Tracing JA's roots in US music

By Balford Henry Observer senior reporter henryb@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 27, 2012    

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IT is a tale of a father and son that could easily be of two nations: the United States of America and Jamaica.

The life of American musician Gil Scott-Heron and his Jamaican father, Gil Heron — the first black footballer to play for the Scottish club, Glasgow Celtic — is documented in Gil Scott-Heron: A Father And Son Story.

Written by British-born, New York-based British Broadcasting Corporation world service correspondent, Leslie Gordon Goffe and published by Kingston-based LMH Publishing, the book highlights the exploits of Gil Heron and how he broke the colour bar across two continents.

And, Gil Scott-Heron's upbringing in racist Tennessee, where he helped desegregate a junior high school, then moved to live with his mother in the Bronx after the death of his maternal grandmother.

Scott-Heron, who died in May 2011, is regarded as the Godfather of Rap and was posthumously honoured at the 2012 Grammy Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His signature song is The Revolution Will Not be Televised.

Educated at Lincoln (Pennsylvania) and John Hopkins universities where he earned a Masters in creative writing, Scott-Heron learned to play his mother's old, abandoned piano well enough to ensure that he was equipped to become a multi-cultural star.

He produced a soothing blend of poetry and melody, analysed early in his career as a specialty known as "spoken word vocals delivered with African-style congas".

Jamaicans have assured themselves that rap music evolved from "toasting" and deejaying, conceptualised by Count Matchukie, enhanced by King Stitt, U Roy and Big Youth. Then given political legitimacy by dub poets like Oku Onuora and Mutabaruka, before it migrated, with thousands of Jamaicans, to the US during the 1970s.

Therefore, it was not surprising, that Jamaicans with their unrepentant culturism would steal the Bronx nightlife from African-Americans and Latinos, or that they would find someone, in the form of Jamaican Kool Herc, to create a new music culture, blending the best of theirs with those they had stumbled upon in New York City.

They attracted American simulators like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bombaata, then set the stage for second generation Jamaican-American rappers like Busta Rhymes and the Notorious B.I.G.

Since Scott-Heron's death, a lot of attention is being paid to his life as well as his unique style of music, which he called "bluesology", but which music writers still refer to as spoken word or plain poetry.

There is so much to learn from the story of Gil Heron and his American son, Gil Scott-Heron, that means so much to both Jamaicans and Americans.





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