“My relationship with Gil Scott-Heron and Jalal from the Last Poets is not a relationship of… I sampled their work, or I listened to their music and I enjoyed it – No! I was the direct student of both of those guys; and if anyone, probably I’m the only guy on earth that actually has been under the direct tutelage of both of those guys.”
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde
Liverpool born poet Abdul Malik Al Nasir (Malik) is an extremely rare, as well as a talented, resilient, hard working and loyal individual. Extremely rare, because he was fortunate enough to be a poetical student of the late Gil Scott-Heron and a spiritual student of none other than Jalal Mansur Nuriddin a.k.a the Grandfather of Rap; Talented, because he heads up his own rap/spoken-word outfit under the moniker Malik & The O.G’s; Resilient, because having survived an extremely testing childhood and teenage years, Malik went on to graduate in 2010 with an M.A in New Media Production from Liverpool Screen School (JMU) a Post Graduate Diploma in Applied Social Research from The University of Liverpool, to obtain a BA Hon’s in Sociology and Geography from Liverpool Hope University and subsequently became C.E.O of his own media publishing company, Fore-Word Press Ltd; hard-working and loyal, because through his persistence and graft, Malik instigated and saw through to fruition, the first ever live performance of Jalal Mansur Nuriddin (his spiritual mentor’s) 1973 seminal rap/concept album ‘Hustlers Convention’ at London’s Jazz Cafe, as well as finding the energy to perform on the undercard.
ukvibe’s Michael “The Dood” Edwards, along with Abstract Word’s Richmond Trew were fortunate enough to sit Malik down for long enough to get the lowdown on his life story thus far, and of course the logistics behind staging Jalal’s one-off performance of his ‘Hustlers Convention’ masterpiece.
The Dood: Greetings Malik. I think the best way to do things is chronologically – where you’re coming from, where you’re at, and where you’re going. Did the racism and physical abuse you encountered as a child and young man make you into a stronger, more independent, and more thick-skinned individual?
Malik: Well, it’s an unfortunate reality. My reality was like so many other black kids realities – you start off being a victim; you’re a victim of circumstance, you’re a victim of your community, you’re a victim of so many different things. But it’s a question of whether you as an individual want to lay-down and just accept and just take victim-hood to the next level – which means you become a perpetrator of the things that you are a victim of. I decided that that wasn’t going to be the way for me, so as a child, I went through the care system, I went through the ghetto; I went through a whole range of really traumatic experiences. I made a resolution very early in life; I would say about the age of eight or nine years old, that one day I was going to write a book, I was going to tell my story, I was going to go out and I was going to do something about the oppression that I was facing. Even though at that age, I had a very rudimentary understanding of what that meant; but ultimately when you are suffering oppression you feel the emotional pain as well as oftentimes the physical pain of it, so in that sense you recognise that there’s a wrong there that needs to be righted. So no matter how young you are, you know the difference between right and wrong, and you feel it, and you want to do something about it. So I think that those values were inculcated in me at a very early age, because of the un-natural kind of difficulty that I suffered. I think that set me on a course, if you like, to seek justice, while other kids were perhaps going out trying to think of a career path, I was thinking about how to sue the state. (Laughs)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde
The Dood: So how old where you when you are having these extreme thoughts?
Malik: It wasn’t like I was this budding revolutionary or sociopath waiting to happen; it wasn’t that kind of thing. At that age, I was in confinement and it was about being free, I just wanted to be free. So my preoccupation at that time was “getting out” of the confinement that I was in, the care home, the care system; and that didn’t happen until I was eighteen years old. So I suppose at that point there was a very different sort of dynamic, which was “Now I’m free, what the hell do I do?” And there’s a sort of a dawning and realisation of what freedom means.
When you’re in captivity, freedom means everything, there is nothing but freedom; when you get out and you’re free and you find yourself on the streets in the ghetto, you start to think that this is another whole kind of captivity all over again. It’s happening in a prison that doesn’t have any walls; it’s happening in a kind of metaphysical sense, rather than a physical sense; and maybe in an economical sense, that you’re now kind of enslaved by your environment – you’re captive in the ghetto.
The Dood: What was your parental background?
Malik: My father is from Guyana – he had a stroke when I was young. My mother is Welsh.
The Dood: Were any of your parents or siblings from a musical background?
Malik: My parents weren’t musicians per se; they loved music. My father was a seaman from Guyana and he used to bring home all the Calypso/Reggae. We used to have one of those gramophones and we used to play the 10 inches on 78 (turntable speed). People won’t remember this, but back in the day we used to get a 10 inch disc and they were really heavy and they were very brittle and broke if you dropped them. We would listened to tracks such as ‘Island Woman’.
All those kinda’ old school Calypso jams from back in the day you know? And I kind of grew up with those melodies around me. And it kind of manifested itself in my brother Reynold, becoming a musician. He’s a year older than me and he played with Pete Wylie’s “WAH”, and he played with the Lightning Seeds, Shack… and a few others other indie rock bands that came out of Liverpool. He had some commercial success with those guys and he plays all instruments, but I never played an instrument. I never had the opportunity to really be exposed to the instruments because when I was growing up in care, music wasn’t on the agenda in terms of the institutions I was raised in.
The Dood: So you went seeking it?
Malik: It wasn’t that I was seeking it; it was escapism for me listening to it. I could listen to music and forget who I was. I could listen to music and forget the circumstances in which I found myself. I could listen to music and feel free within my soul, and I think that made a difference to me – that was the thing that was most profound. As far as me developing my art form as a poet…I think I wrote my first poem at the age of nine, but it was a nine year old’s poem. Once I got into the care system my development was arrested; my education was arrested. I left there at the age of eighteen, with not much more an education than when I went there with at the age of nine. So I wasn’t a particularly literate individual at that point, I was what I would describe as semi-literate. It was only when I was eighteen and I went backstage at a Gil Scott-Heron gig where Gil took pity on me (taking me on the road with him), was where things started to change the me. That was the beginning of me waking up to black consciousness.
The Dood: What year are we talking about here?
Malik: We’re talking 1984!
The Dood: So I understand that Jalal was in London in exile at that time?
Malik: Yes, but I didn’t meet Jalal until 1985 and I only had a very brief encounter with him in Liverpool, when he came to play ‘Larks in the Parks’, meeting him backstage.
The Dood: It seems you met everyone backstage?
Malik: I met him backstage and I told him I had been working with Gil Scott-Heron. He said “Stay with the righteous and you shall surely prosper.” And that was it! It was like he dropped this golden nugget on me at that point.
The Dood: Then you looked around and he was gone right? (Laughs)
Malik: It was pretty much like that yeah! It was kinda surreal (Laughs)…And then the next time I ran into Jalal was in 1986 when Wilf Walker brought The Wailers over and The Wailers were playing at the Town & Country Club in London. There was a band in Liverpool called ‘Bantu’ who were a young black band, quite radical and stuff, and they had been working with Jalal in Liverpool. Plus Ibrahim, who was the guy who ran it, he said to me “Jalal’s in town and we’ve been doing some work with him…” and so on. This led to another chance encounter with Jalal, because Ibrahim was going to meet with him at the Town & Country Club, then they were going off into the studio to meet with Davey DMX to mix Jalal’s solo album, ‘The Fruits of Rap’. So I kind of tagged along with Ibrahim to go see The Wailers and then I met Jalal in the venue.
So I walked up to him again and I introduced myself, I said, “do you remember me, you met me back in Liverpool?” And he was like, “Oh man I don’t remember you I meet so many new people!” I said to him, “Well you dropped this golden nugget on me; you dropped some lyrical blow on me and it inspired me.” And he said, “What was that?” And I said, “I told you I worked with Gil Scott-Heron and you said to me “stay with the righteous and you should surely prosper.” And it struck a chord in me. And he said, “That sounds like something I would say.” Then he said to me, “What you doing now?” And I told him, “I’m still touring with Gil and doing stuff with Gil and that, but I’ve got a further question for you?” So he said, “Well, what’s your further question man?” “Well, how did you know who the righteous are?” He said, “They won’t be surrounded by the unrighteous.” So those are the two little golden nuggets that I got from Jalal!
The Dood: Straight off the dome?
Malik: Yeah, it was straight off the top, so spontaneous; that’s the way it is with Jalal, that’s the way he spiels – but it’s always right on the money. So I took that, and I pondered on it, and ruminated on it, for some time. Then it was in 1992 when Jalal came back to Liverpool and he stayed awhile. So I spoke to my friend Ibrahim and a told him “you gotta take me to meet this guy. I need to meet him.” So he took me to the place where he was staying and I sat down and I talked with him, and we talked at length. I was kinda asking him about life, the universe and everything.
The Dood: So many questions right?
Malik: He had all the answers and this was the thing that blew me away!
The Dood: So if there was a University of Jalal, you would definitely attend?
Malik: With Jalal it’s kind of like distance learning you know. You hook up with Jalal, he takes you on as a student; he has that kind of paternal attitude – Gil was very much like that as well. But there are some people who would take a lesson and they would go a long way with it; there’s some other people that need a lot of nurturing. I didn’t require a great deal of nurturing, what I needed was people to set me on the right path, and I think it was when Jalal who kinda demonstrated to me that he had a lot of the answers to a lot of the questions that I had, you know – life, the universe and everything, that I started to probe deeper into where he was coming from and where he was getting his information from. And I think what inspired me to do that was the fact that he had inspired Gil Scott-Heron. And when I spoke with Gil about my meetings with Jalal, Gil mentioned that ‘The Last Poets’ were one of his big influences. Not only did he mention how influential they had been on him, but he actually started telling me chapter and verse what tracks were on what Last Poets’ albums.
I mean Gil was deep into the Last Poets. It turns out when I spoke to Jalal, that they had met him when he was studying at Lincoln University; I think he was the head of the Black Students Association. They kind of ushered him forward, he talked to Jalal, he talked to Abiodun (Oyewole); they gave him some background in terms of what they were doing. At that time they had out “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution.” That came out in in ‘68 on the first album for Alan Douglas’ Record Label; but I think they met probably around 1970. Which I think was around that time that Gil came out with “Small Talk at 125th and Lennox.” And his response to “When the Revolution Comes” and “Nigger’s Are Scared of Revolution” was later “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which he did for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Record Label.
So there was a link and there was a certain nexus on the back-end of the Civil Rights Movement in America, that these guys kinda gyrated on. i.e. Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Gil (rest in peace) and The Last Poets. There was also The Young Lords who more or less representing the Puerto Rican and Latino community. They’ve got the New Young Lords, who are the kids of them, and they were a political movement, they did direct action, they were involved in stand-up protests; campaigning for the rights of Latinos and Puerto Ricans in the ghettos of Harlem etc. And then over on the West Coast you had The Watts Prophets, Amde (Anthony Hamilton) and those guys, and they were rappin’ for the people of Watts. So it was like all these poets came together, and when Alan Douglas put out “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution” and then Bob Thiele came out with Gil, suddenly it became like a global phenomenon.
The Dood: “Connected the lines” as Jalal would say?
Malik: Well they kind of connected themselves, because the industry took an interest in what they were doing; the industry saw a commercial viability in the politics of revolution when it was set to music; and that’s what popularised it. But when Clive Davis came and signed Gil Scott-Heron – he was the first artist signed to Arista Records – when he signed Gil Scott-Heron and put out a whole bunch of albums, it went global. And then The Last Poets more or less slipped into obscurity. Jalal had done this solo album, “The Hustlers Convention” in 1973; and when he did that album… after a couple of months it was taken off the market. But as it came off the market, those kids on the block’s in Harlem who had been coming out and listening on the basketball courts to these poets with congas and drums and spoken word – the Griot tradition, the African tradition – when they were doing that, look what happened?
The Dood: People like Fab five Freddy picked up on it?
Malik: Fab Five Freddy, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash…
The Dood: They heard it around them?
Malik: They heard it! The Toast, just like ‘Signified Monkey’ by Dolomite and all those kind of things, these Toasts had been going round, so a lot of these guys got onto Hustlers Convention as a Toast, they didn’t even know it was on an album! So they committed it to memory; they started rapping it over B-sides, like Chic’s “Good Times,” the next thing you get “Rapper’s Delight,” by Sugar Hill Gang with Sylvia Robbins.
The Dood: Joe Bataan
Malik: Joe Bataan yeah, “Ordinary Guy (Afro-Filipino)” you know “average kind of guy…” Of course!
The Dood: When I talked with him he told me about the poli-tricks with Salsoul Records at the time, his single “Rappo-Clappo” was withheld from release. As a result Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” was heralded as exposing the word “Rap” to global audience.
Malik: Sure! But there you go; Joe Bataan is another guy who had an influence. He’s coming from another kind of ethnic mix if you like, in terms of his music it’s got more of a kind of Latin feel to it. But Joe Bataan kind of interested me; when he did the song “Ordinary Guy.”
The Dood: Hence the name of your book?
Malik: Hence the name of my book. But the bottom line was, I’m looking at this guy and he’s going, “Afro Filipino, average kind of guy.” What’s average about being an Afro Filipino? There’s nothing average about it, there’s nothing ordinary either! He’s talking about it from the point of view of his humility as an artist, but the bottom line is it’s anything but ordinary. And when I sat down and thought about myself, my mix is an African Guyanese, Welsh Amer-Indian – how ordinary is that? And when you look at the kind of crazy lifestyle I’ve had, how ordinary is that? And I looked at that and I said to myself you know that’s the perfect title for my book, which I published in 2004 called simply “Ordinary Guy.”
The Dood: …which is a collection of prose and poetry as I understand it? Would it be fitting to say that it was a reflection of your transformative years between teenage and your early twenties; and was it a cathartic process for you writing that book?
Malik: Catharsis is probably the single word that would describe it best because Jalal would always tell you that “poets are born; people don’t become poets, you’ve either got it in you or you haven’t.” And I think in my case, it was part of a natural evolution. I did not write poetry because I wished to be a poet. Even when I first recited it and people dug it, I didn’t consider myself a poet. It took a while for me to kind of accept the kind of uncomfortable title of being a poet.
The Dood: Wordsmith?
Malik: No, it wasn’t any of that! Let me break it down to you as to why it wasn’t. Poetry to me was a way to get messed up feelings that were inside me out on paper, unscramble them and make them make sense. That’s where the catharsis comes from okay! I needed to make sense of the nonsense that was my life, and the only way for me to make sense of that, was to get it out. And when I first met Gil Scott-Heron, I was barely literate; I didn’t have that as a means. Gil showed me the benefit of poetry and that it could be a means to an end and he encouraged me to get an education and guided me along that path if you like.
I toured with him for many years, we travelled together, he was very much a father figure to me – and he would mentor me in that sense. So even when I went away to sea, I spent about five years at sea, like my father – when I was at sea, I spent many long hours teaching myself to read and write and I developed my writing skills on the ship. When I got to port, I’d have a draft of poetry and I’d post it to Gil Scott-Heron in DC. Gil would appraise my work and then when I got off the ship, I would be off for like two months; Gil would be on tour. I’d join Gil, we’d do the tour, he’d have all my stuff there, we’d go through it, he’d mark it; it was like the student-teacher relationship. So my relationship with Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets is not a relationship of ‘I sampled their work’ or ‘I listened to their music and I enjoyed it’ no! I was the direct student of both of those guys and if anyone, probably I’m the only poet on earth that actually has been under the direct tutelage of both of those guys.
The Dood: And each of them gave you something different?
Malik: Yeah! Gil was politicising me and teaching me black consciousness and Black Power; how to empower yourself and rise up from your oppressive situation and how to educate yourself. Jalal was straight out of the streets, he was raw from the streets. So his was a very different thing, he’d come through the whole streetology thing; the science of the streets. And he had given me more of an inclination to understand the metaphysical side of my life, which culminated in me eventually taking the declaration of faith and becoming a Muslim.
The Dood: So when was that, because you changed your name from Mark T. Watson, under which name you wrote the book “Ordinary Guy”
Malik: So that was in 1992. “Ordinary Guy” was written as Mark T. Watson, because the poetry was written while I was Mark T. Watson. Even though it didn’t get published until 2004, in the ten-year period when I wrote that poetry, I was Mark Watson and that’s when I was touring with Gil. So the main time when Jalal met me and we started really sitting down getting to the meat of it, was in 1992 and that’s the year I took shahādah and became Muslim. So I changed my name shortly thereafter from Mark T. Watson to Malik Al Nasir.
The Dood: What does Malik Al Nasir mean?
Malik: Well it was Jalal from The Last Poets who actually named me Malik, because he said “You’re Muslim now, so you may want to think about taking a Muslim name.” And I thought, I never really felt comfortable with the name I got, because I felt it was very much a legacy of slavery. So I wanted to get something that was not quite so reflective of my colonial disposition i.e Watson’s or Watson’s Rum and Demerara sugar in Guyana. I kind of wanted to find a name that meant something. Jalal said, “Well look Mark you’re the kinda of guy, you always operate in the service of people; you serve people on the ships, you serve your community; you do a lot of things by way of service for the people. You’re a service orientated guy; how would you like to serve the King.
The king’s servant is somebody that when he rode into town, he would get a lot of respect; he’s treated with a degree of dignity.” And I was like, “Wow that sounds cool!” And he said, “Well the King is your Lord, and Malik is a name of Allah which is King; so you will be Abdul Malik which would be servant of the King.” So for a while I was calling myself Abdul Malik Watson, and he said, “They’ll come a time when you’ll find a reason to get a second name.” And there was a group of artists that came to Liverpool, my hometown, from New Orleans in Louisiana; and it was on an artist exchange. Some Liverpool photographic artists, film artist, visual artists etc., sculptors and whatever had gone over there, organised by guy called Joe Farrag (Curator). He had an art centre too called The Gallery in Liverpool. Joe took this group over to New Orleans and then they did an art exchange and a bunch of guys came to Liverpool, and I met them on the streets of Liverpool and I thought these guys are clearly not from around here, they looked like they didn’t know where they were going. So I stopped them… And I helped them and I took them around and brought them back to my house, and gave them some food and got to know them and we became great friends. So the guy who was curating that tour was a guy called Josh, who is the head of the Gallery that they had come from in New Orleans, he said to me just before they were leaving that he was really pleased with what I have done for them and they really wanted to thank me. He said, “I just want to ask you a question about your name.” And he asked me, “How did you come to be Malik Watson? And I mentioned about the Abdul Malik and the King servant and so on and so forth. And he said, “So why did you keep the Watson?” I said, “Because I hadn’t found a name for my second name which actually has a meaning which is reflective of me.” So he said to me – and he’s not a Muslim, he’s a Christian – he said to me, “If you find a name for someone who was a friend to the people – that’s your name! So I said, “Wow!” And then he left and went back to New Orleans and I never saw the guy again. So it must have been about a year later and I was sitting there with a book of names; and as I was going through I saw the name Al Nasir and it said, ‘A friend to the righteous and a helper to mankind,’ So I changed my name by deed poll to Abdul Malik Al Nasir and that’s how that came about.
The Dood: I believe Jalal wrote the foreword to your book “Ordinary Guy,” entitled “Malik’s Mode.” Were you humbled by this?
Malik: You know what, it blew me away, because I said to Jalal “Look man, I’ve written this book of poetry “Ordinary Guy”; I’m publishing it, through my publishing company I’ve established, which is Fore-Word Press and it’s going to press, and I want to dedicate it to you and Gil and to The Last Poets, because you are the guys who really shaped and formed me; not just as a poet but as a man. My political self, my religious self; you know? Everything is attributable to the efforts that you guys have put into me and I just want to give you something back, I just want to say “this is for you.” And he thought that was beautiful, and he said, “What’s Gil doing?” I said, “Well, Gil is going to recite one of the poems from the book.” He said, “Well, I’m going to do one better.” I Said, “What, are you going to do?” He said, “I’m going to write a poem for you.” I said, “Okay! That sounds cool; do you want me to come and sit with you and go through some subject matter?” He said, “No, No, No; I know you Malik!” So he went away, and literally a couple of hours later he came back and said here’s the poem.
The Dood: Can you quote any of it for us?
Malik: Yeah! He said:
“A change from Mark to Malik was simply unique for a Liverpool youth; the truth in the face of stiff upper lip resistance, because this knowledge had been academic forbidden, obscured and hidden; at least up until that point in his existence. His need to know had begun to grow from the time that he was a child; to counter that racist obsession with perpetual oppression; that had him categorised as wild. From out of juvenile school in Liverpool, he’s fought his way to freedom, just because the colour of his skin they locked him in then held him down and beat him. But this was commonplace when it came to race, from a tradition etched in stone; from a racist society filled with a variety of traps to catch you alone. Like myself he was a victim of his past that was meant to last until the end of time; unless you can free your mind and save your behind from a life of corruption and crime. He sort me out to dispel any doubts he had about the creator of the heavens and the earth; for he was searching for the ONE whose will was being done and only the ONE knew it’s worth. For the ONE is sublime in the fashion of time who ordains what is to be; all Mark had to do was seek in order to become Malik because the truth will set you free.”
There’s more, it kind of goes on, but that’s the essence of it, and that became the foreword to the book. So then when the foreword was published in the book, Jalal decided to recite that and we did a couple of things beyond that; we made a film with Jalal in Paris. We also made a film with Gil in Washington DC; we filmed with Benjamin Zephaniah in London. So the film was about the launch of the book; we launched the book in Borders bookshop. We filmed the book launch, we went to the BBC, did some stuff there and filmed that; then we went to Paris, I was reciting on the streets of Paris. There we filmed in the studio with Jalal and the drummer from Gil’s band – Rod Young, who’s also going to be the drummer with the Jazz Warriors on Monday nights performance at the Jazz Cafe. So he was drumming in the studio when Jalal recorded that track and then we went over to Wyclef’s studio in New York and we mixed the album – the album was called “Rhythms of the Diaspora Vol. 1” featuring Gil Scott-Heron and Volume 2 featuring the Last Poets. LL Cool J did the intro to the album. The album is unreleased, it’s spoken word/drum and percussion and it’s kind of an innovative thing, I was trying to take it back to the origins of where it came from.
The Dood: What does the name Larry McDonald mean to you?
Malik: Well, Larry McDonald is a great friend of mine; he was with Gil Scott-Heron for many years. Gil used to refer to him as the “king of sunshine,” and anyone who’s seen Gil play live with his band Amnesia Express, or the Reggae Sunsplash, will see the guy with the flowing dreadlocks on the congas, he is the one and only legend, Larry McDonald. People call him “His Royal Highness Larry McDonald.” He’s also known as “the King” pronounced Kaayang! It’s got like a twang in it. But Larry McDonald was also very much a mentor to me. Larry is a seasoned percussionist who started off many years ago with Carlos Malcolm’s band in the 1950s or 60s. He played with the late Carl McLeod, the drummer, and he played with Mutabaruka; I think the very first time Mutabaruka ever played in a band with a musical accompaniment was with Larry McDonald. He did a poem called “Free Man Free, I the Slave.”
When I got to the stage where I had developed myself, developed my music, developed my art, developed as an academic, I started some companies, I set up a record company out in Dubai called Media CPR. Media CPR was the company but CPR Recordings was the label and through that at the behest of Robbie Gordon, who was the bass player in Gil’s band, he said “why don’t you give Larry a deal.” So we gave Larry McDonald a deal and everyone thought we were crazy giving a 72-year-old percussionist a recording contract. But when we decided to do Larry’s album, he said he wanted to do it in Jamaica; and it’s called “Drumquestra” because it is kinda like a quest of a drummer. But it is also a drum-questra, which is an orchestra of drummers.
So we went out to Jamaica to Harry J Studios; you know Harry Johnson Studios where Bob Marley did “Rasta Man Vibration”? And we recorded a live drum Orchestra, live in the studio. We had Uziah “Sticky” Thompson from The Wailers; we had Sly Dunbar on one set of trap drums; we had the jazz drummer Carl McLeod on the other set of drums; we had Bongo Herman, who’s on everything that you’ve ever heard in reggae! Who else came there? – Marjorie Wiley, who’s the Jamaican National Dance Theatre Director, but she’s also a seasoned congo player. We had Sidney Mills from Steel Pulse who was the producer; I was the Executive Producer, so I commissioned the production and oversaw the production. We also had Shaza, who is known for his work with Brand New Heavies and Trouble Funk – He did quite a substantial series of vocals on that; some really good stuff. We got Mutabaruka, he came back and did that exact same poem that he had done previously with Larry when he first performed. He attributes his ‘starting off doing his poetry with music’ to working with Larry. He did “Free Man Free, I the Slave.”
The Dood: And Lenny B?
Malik: Lenny B did the dance remix of the track we did on the album with Toots Hibbert who also came into the studio from Toots and The Maytals; fresh from winning his Grammy and he did a track there which we produced – a dance track “Set The Children Free.” Then Lenny B did a remix of that. Bongo Herman did a whole lot of percussion on it, so did Alvin Haughton; who is another one that got started off by Larry. I had written a song called “Crime Or Music”, and is a funny story – I wrote the song, but I had only written the first verse, the chorus and the bridge; I never had verse two. So, we were in the studio now and we’d just finished the drum session and Sly Dunbar was chilling at the drums, and I got talking to Sly, and we were talking about Rock Steady and the origins of Reggae; how he came to be a Reggae drummer and how he established the genre. While I was talking to him, I mentioned that I had come up with this little Reggae song, “but it’s a work in progress and never got finished.” He said, “Let Me Hear It Man, Let Me Hear It!”
So I started dropping it you know: “Work’s so hard to find, that it’s blowing my mind. Work’s so hard to get, I sometimes feel like giving up; but it’s a shame to see how it’s got to be, either crime or music in my life.” But I kind of sang it to him in the melody. He said, “No man! That is Rock Steady with a one drop.” He said, “Go ‘pon the studio there and record that, c’mon man we go live now!” So I’m thinking “Damn I’m going live with Sly Dunbar in the studio” I said “this is too heavy!” So I sat in the vocal booth shaking like a leaf, Sly’s tuning his drums and I’m like fumbling with this pen in this vocal booth, which is like a telephone box. It was like a sauna inside the vocal booth, and I was trying to write the second verse… I was looking down to see what I wrote and there was like a motion blur on it… I’m not a vocalist and I don’t sing, so I sang the melody, just so that Sly could get the rhythm down. And then we brought in Stranger Cole, the SKA veteran. So Stranger Cole came in and he sang the song for me; so that’s on Larry’s album as well. But I wrote the song.
So then his Son Squidly Cole, (Ziggy Marley’s drummer), he came and then did some hype on it and he kinda ended up co-writing the song with me. Sidney from Steel Pulse produced it. So that album, is just like a whole host of just the most amazing people on it. And then we got Dollarman in from the Easy Star All-Stars and Bob Sinclair, and he came in and dropped a track with us; and we made a video out of that track “Head over Heels.” So Drumquestra was a masterpiece! Something that had never been done before, but it’s kind of a showcase of this guy’s fifty-year career; starting off with Mento and SKA then Rock Steady, through the whole dance-hall, Blue Beat and everything that went on; right up to contemporary dance – it’s all showcased on the album.
The Dood: Regarding your performance on Monday 10th Feb at The Jazz Cafe, you’re putting together a band orchestrated by Orphy Robinson. Where did you meet Orphy?
Malik: Well, I met Orphy Robinson (A.K.A. Orphy Vibes) when we were putting something together after Gil Scott-Heron died in 2010. After I went to the funeral I was really traumatised by it. Losing Gil was like losing my father all over again; possibly even more profound, because I knew Gil even better than my father, I’d known him for longer. My father was gone by the time I was like twelve years old, but Gil had been there throughout my whole entire adult life, so to lose him was like the biggest thing, it was like a hammer blow to me. I met Kanye West who sang at the funeral a song he wrote called “Lost In The World”, where he uses “Comment Number One”, which is Gil Scott-Heron’s song from his very first album, “Small Talk on 125th and Lennox.”
After that I came up and I spoke to Kanye, and I told him my story and I explained what I was trying to do. I said I wanted to do a tribute to Gil and would he participate and he said he would. We were unable to pull it off that year for various reasons, not to do with Kanye… But in the course of that Simon Glinn, who was the director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society’s venue, had staged Gil’s concerts and he was a firm believer in Gil. He used to also curate the stage at Glastonbury when they used to book Gil; and he was determined to do something to commemorate Gil as well. So he worked with me with an association called MBM (Music Beyond Mainstream); they’re a network of Symphony Hall’s around the UK, to try and pull together a tour to commemorate Gil, bringing together revolutionary artists to come and pay tribute to Gil. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to pull it off, and we’re still in the planning stages… it’s a work in progress.
But as a consequence of that, they had brought in Orphy as someone who really had the musical ability to assist with that, and Orphy and I just clicked. Orphy decided to come with me to help me further develop my band Malik and the O.G’s, which we had developed already and had done a couple of albums worth of work for my label out in Dubai, but we didn’t get a chance to release it. But now we are at a stage where we’re ready to go out and start performing live. I was invited by and have performed at Cambridge University. I had Cambridge professors asking me about poetry! It was like “Dude, I didn’t even get a GCSE in English, you know what I mean? Now I’ve got this Cambridge professors asking me about poetry!” Beyond that, we got into a situation where we got invited to perform at the Liverpool International Music Festival in 2013. There were thousands of people in the crowd. Orphy put the band together and was the musical director… We did a live performance, and it went down really well; so we decided to do some more, and that’s when Jalal started making the film ‘The Hustlers Convention’ followed by me being asked to put together a live band to perform at the show.
The Dood: So when did the notion of the gig begin?
Malik: That was late last year (2013). Well, the filmmaker Mike Todd has been doing the film ‘The Hustlers Convention’ for two years and initially he just interviewed me to be a part of it. Although, when I was interviewed for the film, he kinda said that we actually want to do a live event.
The Dood: So why did they choose London?
Malik: Well, actually it was me who chose London, because I said, “if you’re going to do a live event you really need to do it in London.” So I said to him, “Have you got any venues in mind?” He said that they had a few and the Jazz Cafe was one. I said, “Look, I know the people there I can help put it together, why don’t you let me do that?” So Mike Todd of River Horse commissioned me to produce the live event, so that he could film it. But what happened is, it’s gathered a momentum all of its own. Mama Group came on board, who own The Jazz Cafe. The director there Richard McGinnis, put a really big push behind it. The Spin Doctor, who puts on a lot of the Hip-Hop events there, put it out to the Hip-Hop press, and the Hip-Hop press just went ballistic. They were like “this is like the Tutankhamen of Rap.” The discovery was like Rap’s missing link! The lost album that made it all happen and stuff; and we’ve been inundated with press. Jalal’s been doing wall-to-wall press; I’ve been doing wall-to-wall press. We’ve got more press this evening (BBC Radio 5 Live). It’s been a struggle just to get to the rehearsals because of the amount of press work we have to do.
The Dood: Do you anticipate anything happening like this again regarding Hustlers Convention?
Malik: No, this is a one-off; this is probably never going to happen again!
The Dood: I put this next question to Jalal and he said “ask Malik.” Hustlers Detention and Hustlers Ascension, is there some way the industry/hip-hop community/the black music industry can come together to get these albums released and ensure that Jalal gets paid? I’m sure Jay-Z could dip in his pocket?
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde
Malik: Well look man, there’re black people in the industry now who have got a lot of power. We’re not in the situation we were in the 1960s where black musicians are trying to find a voice and never trying to get paid – black people are paid now! Jay-Z wouldn’t be the right kind of person for this because he’s taken Rap in a different direction; which is not the direction that it was ever set out to go in – that’s no disrespect to him; he did the best he could with what he knew and he made a career out of it. What I’m saying, is that the conscious element of Rap is more espoused in the likes of Common; it’s more espoused in Public Enemy; it’s more reflective in the work of Mos Def – Yasin Bey as he’s now known, these are people who are paying respect to the O.G’s; they’re paying respect to the people who originated the art form. I would say, the best way to pay respects would be to actually bring those brothers and work with them, which is what Common was doing; you know Common did “On The Corner” with the Last Poets. He did, “My Way Home” with Kanye West and Gil Scott-Heron. Those kind of collaborations are starting to happen, so it’s not just sampling the guys and not paying them; they’re like “look man let’s work with you.” Those kind of artistic exchanges with the artists who’ve really made it, to come back and pay respect to these guys; because they’re not going to be around forever, while they’re here, to give them that respect is critical and key.
From my point of view as Malik and the O.G’s, I’ve been a student of these guys. I never launched myself twenty years ago when I was writing my poetry, because I was too busy trying to learn the art form, I was too busy trying to learn the context of the poetry, I was too busy to try to learn the politics of the poetry. I was mastering my art and I didn’t even really step forward until Gil Scott-Heron passed. Then at that point I said “you know what, schools out. Now it’s time to go and actually bring it forward and take the knowledge that you’ve acquired from these people and pass it on to the next generation and preserve it for posterity.”
The Dood: Regarding future collaborations, have you heard of a spoken word collective from the UK that’s been around for over twenty plus years called Abstract Word?
Malik: No I haven’t heard of those unfortunately. But I’ll be more than willing to talk to the brother to see if I can be of any assistance.
(At this juncture I motion in the direction of Abstract Words’ founder, Richmond Trew seated next to him).
Malik & Richmond Trew (Abstract Word)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde
Richmond Trew: Just listening to you, it’s been brilliant stuff and again some more validation from you guys in helping to join the dots. You have to tell your story to let people know, because you’re in a unique position; and you’re on-point, you’re saying the correct things. We need to hear it; and to be quite honest I was not fully aware of you.”
Malik: Well there’s a reason for that. I came to the position of thinking that when I met these guys, Gil Scott-Heron and The Last poets, I thought I don’t know anything. So I’m not gonna speak on something only to reject, twenty years later, what I said twenty years before. So I said “I’m going to wait, I’m going to mature as an individual and I’m going to learn, so that when I speak I can speak with a degree of understanding and authority and I’m not going to regret what I say.” Because what I came to realise from working with Gil and Jalal directly and also from Suliaman EL Hadi from The Last Poets, who has unfortunately demised also, was that “You can’t teach if you don’t know!”
And like basically, if you’re gonna speak and be representative of other people, then you’re going to have to take responsibility for the things that you say and the impact that that has on people that you say it to. So therefore, know what you’re saying before you say it and don’t say things which are going to result in other people suffering harm or detriment because of what you said. I think this is really where Rap lost its way and went off and started saying things which are now considered to be not at all representative of the wider community; but the community is tarnished with it. I think if they’d got the message of where Rap was at, at the very inception, it was all about revolution, it was about change. Gil Scott-Heron used to say to me, he said, “Malik, the beginning of the revolution is when you change your mind.”
The Dood: What advice would you give the youth of today, either creatively or regarding navigating the music industry?
Malik: The last thing I would like to say to the youth of today; “If you’re trying to navigate the music industry, it’s like swimming in shark infested waters or walking through the jungle full of snakes. My old mantra is ‘sometimes you need a snake to catch a rat.’ But you’ve got to make sure that the snake is on a long leash and that it doesn’t bite you.”
Michael J Edwards
Essential Facebook Page:
Malik & The O.G’s
Gary Bartz – Malik & The O.G’s – Matt Henry
Larry McDonald ‘Drumquestra’ (2009)
Amistad (1997) Steven Spielberg based on a mutiny in 1839 by free Mende warriors wrongly sold as slaves.