If you have never heard the name Saul Williams, you have been missing out on one of the most important legacies in the history of modern art. From Jimi Hendrix to Rage Against the Machine, from Public Enemy to N.W.A., the list of discontented artists seeking social justice through self-expression includes many names that stand out as figureheads of generations.
Saul Williams’s name is making its way onto that list. Referred to as “hip-hop’s poet laureate” by CNN, Williams will be performing spoken-word poetry alongside the Mivos Quartet at Duke this October.
The performance will be set around Williams’ blistering poem “NGH WHT,” an insight into the nature of racial stereotypes in America.
“Saul is making music and poetry that is vital,” said Aaron Greenwald, executive director of Duke Performances. “He is the best in the world at what he does. He is in a space between poetry, hip-hop and punk rock, and very few people are able to get that right.”
Williams is interested in more than simply performing at Duke, however. He will also visit a handful of advanced poetry writing classes and meet with the Humanitarian Challenges: Global Innovations and Initiatives Focus cluster. Williams will also engage in a public conversation with Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke.
“Saul is an incisive commentator on the political moment, and he offers a fresh perspective that I’m personally quite moved by," Greenwald said. "He’s a virtuoso of a very specific genre, and a truly politically engaged artist. To tell the truth though, there’s a whole world of topics that Saul would be comfortable talking about."
Performing alongside Williams, the Mivos Quartet is a string ensemble that delivers chilling accompaniments to his poetry, creating a dynamic of music and word that is not-so-easily forgotten.
“We were first introduced to Saul by word-of-mouth,” said Victor Lowrie, violist and executive director of the group.
In 2013, the quartet attended one of Williams’ performance in New York City where they were formally introduced—as of now, they couldn’t be happier with their pairing.
“It’s been really inspiring to work with Saul, like a window into a different artistic genre than we’ve ever had experience with,” Lowrie said. “He is a master and a pioneer of his form. Very few spoken word artists are inspired and curious as Saul is, and even fewer have his level of musical talent.”
Williams is more than just a voice of protest, however.
“He’s so fun to work with,” Lowrie said. “[H]e always has a lot of interesting things to talk about. It’s rare to find someone who can have such an active mind, and simultaneously be so calm.”
The details of the concert have yet to be released. During such a politically turbulent time in the United States, voices of protest and expression such as Williams' are refreshing in a way that's hard to put into words.
For more information on the upcoming performance, visit www.dukeperformances.org.
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Jaxson Floberg is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Mondays.