“The two legged beasts that walk like men/Placed finger in their crusty asses/While crackling babies in napalm coats/Stretched mouths to receive burning tears on splitting tongues/Just give me a cool drink a water ‘fore i die.” That’s the opening line of the CD Black Pearls: The Poetry of Maya Angelou. (Rhino Records).
Angelou’s dramatic and passionate voice will catch the listener off guard sometimes when she occasionally uses foul language and politically incorrect terms.
But those who always wanted to have a collection of Maya Angelou’s poems on disc will be delighted to know that Rhino Records has released Angelou’s album produced by Paul Robinson.
Angelou recites an African-American history lesson on this 30-minute, 38-track CD.
Most of the selections, though slightly altered, are from her book entitled, Just Give Ge A Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die published by Random House in 1971. Other selections on this CD can be found in The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou also published by Random House in 1994.
Angelou, author of the autobiography I Know why the Caged Bird Sings, gives a description of what it was like being black in the segregated South in the ’60s.
She recites her poems like she’s reading a bedtime story, with no background music. Her voice dominates the album, with the occasional interruption of a jazz interlude by Ed Bland.
Listeners note the bite in her voice in “The Calling of Names” when she speaks of the evolution of the terms for African Americans. “He went to being called a colored man after answering to `hey nigger’/Now that’s a big jump anyway you figure… from colored man to negro with the N in caps/Was like saying the Japanese instead of saying Japs/I mean during the war…”
She includes a poem dedicated to the race riots in the ’60s entitled “Re: Revolt.” She recalls the riots in New York in 1942 and Detroit, Michigan in 1967. She says, “Policemen driving their bullet proof cars saying/Chugga, chugga, chigga, let’s shoot that nigga’/Trying to outrun us/He can’t get far.”
She dedicates “My Guilt” to black heroes like Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr.
In this track she gets into the mind of a black man being lynched as his white counterparts watch him struggle. “My sin is hanging from a tree/I do not scream/It makes me proud/I take to dying like a man/I know it won’t impress the crowd/My sin lies in not screaming loud.”
She discusses politics and what liberals can do for blacks.
On her cut called “On Working White Liberals,” Angelou says, “I believe enough to die for/That is every man’s responsibility to man… This rocky road’s not paved for us/So I’ll believe in liberals aid for us when I see a white man load a black man’s gun.”
“When I Think About Myself,” is a heart-wrenching and thought-provoking account of her life and ancestors. “60 years in these folks’ world/The child I works for calls me girl/I say `yes ma’am’ for working sake/Too proud to bend and too po’ to break/I laugh until my stomach ache… I laugh so hard I nearly died/The tales they tell sound just like lying/they grow the fruit but eat the rind/I laugh until I start to crying/When I think about my folks.”