Sekou Sundiata, Performance Artist and Poet, Dies at 58

Obituaries   Sekou Sundiata, Performance Artist and Poet, Dies at 58 Sekou Sundiata, an multi-faceted artist who melded poetry, music and performance in his soulful, rhythmic explorations of what it meant to be black in America, died in Valhalla, NY, on July 28. He was 58 and lived in Brooklyn.

Mr. Sundiata's work bridged many worlds. He was for many years a writing professor at the New School University in Manhattan. Well known in slam poetry circles, he performed his verses on HBO. He released several CDs of poetry and music. And he frequently collaborated with jazz trombonist Craig Harris on loose-limbed, theatrical word landscapes. In all aspects of his career, he was deeply influenced by black musical styles such as jazz, blues and funk, as well as the artists who epitomized them.

His performance pieces were presented at P.S. 122, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Spoleto Festival in the U.S., as well as all over the world. One Sundiata-Harris collaboration was The Circle Unbroken Is a Hard Bop, which played to acclaim at P.S. 122 in the early '90s. While Harris sporadically played on the trombone in the background (and later the Digaradoo), Mr. Sundiata, centerstage, unleashed a seemingly stream-of-consciousness, hour-long, free-verse poem about growing up black in 1960s America. His words skipped back and forth through time periods and historical references, simultaneously evoking joy and rage. "Nat Turner said, 'Do the "Tighten Up"'," was a typical line, bringing together the famous leader of a slave rebellion and a popular 1960s dance craze.

His other works included — Udu — a staged oratorio about (again, with Harris); blessing the boats, a one-man show inspired by Mr. Sundiata's experiences of heroin addiction, a car crash and a kidney transplant; and his most recent work, the 51st (dream) state, about the aftermath of 9/11.

Mr. Sundiata was born Robert Franklin Feaster in Harlem on Aug. 22, 1948; he adopted the African name Sekou Sundiata in the late 1960s, reported the New York Times. He earned a bachelor's degree in English from City College of New York in 1972 and a master's degree in creative writing from the City University of New York in 1979.

He is survived by his wife, Maurine Knighton, known as Kazi; a daughter, Myisha Gomez of Manhattan; and a stepdaughter, Aida Riddle of Brooklyn.