Elombe Brath celebrated at 77
Herb Boyd | 10/10/2013, 5:04 p.m.
George Edward Tait, the poet laureate of Harlem, arrived precisely at the beginning of a birthday salute to the stricken freedom fighter Elombe Brath last Sunday at the Dwyer Cultural Center, and his poem “Elombe Time” not only underscored his punctuality, but also captured the essence of a man he deeply admires.
The opening stanza of the poem is as follows:
Brooklyn & Bronx brainchild answering the be-bop beat of a Barbados Birdcall
Hipstrutting to Harlem homebase and headquarters
Student of streetspeaker seminars and stepladder symposiums
Becoming soldierstar of study and struggle
Becoming revolutionary renaissance revivalist
Tait shared the poem with a few early arrivals before hurrying to another affair in Newark, N.J.
Without hearing Tait’s alliteration and striking metaphors, speaker after speaker emulated the worshipful tone he established in their praise of Brath, who celebrates his 77th birthday on Monday, Sept. 30. The event took place against a backdrop of photos by Kwame Brathwaite, Brath’s brother, as other family members stood in the audience, including Brath’s wife, Nomsa.
To introduce the celebration, Brathwaite delivered a lengthy history of the Grandassa Models and the African Jazz Art Society and Studio, twin organizations he and his brother created in the late 1950s as part of the Black Nationalist movement that was then sweeping the U.S. “We were a group of jazz lovers, artists and activists who began producing jazz concerts featuring some of the greats of jazz who happened to be passing through town,” Brathwaite recalled. “This was back in 1956, and with Elombe at the forefront, we were influenced by Carlos Cooks and the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement. And we were deeply indebted to Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, who inspired us with their art and political commitment.”
Combining art and politics was rare before the brothers and their comrades began incorporating African themes into their productions.
Acclaimed artist Ademola Olugebefola, one of the founders of the Dwyer Cultural Center, provided further artistic and political context for those intense waves of Black consciousness in the 1960s. “What Elombe and Kwame and others in their organization set in motion was a number of artistic and political associations, including Weusi,” he said. “Even this cultural center springs from those visionaries, and it’s taken us 20 years to put this center in place. And where you are sitting is the result of what Elombe and Kwame started years ago.”
“You have to understand that Elombe and Kwame and the people around them were about self-respect and self-determination,” said Dr. Leonard Jeffries. He summoned icons of the Haitian Revolution, the likes of Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe, who should stand as inspiration for young people today as they continue the quest that Brath and his brother had envisioned. “Elombe was always about family, always about the health and welfare of the African family, and that is something we must honor as we honor him.”
It was truly “Elombe Time,” and as Tait concluded in his poem:
A freedom fighting man; a family man
Freedom fighting day after day; freedom fighting decade after decade
With family foundation, family fixture, family framework, family fulfillment
Behold the Brath of most persistence; behold the Brath of most resistance
It’s Elombe Time: to be continued and continued and continued and continued.