A mythic figure in the Southern California arts scene, Kamau
Daáood is a performance poet, educator and community arts
activist who is widely acknowledged as a major driving force
behind Los Angeles' black cultural renaissance. Now with the
release of his debut album, Leimert Park, Kamau unleashes his
galvanizing spirit on the world.
Equal parts Griot funk, straight ahead, blues, hip hop and
hard bop, Leimert Park veritably pulsates with creative energy.
The album is named after the thriving Los Angeles community that
is fast becoming the west coast's black cultural mecca. On his
first full-length recording, Kamau captures the true essence
of the community, drawing on the area's finest musicians at the
apex of their decades-long collaborative history.
Thus, the album features performances by jazz drumming legend
Billy Higgins, renowned west coast pianist Horace Tapscott, master
bassist Dr. Art Davis, flutist James Newton, and the members
of B Sharp Jazz Quartet. Also contributing are percussionist
Munyungo Jackson, pianist Nate Morgan, reed players Michael Session
and Phil Vieux, violinist Karen Briggs, bassist Roberto Miranda,
vocalists Dwight Trible and Carmen Bradford, and drummer Willie
The resulting album reflects Leimert Park's eclectic musical
landscape. "Her," which Kamau dedicates to his wife,
boasts jazzy Brazilian rhythms played by Billy Higgins on guitar,
while the title track is a hip hop groove, invoking images from
the vibrant neighborhood. The North African "World Music"
transports the listener, while the free-jazz sounds of "Liberator
of Spirit" and the hard-bop "Tears" draw us to
the complex world of poetry and music. All in all, Leimert Park
is the musical portrait of a community's coming of age as seen
through the eyes of one of its most devoted inhabitants.
"Many of the poems explore the dichotomies of life,"
Kamau explains. "They talk about the relationship between
struggle and transformation, suffering and healing, pain and
hope. A song like 'Tears' explores the strife of artists as they
work to heal themselves and their world. 'Balm of Gilead,' which
is about Billie Holiday and Lester Young, deals with their common
hardships and how they drew from that well and made it into this
sweetness that they poured on our lives. 'Art Blakey's Drumsticks'
is a call to action. It points to the community's challenges
but at the same time evokes people to find solutions. In a sense,
the whole album is about the artist as a healer and an agent
For Kamau, Leimert Park is a deeply symbolic album, marking
a long history of cultural work in the Los Angeles area. Born
and raised in Los Angeles, the multi-talented artist was instrumental
in transforming Leimert Park into the cultural center it is today.
In 1989 he and drummer Billy Higgins teamed up with a handful
of artists to establish the World Stage. Under Kamau's and Billy's
leadership this store-front performance gallery became Los Angeles'
black creative epicenter. The park is now home to a wealth of
performance spaces, studios, galleries, shops and restaurants,
and is widely viewed as the symbol of Los Angeles' rebirth. Less
than a decade later, Kamau's reputation has grown to that of
a folk hero. The author of two books of poetry, Ascension and
Liberator of the Spirit, his work has been translated into Spanish
and is featured in Ten Contemporary American Poets. An award-winning
documentary film about his life, appropriately titled Life Is
a Saxophone, premiered in 1985. He has been a guest artist on
several recordings, including the spoken word compilation Jazz
Speaks and B Sharp Jazz Quartet's Searching for the One. Kamau
has taught at California State University Northridge and at Otis
Art Institute for Parson School of Design, and was honored by
the USC Master of Professional Writing Program for his accomplishments
as a writer.
Kamau developed his literary skills as a young member of the
legendary Watts Writer's Workshop. His tenure as a "word
musician" with the Pan African People's Arkestra under the
direction of Horace Tapscott, helped to shape his bebop-flavored
poetic approach. A veteran of hundreds of readings, Kamau developed
an underground following in the west coast performance circles,
where he has been known to bring an audience to its feet. His
readings have brought him to podiums with Gil Scott Heron, The
Last Poets, Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez, and have taken him
as far away as Egypt and Somalia.
Today, Kamau's blend of poetry and music is more relevant
than ever. The burgeoning popularity of hip hop and the nationwide
explosion of cafe culture have spurred spoken word into a phenomenon
not witnessed since the heyday of the Beat movement. Amidst this
backdrop, Kamau Daáood heralds his emergence as a word-wielding
blues prophet, a new age Moses. With its compelling portraits
of a community reborn, Leimert Park is a timely tale of redemption,
dignity and salvation. In celebrating their community, Kamau
and his fellow artists offer a soulful solution to the problems
facing our world. Leimert Park is a masterful and ambitious recording
that blurs the distinctions between art, entertainment and education.