Liverpool International Music Festival 2015 presents…
“The Revolution will be Live! – A tribute to Gil Scott-Heron” @ St Georges Hall, Liverpool. 27 August 2015.
UK Vibe gets the lowdown from Gil’s own protégé – poet Malik Al Nasir, who is also curator of this commissioned showcase live music event within LIMF 2015.
“This issue of revolution affects all of us in some way or another. It’s still relevant. There’s revolutions happening all over the place; there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t been impacted in some way or another by some kind of revolution happening somewhere – There’s revolution in the air.” – Malik Al Nasir
Liverpool native son and poet Malik Al Nasir, of spoken word ensemble “Malik & The O.G’s” is the one living individual, of whom it can faithfully be said, is a direct link to the legacy of wordsmith extraordinaire Gil Scott-Heron. Having been personally mentored, guided and tutored by the late poet, Malik has long harboured within, the desire to pay suitable homage to his big brother, closest friend, guardian, confidant and teacher. Malik’s long-held dream is soon to be realised, as on 27th August 2015, he will curate, co-promote and perform ‘The Revolution will be Live’ as the City of Liverpool plays host, to what will be the most poignant, powerful and permanent reminder of Gil Scott-Heron’s unbridled gift to music, humanity and the world and illustrate his lasting legacy.
Michael J Edwards, spoke with an understandably passionate and excited Malik, who gave him the lowdown on the A-list artists and esteemed guests of honour he has pulled together, to ensure that this event remains as an indelible musical footprint on people’s minds and souls.
Michael J Edwards: “Greetings Malik.”
Malik: “Greetings – Live and direct from Liverpool.”
Michael J Edwards: “Now a major event a happening on August 27th 2015 at St Georges Hall, Liverpool. A big homage is being paid to a huge character, who is now sadly departed – Gil Scott-Heron. Not only was he a big character but also a big influence on you as a man and youth both career-wise and artistic-wise. It’s a dream that has been in the making for a long time for you and now it has come to fruition. Can you please expand on how this landmark forthcoming event was initiated and how it has reached this stage now and what notable artists and dignitaries are taking part?”
Malik Al Nasir and his Mentor Gil Scott-Heron
Malik: “The event is aptly entitled ‘The Revolution will be Live!’ It’s a tribute to my friend, mentor and the person who was like a father to me, from my late teens, right up until recently when he unfortunately passed away, Mr. Gil Scott-Heron. As you know, I have a long history with the Gil and he had a profound impact on my life from a very young age, when I was quite astray – shall we say? Gil put me on the right path and helped me to understand my potential and how to achieve it and in doing such, I acquired a quite substantial knowledge of the politics of the black mans struggle, as well as civil rights in general. However, his teachings weren’t confined to civil rights, I also learnt a lot about the entertainment industry as well.
I started working on the road with Gil Scott-Heron back in 1984. I moved from being a runner on the road, to doing a variety of jobs like merchandising, roadie, to tour managing, dealing with contract-drafting, working with the promoters and also record and film companies (when there were releases coming out), managing press conferences, acting as personal assistant to Gil, and also to the band. I did pretty much every job you can think of associated with a performing artist and because of that, I learned the industry pretty well and I learned it primarily from Gil.
So what I aimed to do with this event, was to utilise all the skills that Gil Scott-Heron taught me over the twenty-seven years that we worked together and built our friendship and let them culminate in one big show, that would pay homage to him. However, not just in the sense of covering his songs; I wanted to pay homage to him in a more substantive way, to show the legacy of Gil Scott-Heron, because Gil was involved in so many different movements; he was one of the Artists Against Apartheid. During the apartheid regime he wrote songs like, ‘Johannesburg,’ which was about the plight of black South Africans under the brutal white supremacists apartheid regime in South Africa. They had incarcerated Nelson Mandela for 30 years in jail and it was the ‘Artist Against Apartheid’ movement that was one of the principal drivers for the Free Mandela Concert that happened at Wembley Arena.
It was the Free Mandela Concert where people like Aswad performed, that actually galvanised the political world internationally; by putting the brakes on Apartheid in South Africa and saying to them – ‘You know this system of white supremacist minority rule that you have here and the keeping of this man Nelson Mandela in jail for four or five years after his life sentence had already been served, is just an untenable position in a modern society? You have to release this man from prison and this apartheid regime and the racist premise that it’s based upon has to end!’
And it was that call – from those artist – and that political drive, coming from the artistic movement, led by people like Gil Scott-Heron, Little Steven, Miles Davis & Run DMC (who did the album, ‘Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City’) when the bands refused to play Sun City in Southern Africa Bantustan, that movement was the driver that eventually brought down Apartheid and freed Mandela. So when I put together this event, I wanted to have all aspects of what Gil was about. So as part of the event, we’ve invited both Gil Scott-Heron’s son Rumal Rackley, who is also the temporary administrator of Gil’s estate and we’ve invited Ndaba Mandela who is the grandson of Nelson Mandela and founder of an organisation called ‘Africa Rising’, which is promoting social development within Africa and among people of African origin.
So ‘The Revolution Will Be Live!’ is a representation, if you like, of some of the facets of what Gil Scott-Heron represented. Having Ndaba Mandela there, is particularly poignant because of Gil’s twenty-something year stance against the Apartheid system, which so persecuted Ndaba’s grandfather Nelson Mandela and Black South Africans in general. Gil stayed true to the anti-apartheid movement and continued singing that song ‘Johannesburg’ and raising awareness about what was going on in South Africa, right throughout his career. He also did the album ‘South Africa to South Carolina’ where he drew parallels between the experience of Apartheid in South Africa and the same kind of system – an unwritten apartheid – that was rooted in the old Jim Crow laws in America, that were still being practised in South Carolina and other places in the USA, even after their official abolition. So in America, there was a sort of unofficial Apartheid, even after the Rosa Parks affair – (buses were segregated and blacks could only go in the back whilst whites went in the front of the bus.
Gil grew up in that system in the Deep South (Jackson Tennessee) – so understandably; he hated it. He despised it and he wanted to raise awareness of it. There was that parallel between what happened in America previously and what was happening in South Africa at that time and Gil wanted to bring about change there and he used his art and his music for many years to do that. So having Mandela come to this event – as one of the guests of honour – is a means of acknowledging and recognising that aspect of Gil’s civil rights legacy.
When you look to the ‘Free Mandela’ concert, that came about as a result of the Artist Against Apartheid movement, one of the bands that stood out for me as a black British band, who have done quite a lot of music which actually articulated – if you like – the black British struggle, was Aswad. They performed on the ‘Free Mandela’ concert as well and I felt that because of that aspect of what Gil was about, that a band like Aswad was also representative of the same kind of struggles (but from a black British perspective and one to which I could directly relate).
This Apartheid system in America was alive and well when Gil was a kid and that had an impact upon him, but that system originated here in Europe (UK & Holland) and of course the concert’s happening in here the UK, so I wanted something that was relevant to ‘our’ experience as black people here also. There are few bands that you can say actually articulated the black British experience better than Aswad. When Aswad did ‘African Children’ about the tower blocks and the experience of black British people ‘living in a concrete situation’ the way they described it, coming from the Motherland and going through the kind of experience that we went through with Corporation housing in the UK, highlighted what was for us, just another form of segregation, it was another form of racial profiling, it was the black British experience, which was a negative one for most of us but Aswad articulated that and brought it to an international audience. So we approached Aswad and asked them if they’d be happy to come on the bill and they were really very pleased to be involved. I fee that it is a great honour to have them on the bill.
Also we’ve got the DJ set, which is going to be done by Craig Charles and there’s an interesting story behind that. Craig Charles was actually a poet before he became famous as an actor and he’s from Liverpool obviously and he has a Guyanese background like myself. I first met Craig just after the riots, long before he was famous and we were talking about his bid – at the time – to become the ‘People’s Poet’. But fate had other things in store for Craig, he went off and became more famous as an actor and now he’s a DJ. However, many years ago, some time in the late eighties, I visited Craig in London and informed him that I was on the road with Gil Scott-Heron and told him that Gil was going to be performing in Dingwalls, Camden Lock. Craig was super excited and asked me to introduce him to Gil.
So I took him down to the show and took him backstage and introduced him to Gil and they sat and had a long conversation. Craig was a massive fan of Gil Scott-Heron and when Gil passed away, Craig did a three-hour tribute to Gil on his radio show CC Funk & Soul Show on BBC 6 Music, which showed just how much Gil meant to him. So we thought it was really appropriate that if we’re going to have a DJ set at our event and it’s going to be in Liverpool, that someone from Liverpool, – who has got a major public profile but is also very much supportive of Gil and what Gil stood – for should DJ it. Craig Charles was the obvious choice. When we approached him about it, he was more than happy to get involved. That was a natural addition to the event.
And then of course, Liverpool being what it is, we do have our own home-grown musical talent and one band that can never be overlooked when you talk about the musical landscape of Liverpool are The Christians, because they had such a massive impact in the nineties with a string of hit records. One of the things which made the Christians stand out for me, in terms of this event, was the fact that they’d actually had a hit with two songs that Gil did; one of his own and one was his own and one was a Marvin Gaye cover. Gil had had his biggest ever hit with ‘The Bottle’ and the Christians had a hit with ‘The Bottle’, when they covered it. Here’s what Garry Christian had to say: “I did a cover of Gil’s biggest hit “The bottle.” It was a simple song about the destruction that alcohol can cause and how it changes a person. It touched me and is still a favourite with my fans at every gig – all these years later.”
They also covered ‘Inner-City Blues’ as well, (which was Marvin Gaye’s song) but it was a song that Gil also covered. So there was a relationship there as well and much of the early Christian’s material such as ‘Forgotten Town’, ‘Hooverville’ and ‘Ideal World’ were very socially conscious, kind of message orientated songs, that people did gravitate towards.
We are very proud of The Christians and what they’ve accomplished in Liverpool. They are a band that represents something that we all felt we could identify with, particularly people who were involved in conscious music, which is something that I was very much involved with throughout all my years with Gil. So clearly Gil Scott-Heron has influenced them, they’ve covered his music. Obviously, not having Gil here for this show, the question was ‘If we did a Gil song, who’d sing it? The obvious choice would be Garry Christian.’ Whilst the event itself is not an event of cover songs, there will be a finale piece but I’m not going to go into detail on that now. That’s why The Christians are so integral to this event and Garry Christian was supremely supportive of the idea when I first floated it to him, long before we even confirmed the event. It was just an idea that I ran by him and they immediately said, “Yes, we’d like to be involved.” Garry also went on to say: “Gil was a true genius with words and he highlighted many poverty and race issues through his songs, long before many people dared to be so outspoken. He was more of a poet than a song-writer but he shared so many of my beliefs and values.”
They’ve been very supportive of the concept and the idea, right up to this point, so I’m very grateful to Garry for his involvement and honoured to have him on stage with us.
Further to that, we brought in the main headliner Talib Kweli, not just for his obviously success, but someone who made his career as a top shelf rapper, with a conscious edge to his rap.
Malik & the OG’s
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
The idea has been in development ever since Gil’s funeral when I asked Kanye West ‘if I can pull it together will you perform?’ He said ‘yes’ although I couldn’t pull it off that year. I then approached Simon Glinn the then Executive Director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic who’d promoted Gil’s last show in Liverpool (back in 2010). I left a message for Simon on reception and got a call back two minutes later saying ‘Can you meet him now?’ I went to meet him, he put another meeting on hold and said “I read your article about Gil in the Guardian Newspaper, I know who you are and the answer is yes!’ That was the start of something magical, which led to this event being realised. Walter Laurer at GLP in Vienna also supported me; they were Gil’s booking agents in Europe. Simon also introduced me to Rich McGinnis; famed for Lovebox, Warehouse Project, Chibuku and a bunch of other accolades. Along with Tim Harvey at Mama group we worked tirelessly on getting this idea to fruition.
Finally Richard McGinnis and I convinced the curator of LIMF (Mr. Yaw Owusu), that this project had legs and Yaw’s insight and eye for a good musical project honed in and he helped develop the idea with us for LIMF 2015. The response so far has been amazing.” Yaw said “The Revolution Will Be Live, as a Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron, is a very special commission for this LIMF 2015. Gil’s cultural and musical influence internationally, has been so great and with the theme of this years festival being ‘Music Migration’ it is timely and fitting to make it happen now. I’m so happy that Liverpool could premiere this event and really pay homage to such an amazing artist.”
“As for my part as an artist, with my ensemble Malik & The O.G’s, I’m privileged to be able to perform alongside these iconic musical giants with my own line up. I’m going to be using quite a large line up this time, a bigger band than I’ve ever worked with before and that ensemble is going to be made up by some of Gil’s band members. We’re going to have Rod Youngs, the drummer from Gil Scott-Heron’s band Amnesia Express, also Ebo Shakoor, he’s a flautist and a percussionist who played and toured with Gil for many years with Amnesia Express when they toured in Europe. In addition. On top of that, we’ve got a bunch of guys from the Jazz Warriors (International collective); I’m lblessed to have Cleveland Watkiss on vocals on the stage with me, Orphy Robinson, who is the Musical Director, on keyboards and Xylosynth and then the great Mo Nazam on guitar, he’s another one of the Warriors.
It’s a fitting time for us, as it coincides with the release of Malik & The O.G’s debut double album which features both Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets called Rhythms of the Diaspora Vol 1 & 2, released in June 2015 on Mentis Records.
I have a great young singer from Norway performing with us called Veslemøy Rustad Holseter, who is going to be doing some really nice stuff on one of my songs called ‘Freedom of speech’, where she has some parts actually singing in Norwegian, which is quite interesting. It’s an eclectic blend of stuff but it really works with what we do Sophia Ben-Yousef
I’m also showcasing some local up-and-coming talent, with a great young singer and multi-instrumentalist from Liverpool called ‘Sophia Ben-Yousef.’ She’s getting a lot of play on the local scene here. She’s a young girl of mixed English and Libyan heritage and when the Libyan revolution started against the tyranny of Gaddafi, she wrote a beautiful song about her family who were out there in Libya, which kind of went viral in Libya and they played it on the national TV during the revolution. She is a very sweet individual with a beautiful voice but she’s got the beginnings of some revolutionary credentials and she’s from Liverpool as well, so we wanted her to be involved to show how future generations and in particular the young generation, are still a part of the struggle.
This issue of revolution affects all of us in some way or another. It’s still relevant. There’s revolutions happening all over the place; there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t been impacted in some way or another by some kind of revolution happening somewhere. There’s revolution in the air and when that happens, people do suffer and have their own powerful experiences of suffering that they go through. Sometimes people look for something to hold onto to give them a sense of hope, in light of the changes that are happening and to give themselves a sort of notion, that there could potentially be a better future. I really think that this event kind of galvanises – if you like – all of those aspirations, for all those different generations of people; from the old-school, right up to the new kids. So we have on one stage, something that kind-of showcases all of those different facets of activism, within one catalyst of an event, where we all have one thing in common and that thing is the influence of the man himself – Gil Scott-Heron.
Liverpool International Music Festival has commissioned the event. Every year Liverpool International Music Festival have their own festival stages (Like the Summer Jam) but they also have a series of other events around the city as part of the wider festival. There are specific events, which they commission other people to curate for the festival. So in 2015 there are several commissioned events, one of which is being done by Janice Long and Steve Levine and there is also ‘The Revolution Will Be Live!’ which is being curated by myself and my business partner Richard McGinnis, through our company Yesternight Productions Ltd. We’ve put together this particular showcase as a ‘commission’ from Liverpool International Music Festival. So the word ‘Commissions’ is not the title of the event, it’s actually the festival’s branding if you like.
This event has been in the making for a few years and we’ve had quite a lot of heads on it with various different ideas put forward in terms of how it should shape up. The important thing for me is that the event encapsulated the spirit of Gil – if you like – and it demonstrates his legacy but most importantly, it had to have the credibility factor – it had to stand up on its own as credible event! That was the single most important thing for me and I think the general feedback that we’ve been getting from the press and the public so far, is that the event is credible and that’s what I wanted. I just wanted people to know that we’re doing this and we’re doing it with a passion. It’s not just some event that we happened to be doing and we’re saying ‘dedicated to Gil’, this is actually designed and built around Gil Scott-Heron, specifically with the purpose of highlighting, articulating and paying homage to his legacy and it’s the only way I know to say ‘thank you Gil.’
Michael J Edwards
Be sure to check out our UK Vibe interview with Malik here