Gil Scott-Heron, Nelson Mandela, South Africa and Johannesburg -

The passing of President Nelson Mandela has made me think of Gil Scott-Heron quite a bit lately.  He was a dear friend.  In calling out the pantheon of leaders who will be there to great Mandela, I'm sure Gil will be one of them.  He wrote the landmark song, Johannesburg in 1975, when people were not even focusing on the horrors that were taking place over there.  I daresay most African Americans either know the song, or know the music.  So in honor of Gil and President Mandela, I'm reprising the article:

June 2, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron: Some Last Lasting Thoughts

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Gil Scott-Heron - poet, musician, activist, and now, ANCESTOR - is primarily known for his work in the late 1960s, 70s and 1980s as a "spoken word" performer. In some circles, he is known as a Griot. And while there are those who want to type cast him as a prelude to “hip hop“, I beg to differ strenuously, since the Gil primarily spoke positively about Blackness as a quality, did not disparage Black women, or families.

Gil, who I am proud to say was my classmate at Lincoln University (and was smart enough to leave and pursue a calling from his soul), combined poetry with rhythm and blues, jazz, and funk and raised critical political and social issues.  He has received much recognition and acclaim for one of his most well-known compositions "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,"  as well as for “Winter In America,” “Whitie’s on The Moon”, “In The Bottle,”  "Johannesburg," among a great many others.

His contemporary body of work is even more compelling as he bears witness to the fact that history has proven the truth of his words. The Griot in him comes out as anecdote after anecdote about the inspirations behind his pieces are shared with the audience. He reveals his unique humor and insight into the powerful dynamics spirit has on life as we know it.

Inline image 1
L-R:  Gil Scott-Heron, Gloria Dulan-Wilson with her adult
 children Kira and spoken word artist (son) Rais 
(The One Sun Lion Ra) - at DC Concert (2010)

All bones and angles, Gil  who stood about 6’1”, got the “Rabble” name of “Spyderman” at Lincoln University, because of his gangly appearance.  The affectionate title has stuck throughout the years with those of us who knew and loved him from Black in the day til now.  His bold move to step out and follow his dream inspired many of us to take chances we probably would never have taken, in an era when we had been taught the only way to succeed was to get a good education and a good job.  To our minds Gil defied both and won.

He was our hero, our voice - and later the voice for so many.  He was however a hero with flaws - with his own challenges - in need of a hero of his own.  Something I’m afraid he never really found, ironically, during all his travels, writing, soliloquies.  He did/does however, have legions of admirers, who, like myself, love him as a brother/friend; respect him for never giving up, despite the insurmountable odds he apparently faced; and for always having the wisdom and presence of mind to use each and every little facet of life as an eloquent teachable moment via verse and song.

It has been my privilege and pleasure to have written a word or two about my brother/friend Gil Scott-Heron over the past thirty or more years.  The impact he has had on the Black community and the world at large vis a vis his music and lyrical activism has been nothing short of phenomenal.

In practically every article I write, I point up the fact that  when were students at Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, I and  several other classmates, after having heard him sing during a talent competition, early on told Gil he could not sing, and that he would fall flat on his face if he pursued such a career.  Thank goodness he didn’t listen to us, and went the great Griot/troubador he was/is.

When you listen to Gil Scott Heron’s lyrics, you find yourself nodding, or sighing, in agreement.  Things that make you go “hmmm”…!  Gil has always had the prescience that has caused this phenomena -- this universal understanding that overarches generations, ethnicities, social and economic strata.  That explains why he is so loved and appreciated by so many artists -- from jazz, to rock, to r&b to hip-hop to rap.

It’s rather difficult to pinpoint his voice -- is he a bass, or is he a tenor?  His voice has a way of getting inside your mind.  It’s tailor made for the genre of music and the thought provoking lyrics that go with it.  I’ve known Gil for more than half my life -- -okay, two-thirds of my life.   Even though we don’t see each other more than once or twice a year, I consider him a brother and a friend.

In a one-on-one interview with Gil that took place at his East Harlem Studio in Mid-September, 2010, during Harlem Week, shortly after a show he did at the Blue Note and a guest appearance in DC at Rock Creek Park’s Carter Barron Amphitheatre, we talked about when he was going to do his official autobiography.  Something I felt was long overdue.  He told me that he often called himself his mother‘s biggest April Fool joke, having been born on April 1. 

GSH:  A lot of times when I‘m performing, I can see her watching me, telling me to sit up straight.”  (Then he would bend over the key board in an even more pronounced manner.  Gil was always bucking authority.)  Although, I did do one thing she told  me to do, and that was to go back to college and complete my education - so I may have dropped out of Lincoln U, but I do have a degree, thanks to her.”

He plays one of his song’s “I’m Going Home, Been out on the Road for Much Too Long,” and explains that the Lyrics were actually fashioned after an incident that actually occurred while he was on tour.

Gil had become more and more become anecdotal in his performances, taking additional time to give the history and story behind each song; or drop other relevant information on his audience, much to their delight.  He was a great storyteller.  His wry humor has a way of catching you unawares.

The following is an excerpt from our last one on one interview:
{NOTE: GSH - Gil Scott Heron; GDW - Gloria Dulan-Wilson}

GSH:  “I’m working on a new album. Several things we did never came out on CD.  So we are doing some compilations, re-issues and stuff  off of my label, the work that we are doing for Xcel is going to continue probably next week down town with Electric Lady (Jimi Hendrix) studios, that’s what we’ve been working on for 2010.”  He named his label for his son and daughter “Ramal-Gia Records”

GDW: “Are you like a few other creative people we know very well, who write a lot of creative stuff, and it ends up on the shelf for 900 years until you get around to dealing with it again?”

GSH:  (He laughed) No, this came out in 1980.  Most of the things came out then, they came out like that, either they came out on vinyl or on stage.   We just like to reach back every once in a while to renew the message.

GDW:  That’s great!  So In addition to that, I need to play a little catch up with you.  Because the last time I did an interview with you was about ten years ago!  I’m saying 200 years because it feels like it.

GSH:  Yeah! I hear you.  Yeah we do times ten on that.

GDW:  And that was at SOB’s.  We talked after the show that night for about an hour.

GSH:  We still play SOBs. We did the Blue Note, we do BB Kings in November, and some other places around town.  Like we VanGuard with Mos’ Def.  Like you  can play New York like about 15 times and not see the same people twice, because different people play in different places.  You get different crowds at different joints.  Like the Knitting Factory is a different crowd from SOBs; which is a different crowd from Blue Note which is a different crowd from BBKing’s.  I’ve never been there before.  I’ve been in there, but never played there before.  So if you go downtown, you know, we are known, we’ve been heard of, much more than heard among all those people.  We like to make it real for them, and they make it real for us.  To make it real for them we go to the different places, you know where ever they are.

GDW:  There was standing room only crowd at the Blue Note.

GSH:  Yeah you know we had two of them.

GDW:  Yeah, I believe it, because I came to the ten o’clock and I stood for the entire show.

GSH:  Yeah it was nice to see a lot of folks I hadn’t seen for a long time.  They had been there, and I had been down the street.  We had played here and there.  That’s just the circle you know.  I hadn’t played there in a long time in the Blue Note.  The last time I played the Blue Note, Prince was there.

GDW:  That’s like 9 zillion years ago.

GSH:  So it just depends on where you are and how you run into folks.  That’s how it is in New York.  Some people think that their block is the only one.  So where ever they’ve been, there may be nothing happening if you haven’t been there.

GDW:  The fact that we were standing shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow that was a symbol of how much you’re loved in the community.

GSH:  You know that yeah and especially on a Sunday night, when people have to go to work the next day; and during Harlem Week (when there’s so much also going on uptown).

Subsequent to the above one-on-one interview,  Gil  performed with  young spoken word artist Talib Kweli, and Gary Bartz for the Tenth National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College, CUNY. Collaborating with the politically and socially conscious hip hop artist Talib Kweli, who brings a sense of spirituality and moral balance to hip hop, is a natural alliance and collaboration for this electrifying team of artists activists. And when you bring in award-winning jazz saxophonist, Gary Bartz, this intergenerational collaboration signifies an historic moment in time. Gary Bartz sums up the stance of this intergenerational group of musician writers when he states, "After all music doesn't belong to any one person. It belongs to the people, to everybody." The music of Gil Scott-Heron, Talib Kweli and Gary Bartz embody these words, for these artists create music that belongs to the global village and that speaks to the soul, heart and spirit of people.

That was the last time I saw Gil perform live; though I have his cd programmed into my computer so I can listen to it while I’m writing; and I shot him a “Happy Birthday” email on April 1st, challenges of my own, and his tours primarily being out of state and out of the country, prevented me from seeing him again.

I know I speak for my classmates from Lincoln University, my own family who knew and loved Gil, that he will surely be loved, revered and remembered always.  He’s up there with our dear friend and documentarian, St. Clair Bourne - can you imagine the kind of magic those two are going to concoct?  AND OF COURSE, NOW WITH NELSON MANDELA - 

  1. Gil Scott-Heron - Johannesburg

    Johannesburg by Gil Scott-Heron No violation of copyright intended.
  2. Gil Scott-Heron -Johannesburg -Live 1976 Old Grey Whistle Test

    Gil Scott-Heron Live on Old Grey Whistle Test 1976.
  3. Gil-Scott Heron-Johannesburg (live,UK Freedom,1988)

    Gil-Scott-Heron,live London Artists Against Apartheid , 1988.
  4. Gil Scott-Heron - Johannesburg

    What's the word.

Stay Blessed &
Gloria Dulan-Wilson


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank YOU For Visiting Gloria Dulan-Wilson Eclectic Black People VIP Blog. We Would Like Your Views, Interests And Perspectives. Please Leave A Comment Below.