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Voices of Harlem
“Mother To Son,” a poem by Langston Hughes, published in 1922, is performed in “Voices of Harlem,” a new artistic project by the Harlem Writers Guild. Set to music by Jermaine Dupri, it pays homage to the written word and voices of the Harlem Renaissance. Photo: YouTube

Poet laureate Amanda Gorman recently reignited the power and excitement of poetry when she became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. Indeed, the intersection of mass communication and poetry has seemingly been on a steady uprise. Look no further than your own Instagram feed to be inspired by poetry every few seconds. Now there is a new foray into this cultural space with a digital platform.

“Voices of Harlem” is a new artistic project that pays homage to the written word and voices of the Harlem Renaissance era. Conceived in partnership with the Harlem Writers Guild, cognac brand Rémy Martin and Fred & Farid New York creative agency, the contemporary poetry scene is expanding. 

The Harlem Writers Guild selected curated poems from iconic African American poets of the early 20th century and brought them to life via the voices of some of Harlem’s most noted poets of today. In this digital experience, available to all on YouTube, the poets’ voices are complemented by four different musical melodies created by Grammy Award-winning producer Jermaine Dupri. The intention of the series highlights the parallels between music and poetry, not only as a means of expression and but also as a response to cultural challenges and triumphs as true today as when many of them were first written.

Curated by Charles Todd, the featured poems include:

 “Gift to Sing” by James Weldon Johnson, published in 1917.

Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes, published in 1922.

Harlem Wine” by Countee Cullen, published in 1925.

My Little Dreams” by Georgia Douglas Johnson, published in 1925.

Though the poems are of various origins, the thru-line is the Harlem foundation. The entire project can be viewed on its own YouTube platform and each of the four poems has its own dedicated YouTube channel as well.

An emblematic labor of love for the Harlem Writers Guild, this project was key for the organization. “It is important for us at the Harlem Writers Guild to reach younger generations because we want to pass along this extraordinary, historic art form in a way that young people recognize and can build upon using their own voices today,” said Diane Richards, executive director of the Harlem Writers Guild. “Teaming up with Rémy Martin on this project allows us to nurture African American literary legacy and inspire voices of the future.”

The Harlem Writers Guild is the oldest literary organization dedicated to Black writers. For 70 years it has served as a forum to support African-American writers. While it creates and publishes literature of all genres reflective of the African American and African diaspora experiences of struggle, survival and success, this is one of its first collaborations with Songwriter Hall of Fame member Dupri.

“To me, poetry is a form of rap music because it allows you to express yourself at the highest level without boundaries,” Dupri said in a statement. “I’m thrilled that … I could use my personal form of expression through music to build upon the power of these legendary words.”

Notable poets have a special point of view on the project. For example, Marvin X is one of the movers and shakers of the Black Arts movement that became a more radicalized version of the Harlem Renaissance as it was directly connected with the Black Power movement. A poet, playwright, essayist, educator, philosopher, producer, director, Marvin X has deep firsthand experience in the roots of this project.

“These poems with the music of Jermaine Dupri connect us in a lyrical way with the Harlem poets who set the stage for the Black Arts movement revolutionary poets of the ’60s,” Marvin X told The Moguldom Nation. “Langston’s ‘Mother to Son’ was my favorite. ‘Harlem Wine’ was brilliant, especially with the choreography moving the action forward with the strong voice of the poet reading. ‘Little Dreams’ came across in the hip-hop rap visual manner but spared us the gangsta rap with dreamtime poetry in the how-I got-ova tradition of North American African literature, the grand theme of survival all these poems express. On a Harlem winter’s day, ‘Gift to Sing’ summed up this poetic moment.”

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Rémy Martin has said that part of its mandate is a commitment to celebrating the best of communities and link that to the fact that the product’s ground, too, is equally important to its success. While the Black community throughout the U.S. continues to be challenged on their “ground” through local environmental and climate disparities, police brutality, and disparities in funding for tech entrepreneurs, one can only hope and look forward to projects that also focus on creating good, nourishing ground for all people of color in new ways that are deeply measurable as well.

Lauren DeLisa Coleman is a Digi-Cultural Trend Analyst and Producer. She’s the founder of http://lnkagency.com/ and Vapor Media, and a commentator on public sentiment and tech on MSNBC
Agency representation: Leading Authorities. Author: “America’s Most Wanted: the millennial” an Amazon “Best: New Media Studies” pick: http://amzn.to/KmsuJ8
www.linkedin.com/in/LaurenDeLisaColeman

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