Mandate My Ass: Gil Scott-Heron's Activist Legacy

Meshell Ndegocello
Meshell Ndegocello

Friday, March 16, 5pm, Austin Convention Center Room 17B

Poet, revolutionary, singer. Prophet, visionary, addict.

The late Gil Scott-Heron, who died last year at 62 after capping a prolific career with one final comeback, was all that and then some.

Meshell Ndegeocello – herself an activist, poet, and musician – is among the panelists charged with unpacking Scott-Heron's complicated legacy. She's been immersed in his catalog of late for a series of performances covering her favorite Scott-Heron tunes.

"There is never going to be another Gil Scott-Heron or Bob Dylan," Ndegeocello predicted over the phone. "A musician is a different thing now. It's something used to sell products. The musician has been branded."

Scott-Heron warned of this, of course. That's what prophets do.

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.

The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner,

Because the revolution will not be televised, brother.

The revolution will not be televised, but it might be tweeted. Ndegeocello notes that Scott-Heron was blacklisted for his most famous song, but more avenues exist for radical music today than they did when that song was first released in 1970.

"We live in a world where there's a lot more access to things that are on the outside or that are alternative," she says. "I no longer think you can keep certain things down today like you could as long as you're diligent and use the tools that you're given. We're seeing that now with the Arab uprisings."

Perhaps no song better captures the rage festering from centuries of bondage and oppression than "Enough," a blistering 1970 indictment of white America. And while the revolutionary side of Scott-Heron is well-known, the balladeer is often overlooked. The soft laments of "We Almost Lost Detroit" and "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" reveal a rich, tender voice and stand among his strongest work.

"His voice, there's just no word for it. It's enticing and strong and made you want to listen to every word he was saying," Ndegeocello reflects. "I love the songs where he just has this mellow approach and it's not a point of anger but a point of contemplation. He just has an incredible voice, melody, musicianship, and most of all, his message."

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