Amina Baraka records debut CD, headlines NYC performance

New Masses Nights, the monthly series of radical performance, will celebrate Black History Month with the legendary Amina Baraka who will perform selections from her recently recorded debut CD.

Ms. Baraka, a vital force of social justice and fight-back over decades, is a poet of unique talent who stands as woefully under-recognized. Though she’d  been active alongside her late husband, the celebrated poet Amiri Baraka, her work as an independent artist has often been overlooked outside of the activist circle in the New York/New Jersey area. While some state that this was caused by being outshined by the fame of Mr. Baraka’s output, others attest that the couple’s international profile as voices of radicalism enforced an unspoken censorship about her. “Plus, I was raising a family”, Ms. Baraka clarified. Those were hard years. Someone had to be here when the children came home from school. When Amiri traveled, I often needed to be home”. The family experienced threats by reactionary forces, and during the height of COINTELPRO operations, the Barakas were subject to federal and local government investigation, compelling Ms. Baraka to stand protectively over home and children.

Stories of a lifetime

Ms. Baraka’s plans to record an album of her poetry have been long-standing, a goal she always intended to see realized. Working in a collaborative effort with this reporter over the past year, she began to formulate the project as one which would offer a vision of herself through the stories of her lifetime. “Some of these poems date back to the 1960s and ’70s. Others were written very recently as I sit up nights into the early morning hours.  Memories, faces, sounds. It’s all about the people’s struggle”, she explained.

After signing a contract with renowned underground jazz label ESP-Disk (which released albums by such seminal artists as Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman), Ms. Baraka worked with this reporter’s quartet the Red Microphone to establish arrangements for her poetry. Some of the pieces were set to original compositions of band member Rocco John Iacovone while others were cast over free jazz, blues or R & B-flavored music. The material was recorded in January’s chill at Park West Studios in Flatbush, Brooklyn NY. The CD is due for release in late spring or early summer. ESP-Disk’s Steven Holtje has remarked that the project is one of “historic” proportions.

During the recording session Ms. Baraka remarked: “I’ve been waiting my entire life to record my poetry this way. I thrive on the music and much of it is improvised, so that leads me to perform the pieces in new ways, in some cases with new words. This CD is very important right now as we face a kind of American fascism we haven’t known before.”

In performance

Ms. Baraka, in the company of the Red Microphone, will perform selections from this collection at the radical arts series New Masses Nights on Saturday February 25, 7pm at the Henry Winston Unity Hall located at 235 West 23 Street, 7th floor, in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. Admission is a $10 donation. The members of the Red Microphone are Ras Moshe Burnett (tenor saxophone, flute), Rocco John Iacovone (alto and soprano saxophones, piano), Laurie Towers (electric bass) and this writer, musical director/drummer-percussionist John Pietaro.

Toward the cause of Black History Month, other performers on the February 25 bill include jazz bassist/poet Larry Roland and guitarist and composer Dave Ross with his trio. There will also be a reading of a Langston Hughes work originally published in “New Masses”, the revolutionary cultural magazine the series is named for.

For more information on the series see


John Pietaro
John Pietaro

Poet, Arts Journalist, Creative Writer, Spoken Word Artist. Works at Local 802 AFM. DJ, co-host Beneath the Underground at Sheena's Jungle Room on WFMU. Staff Writer, Columnist, Critic at The NYC Jazz Record.