From Alexandria to Richmond via Vietnam and Harlem, Ngoma Hill has built an impressive artistic career. He is now recognized for his work on another level.
Mr. Hill, also known as Cordell Hill and Ngoma Osayemi Ifatunmise, is expected to receive a lifetime honor on September 5 as the winner of the New Generation Beat Poet Award.
The award, awarded by the National Beat Poetry Foundation, is the latest honor bestowed on an artist whose work has continued for decades.
âI was thrilled,â said Mr. Hill when he heard he would receive the title. âI am honored to be recognized.
Mr. Hill, who was previously the recipient of the New York State National Beat Poet Award from 2017 to 2019, describes himself as a “modern day griot and multi-instrumentalist.”
Mr. Hill composed his first poem while serving as an infantryman in Vietnam, based on books sent to him by his friends. In the years that followed, he expanded his craft through the additional use of music and song.
Following the traditions of the West African griots, Mr. Hill uses his skill with a wide variety of musical instruments to accentuate his poetry. From violin and bamboo flute to yidaki and guitar, all allow him to embrace a broad genre of music with an emphasis on raising âsocial, political and spiritual awarenessâ through commentary. Its topics range from social and environmental justice to voting rights, nuclear disarmament and economic inequality.
âI seek to inspire the oppressed and those struggling for a better life and seek an introduction and understanding of alternative viewpoints,â Mr. Hill said.
Over the course of five decades, Mr. Hill has presented his work in many venues and with talented collaborators, including as part of The Spirit House Movers and Players and Serious Bizness by Amiri Baraka.
Mr. Hill’s work has also been shared in public and private schools, colleges and universities and at multiple social justice rallies, including the largest anti-nuclear rally in Central Park in June 1982. It was artistic curator in the past, and was initiated as priest of Obatala and priest of Ifa.
Mr. Hill sees poetry as a way to help those who are going through difficult times by encouraging a different perspective and critical thinking approach. Mr. Hill himself strives to do the same and sees his time in Richmond as the one that inspired him to broaden his perspective on artistic expression.
With a poetic memoir to be published in the near future, Mr. Hill continues to seek new ways to nurture his creativity and inspire positive growth and change in the world around him.
âThe main inspiration for my work is the human condition,â says Hill. “I write to raise social, political and spiritual awareness.”
Meet a poet and crusader who inspires through his art, and this week’s personality Ngoma Hill:
Great honor: Lifetime award for being the winner of the New Generation Beat Poet Award from the National Beat Poetry Foundation.
Date and place of birth: July 18 in Alexandria.
Where I live now: Harlem, New York State
Occupation: Poet / musician / artivist.
Education: Richmond Baker Elementary School, Benjamin Graves High School, Maggie L. Walker High School, and Virginia State College.
Family: I recently remarried. I have a daughter and three grandchildren who live in Texas.
Receiving the lifetime honor of the National Beat Poetry Foundation means: I am honored to be recognized.
How I found out that I was selected: By email. I was delighted. I was the recipient of the New York State National Beat Poet Award from 2017 to 2019.
The National Beat Poetry Foundation is: A Connecticut-based nonprofit that includes festivals, the National Beat Poetry Festival, the International Beat Poetry Festival, and Kerouac Cafe. As the foundation continues to preserve the writings of the “Beat Generation”, it strives to continue to evolve to create a new “Beat Generation” of poets, writers, artists and musicians. The NBPF supports the mission by organizing, collaborating and fostering joint partnerships for beat-themed poetry readings, workshops, plays, radio shows and more in the United States and around the world.
My poetry is inspired by: Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Askia Muhammad TourÃ©, Louis Reyes Rivera and The Last Poets.
Poetry is: From an African point of view, a means of cultural, spiritual and political expression.
First poem written and why: I wrote my first poem when I was an infantryman in Vietnam. My friends, some who went to Virginia Union University, sent me books that fed my conscience. My first poem was the expression of my evolution as an artist.
The main inspiration behind my literary work: Is the human condition. I write to raise social, political and spiritual awareness.
Themes covered in my poetry: I am a modern day griot and multi-instrumentalist who practices his art through the use of poetry, song and music. My work is specifically designed to raise social, political and spiritual awareness through social criticism and commentary using these artistic mediums. I create and use music that invokes the richness of our history as a point of reference. I accomplish this through the use of slaves, freedom of work, jazz, blues, traditional African spiritual and folk songs. My obsession and love of music led me to play several instruments – violin, bamboo flute, yidaki (mistakenly called the didgeridoo), guitar and assorted percussion instruments which in the tradition of the African griots of West, provide an attractive platform for my original poems. I faithfully continue in this tradition by addressing a myriad of topics that include social and environmental justice, women’s rights, nuclear peace and disarmament, prisoners’ rights, voting rights, and economic inequality. I connect the dots to show how these entities are connected.
How poetry can help people in difficult times: By generating different perspectives while invoking critical thinking.
That I seek to inspire with my poetry: The oppressed and those who struggle for a better life and seek an introduction and understanding of alternative points of view.
How growing up in Richmond inspired me: Research and explore different artistic expressions.
Where the Richmonders can engage with my work and me: Ngoma Hill and Ngoma Not Your Average String Thing on Facebook, baba_ngoma on Instagram. Also on YouTube.
How I start the day: I practice Ifa. I start the day with prayer and with the guidance and direction of the spiritual beings around me.
A perfect day for me is: Any day I wake up.
Quote from which I am inspired: âSometimes it takes a long time to look like yourself. – Miles Davis.
My friends describe me as: I do not know. I never really asked them.
At the top of my “to-do” list: Make every day count.
Best late night snack: Pop corn.
The best thing my parents ever taught me: Always strive to be better, better, better.
Person who influenced me the most: Herman A. Hill, my father. He influenced me the most through his work ethic. He was also one of the plaintiffs in the Brown v. Board of Education in Virginia. I was also inspired by Joseph Kennedy, the group principal at Maggie L. Walker High School. I also took private violin lessons with him. He was my introduction to the jazz violin.
Favorite poet and why: Sorry, I don’t have just one.
Book that marked me the most: âBlack bourgeoisieâ by E. Franklin Frazier. It exposed me to class consciousness based on skin color. I read it when I was in high school. It was quite advanced reading at the time. Also âThe Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Revolution of Saint-Domingueâ by CLR James. This is the story of the Haitian Revolution and opened me up to the idea that we can win.
What I’m reading now: “Incorporated Murder – Empire / Genocide / Manifest Destiny: Dreaming of Empire” by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Stephen Vittoria.
Next goal: I’m working on a book that should be out soon. The title: âI didn’t come here to tap dance – A poetic memory. “