‘Collage’ celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. through poetry, song

Christina Stavale

Annie Fullard and Mari Sato of the Cavani String Quartet perform a piece. The two played along with poetry read by Mwatabu Okantah. SAM TWAREK | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

Last night the words and spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. filled the African Community Theatre in Oscar Ritchie for the concert “Collage: Poetry and Music.”

The concert was the Center of Pan-African Culture and the Department of Pan-African Studies’ annual program to celebrate the impact of King.

It featured the Cavani String Quartet, the winner of the Naumburg Chamber Music Award, and Mwatabu Okantah, assistant professor of Pan-African Studies and author of several books of poetry. Okantah has also appeared in the United States, Canada and West Africa as a motivational speaker.

VIDEO Click image to view.


Okantah said he and the quartet have been performing together since 1990. Merry Peckham, the quartet’s cellist, described the group’s formation as a “brilliant, happy accident.”

“Collage” was a collaboration of classical music and contemporary poetry. While introducing one of the works, Okantah described his poetry and the quartet’s music as “weapons of the spirit.”

During the concert, the quartet played underlying classical music of composers such as Dvorak and Bartok as Okantah read both his own poetry and works by Langston Hughes.

Okantah said last night’s performance was the first ever of that particular program. The content of the program, however, has been with him for his entire life.

“I was a witness (to King),” he said. “It was the 6 o’clock news for me. My poetry is my response and reaction to that.”

In between the various works the quartet and Okantah performed, Okantah explained the importance of King in today’s world to about 50 people in the audience.

“Dr. King isn’t dead,” he said. “It is our responsibility to be sure he is not reduced and obscured into a national holiday.”

In addition to performances by Okantah and the quartet, a guest of Pickett Line Productions, Prester Pickett, performed a dramatic reading of King’s speech “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”

Various members of the Black Experience I class attended the concert. Also among the audience members was Vice Provost Steve Michael.

“Dr. King means a lot to me,” he said. “It means having a dream bigger than one’s life.”

Contact news correspondent Christina Stavale at [email protected].