 years, Daáood (who appears Friday at Fuel in San Jose along with percussionist Babatunde) has served as a griot for black L.A. Steeped in the jagged rhythms of bop and the incantatory wail of John Coltrane's tenor sax, Daáood is a jam-session poet, a writer who builds riffs with an improvisor's sense of drama and structure. His debut CD, Leimert Park, on the MAMA Foundation label, is named after the neighborhood where he and legendary drummer Billy Higgins founded the World Stage. In the past six years, the performance space has become the heart of an artistic renaissance flourishing in the Crenshaw.

In putting together Leimert Park, Daáood drew on the many musicians, both young and old, who have turned the neighborhood into a hothouse of musical invention. Featuring pianists Horace Tapscott and Nate Morgan, flutist James Newton, bassist Dr. Art Davis and the B Sharp Jazz Quartet, Leimert Park is one of more profound and organic marriages of jazz and the spoken word. But then, Daáood developed his performance skills on stage with some of L.A.'s most creative improvisors. "When I'm performing, I really try to establish ritual space," he says. "Listening to the radio, you hear one note, and you know its Coltrane or Monk. There's something inside that sound that speaks to that spirit. I look at my poetry in the same way. I don't memorize my work, because that leads to an intellectual process where I'm trying to develop a trance, where I'm trying to go back to the space where these words come from. It doesn't always happen, but that's my process."

Kamau Daáood and Babatunde perform Friday (Feb. 27) at Fuel, 44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose. Call for time and ticket information; 408/295-7374.

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From the February 26-March 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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