Monday, June 6, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron - "Johannesburg" - Arista, 1975

Today's post is in memory of Gil Scott-Heron, who passed away on May 27th.  He was a poet and a musician whose influence on Hip-Hop and Neo-Soul is hard to overestimate.
Born in Chicago but relocated to the Bronx in his early teens, Gil's writing talents were already apparent in high school. In college he started his first band Black and Blues, and wrote his first novels. Starting in 1970 he began to record, and he remained active until his death. "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was one of his most famous compositions, and is hailed by many as an important proto-rap song. His albums weaved elements of spoken word, jazz and soul into a style all his own. Throughout his career Gil's lyrics discussed social issues of the day, and today's song is a perfect example. "Johannesburg" speaks to the simmering unrest over apartheid in South Africa.
"They tell me that our brothers over there
are defyin' the Man
We don't know for sure because the news we
get is unreliable, man
Well I hate it when the blood starts flowin'
but I'm glad to see resistance growin'
Somebody tell me what's the word?
Tell me brother, have you heard
from Johannesburg?"
Gil wasn't without his demons. He was sentenced to 3 years for cocaine possession in 2001, and was arrested again in 2007 for the same charge. He also quietly suffered from HIV for years before going public in 2008, which may have contributed to his death.
The world lost a great poet last week. RIP Gil Scott-Heron!

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