Wednesday, 20 August 2008

RECALLING -MUSICIAN GIL SCOTT HERON, London 1999

Jazz Café, Camden Town, North West London, has been his favoured concert venue for a couple of years now.
We have been told the gig shall start 9 p.m. but 25 minutes are gone. To make things worse it is a “standing” gig. Half way through the concert some people (especially ladies)massage their lower backs. If you want to sit, you have to book a table upstairs “and eat” says the regulations. Many of us have come to see a great musician, not dine.

photo credits : Amita M.

Nobody announces him.
There is no hint, either. The funk music from more than four JBL speakers is still on. Sometimes James Brown; sometimes Chaka Khan…we are in African American territory here.
A man with a cotton hat slides quietly down the stairs- there are ropes – barriers sort of…so he steps under like someone doing something forbidden. The “I don’t care vibe” is here- it will colour the gig from start to end.
Gil Scott Heron sits behind his “Rhodes” keyboards and is talking intimately to us, as though each of us is a pal in his living room...
Tall, lanky,free spirit, his hair has shades of grey ( 50 this year);the teeth seem cracked in some places; tennis shoes, a black jacket. I haven’t seen him for a couple of years ; physically he has aged, but the vigour, intellect and wit has gotten fresher and better.
We are more than 200, mostly whites, trickles of blacks here and there-an Indian woman (tells me she is from Delhi), a Greek who says he lives in New Zealand; but Caucasians dominate this eager audience. Most of us are drinking and listening…
“Good evening…”
His voice booms, a bass; very familiar to those acquainted with his records.
I have been listening to Gil Scott Heron since 1982. That first time an African American expatriate (and former Black Panther member) had introduced me to his work in Arusha, north Tanzania. I especially loved “Grandma Hands” and “Inner City Blues” both also recorded by Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye. I met him after his concert in Bonn, Germany back in 1987. We had a chat and I published an interview in the "African Interpreter" in Cologne months later. (You should read the 1987 interview soon. Check this space)….
Gil Scott Heron’s work has always inspired me as an artist because I can relate to him hundred percent. I am not talking of his personal life style here.
He is an accomplished writer and skilled musician. The struggle of my life has been to try and reach a balance between good music and good writing: verse and melody; rhythm and meaning; entertainment and subject matter and Gil Scott Heron is one of a few artists I know who is able to balance great art form and intelligent conscious content. No wonder, he is regarded as the father of rap and hip hop.
No art for art's sake.
INSPIRATIONAL.
Brings to mind other similarly inclined artists.
Brazilians Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso or Jamaica's Bob Marley.
Can you name more?
2
So?
Jazz Café, London, April 1999.
Gil Scott Heron is talking about the end of the 20th Century.
“This is the decade of allergies” (his own brand is “blues allergies”) meaning the feel. It is he adds , “your last chance to feel it. Next century will be information. Everything will be about information…”
Music is oozing through his fingers as he plays the "Rhodes" keys while talking and soon is joined by flute and piano player ( Brian Jackson) thru one of his best numbers :"Pieces of a Man." (“The secret is I don’t play piano…” is he joking?) But he is playing. So what is this supposed to mean? Humility? Modesty?
I saw the thunder and heard the lighting
And felt the burden of his shame..."


More musicians join in.
We hear “Peace” ( T-shirts are on sale with the tour’s mantra: “Everybody got a job to do, lets work for peace.”)
THE ONLY REASON WE CANNOT HAVE PEACE; IS BECAUSE YOU CANNOT MAKE MONEY WITH PEACE…
WAR MEANS MONEY.
What a line. What a line. Reminds of John Pilger’s take on war... as a dirty money business.
Follows other great tunes. “Winter in America” an amazing jazz-bluesy metaphorical song :
“Its winter in America, and all the healers done be killed or put in jail.”
Somewhere along the way the microphone does him tricks.
His clumsiness, he says is “I just cant handle these things.” One member of the audience helps.
“There are kind guys and kind ladies here. Thanks for your help.”
You might think he is strolling down a confessional road but later after the break he makes a serious comment about the drinks offered by the venue.
“We have been given lots of orange juice. They gave us this juice in a box. A square thing. And they got…so fucking stupid. In a stupid box. All natural. This should be all orange. No Preservatives. Valid June the first. If there are no preservatives it should be valid until today or now…”
3
After the break the performance is terrific. There is melodic backing vocals from rest of band. The pendulum of strong words and great music is swinging; such decorous balance means more instrumentation. Like when Gil Scott Heron gets off stage to let, Larry MacDonalds the percussionist play expertly and long.
Backstage he keeps praising the band using WE instead of I.
“It is because they are such good musicians.” He explains, modestly.
The fans explain the mood better.
Inga Clark, from the Caribbean celebrating her 25th birthday:
“I knew television won’t be televised. I like jazz but never seen him live. I wanted to come here with my friends to see something mellow and educational. I would like to see him again. He is very natural and spontaneous.”
Inga’s friend, Deepa Moodgal (also 25)is a teacher for ex-offenders:
“Show was inspirational. Spiritual. I have heard his records, but first time I have seen him live. I cannot specify which song I liked best – he speaks to everyone and everything.”
Two guys.
Film editor, Alistair Waterson (27):
“My expectations were all surpassed. My favourite is Winter in America…although I like all his music....”
Damon Mangos (27)of New Zealand, graphic designer:
“He is just amazing. Brilliant. He takes personal appreciation of things and gives a general comment like peace.”
4
Backstage.
Other musicians chill out with women and fans. Don Mcgriggs, (bass player) admits he is Gil’s anchor man.
“ I am close to him musically. We play well together, all kinds of music.”
Gil Scott Heron takes my hand after remembering the article I did back in 1987. We go into a quieter room, where two characters join us.
The first, a cab driver, says he knows the musician for 19 years now; they are the same age.
“Gil is a survivor. He has done almost 20 albums, but you cannot find them. He is a legend.”
The other man agrees immediately.
“But he is not that known. Which is good because it has not spoiled his image. If he had got too famous, he would be something different. He keeps the intimacy.”
Is Gil Scott Heron worried about his safety?
“Well not. I am more worried of friends and family who associate themselves with me.”
Is he watched? Like …a terrorist would?
“Of course. But I would rather do what I do – take a position of responsibility than stand on a corner. I would rather do something.”

Yes, this is a A man who has really lived.

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Wednesday, 13 August 2008

SABLE LIT-MAG : site of the week

This is my favourite site of the week.
It is singing music for writers.
Writers are the library of human society. They keep our records.
Through songs, plays, films, media, stories and stirrings, they pen down words, moods and feelings.
Check out this exciting magazine published by London's award winning lady, Kadija George.

It is called Sable Lit Magazine...

www.myspace.com/sablelitmag

Read more!