Red Tide #24
Music Review: Gil-Scott Heron From S. Africa to S. Carolina
by Michael Long [Michael Letwin]
Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson’s FROM SOUTH AFRICA TO SOUTH CAROLINA (Arista 4044) has been out for along time now, but it has not gotten the attention it deserves.
This album is musically beautiful, being a combination of soul and jazz. But the most important and heavy thing about it is the lyrics[,] which describe the situation of black people “from South Africa to South Carolina.”
The point of the album is to relate the struggles of poor blacks across the world so that everyone can understand that it is really the same struggle. It comes through in the hit song of the album, “Johannesburg.”
“They tell me that our brothers over there are defyin’ the man. I 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 growing. . . . I know that their strugglin’ ain’t gonna free me. But we’ve got to start strugglin’ if we wanna be free!”
Johannesburg may be a major city in South Africa, but Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson know that whether the poor in Africa win has a lot to do with what happens in this country. It is a song of solidarity across thousands of miles. And a heavy thing about this song is that it made the top of the charts and was on the radio, despite its political message. Usually[,] songs like that aren’t on the radio a whole lot because of their politics.
BRINGING IT ALL HOME
“A Toast to the People” brings the struggle right back home with[,] “And ever since we came to this land, this country has rued the day, when [we] would stand as one and raise our voices and say: You know there won’t be no more killings and no more talk of class; your sons and your daughters won’t die in the hour glass.”
DON’T LOOK BACK
The next song on the album is “The Summer of ’42.” Thank god it isn’t like all of the other garbage that has come out of that theme. The song shows that nostalgia for black people in this country is something that very few people are interested in. The oppression of black people is the “nostalgia” that no black person wants to celebrate.
They say, “Gotta move on, gotta see tomorrow, gotta move on, gotta get ahead. Can’t look back, there’s nothing there but sorrow. Gotta move on, get ahead. . . . You seem like you’re wishin’ you could undo everything that’s happened since the summer of ’42. What you call nostalgia really ain’t what I’m after. . . . If all the rednecks that you know like George Wallace should suddenly change their minds or claimed they did, Tell me could you relate to them and vote for them after all this time?. . . . what you call reminiscing ain’t what my life’s been missing.”
“Beginnings” is one of the most beautiful songs of the album, being a calm, slow and mellow song. It deals with the fact that black people are often trying just to survive, “We want to be free, and yet we have no idea why we are struggling here, faced with our every fear, just to survive.”
Another heavy song is “Johannesburg’s” counterpart, “South Carolina.” South Carolina is not unlike South Africa in many ways[,] as the song points out:
“I heard they buildin’ a factory down in South Carolina with a death potential uncontrolled by government designers. It will house atomic wastes and be a constant reminder that they’re buildin’ a great big bomb that’s tickin’ in South Carolina. Whatever happened to the protests and the rage? Whatever happened to the voices of the sane? Whatever happened to the people who gave a damn? Or does that just apply to dyin’ in the jungles of Viet Nam?. . . . They could take a million lives. . . . They got no respect for human life in South Carolina.”
Well, it’s true. Even though millions of people fought in this country to end a murderous war being carried on by the US against the Vietnamese people, there’s not a movement that can deal with the situation in this country. Yet.
But whether Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson know it yet or not, there is a movement growing. Not only of black people, but of whites and everyone else. And it isn’t just students on college campuses this time. It’s workers in their factories, mines, warehouses and trucks who will turn this country upside down.
[Historical Note: The Red Tide was a revolutionary high school underground newspaper and youth organization that existed from 1971-1981. See: http://theredtide.wordpress.com/%5D]