Sunday, January 08, 2017

By Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali

As 2016 fades into the background I am currently writing a column
called Diasporic Music for the monthly Burning Spear Newspaper (The
voice of the international African revolution). I also have a weekly
radio show with the same name on Uhuru Radio.
Diasporic Music can be heard every Sunday at 2pm ET.

I as a journalist my work is currently being published by the
Pan-African Newswire, Black Agenda Report, Telesur, the Caribbean
Camera and other left media outlets.

I found Shree Paradkar’s opinion piece, “Lack of racial diversity in
media is a form of oppression”, in the Toronto Star extremely
interesting. Reading it was almost like reliving my own history as a
freelance journalist in Toronto, Canada. As the Four Tops once sang,
“It’s the same old song”.

I was fired by the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper, after
getting an exclusive interview with the Eighth Wonder of the World,
Stevie. Wonder and Gil Scott-Heron played the Montréal Forum on
November 11th, 1980. I thought this might lead to me becoming a full –
time writer for a mainstream daily newspaper.  I was wrong -- dead
wrong. Instead, the then entertainment editor, Anne Moon, told me,
“You know too much”. She continued by saying, “I thought you were
from Ghana.”  I took this statement from “Miss Anne” as a compliment.

At that moment in history I had written over 20 articles for the
Toronto Star. I was called into an editor office who (will remain
unnamed), and told I was being cut loose. The editor who I considered
an ally told me that the some people at the newspaper felt that I
could not write. I asked him, “Why did it take them so long to
discover I couldn’t put sentences together? He confessed that another
writer at the paper was concerned that I did not have a degree in
journalism. How could I   -- a Bama (First on the list is the word
“Bama.” In its most basic form, it's an insult. A derivative of
“Alabama...”), merely walk in off the street and take a “real” writers
job? Was it a case of “Jealousy” that Dionne Warwick sang about or
more white supremacy?

Well, this Bama recovered swiftly and literary walked around the
corner. Shortly after this I found myself writing for Canada’s
National Newspaper, the Globe and Mail. It was explained to me that
the money was funny at the Globe and Mail. You’ll get less money than
the Toronto Star—but you’ll get more prestige. The reason? “Staff

are based in several Canadian cities and foreign bureaus are located
in London, Moscow, Beijing, Rome, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, New Delhi,
New York and Washington”.  Believe it or not the Bama found himself
reviewing books. I was fired by them after I submitted a review of a
book of speeches by El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X).  In one
speech Malcolm X was critical of Israel and that was the straw that
broke the camel’s back.

Before I submitted the review of our “Black Shining Prince” I did
articles that the mainstream might consider outside the box. I wrote
reviews of Marxist revolutionary, Pan-Africanist theorist and
President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987, “Thomas Sankara Speaks”,
an obituary of Lenny Johnston, former co-owner of Third World Books
and Crafts, and an article on how Row R in Roy Thompson Hall was named
after Paul Robeson and how jazz vibraphonist Milt Jackson wanted jazz
to be news. I wrote several pieces on Robert Nesta Marley. One was
called “Bob Marley from Jamaica to Zimbabwe” and the other on how the
children of Marley, Thelonious Monk and Otis Redding were continuing
the father’s name. During this moment in history apartheid in South
Africa was a burning issue. One article was called “The Apartheid
aftertaste South Africa can haunt those who perform there and another,
“I don’t want to sing that bad” Bobby Womack won’t performed in
segregated South Africa. The Toronto-born Dan Hill, who wrote
“Sometimes when we touch” was mentioned in the piece.  I also wrote a
piece on how Hugh Masekela returned to live on Southern Africa.

My last article for the corporate press came in February 2001. I lost
my last job in the mainstream when the editor Noah Richler was let
loose. I was welcomed by Noah Richler, author, journalist, and
broadcaster. He was raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and London,
England. He is the son of Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler. I was
recommended to him by his step brother Daniel. I not only wrote about
music and culture but was asked to review books—serious books.

One of my articles was, “Hip before hip-hop: The grand-daddy of rap is
still the master of politically spiked word-play”. It was 2,081 words
long. Conrad Black (who owned the National Post at the time) and his
crew must have had mass cardiac arrest. I even sneaked in an article
on the late Comandante Fidel Castro about Cuba’s role in Angola
where Cuban troops helped defeat racist South African soldiers. When
Africa called, Cuba answered.

My swan song article for National Post a review of Timothy B. Tyson’s
book, “Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams”. The photo was of Robert
F. Williams his wife Mabel Williams with a gun given to them by Fidel

That is my story dealing with the print media. The electric media was
a hard nut to crack as well. I was hired to do a series on CBC radio
by a gentleman named Bruce Steele. Before I was hired I told the folks
at CBC I wanted to do a show where I played love songs such as Smokey
Robinson & the Miracles “The Tracks of my Tears” and Gladys Knight and
the Pips “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Steele said they wanted to know
how Black people and others were feeling. I told him I don’t think the
CBC really wanted to know.

I lasted about a month. I played Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s “Zombie”.
Zombie was released in Nigeria in 1976 and in the United Kingdom in
1977. The song criticized the Nigerian government who had murdered
Kuti’s mother Funmilayo Ransome –Kuti and the destruction of his
commune (Kalakuta Republic) by the military.

I chose Gil Scott-Heron’s “Shut ‘Em Down” next. African people music
has dealt with African and world issues. Scott-Heron criticized
nuclear power plants. He says:

"Shut 'Um Down"

Did you hear that rumble? Did you hear that sound?
Well it wasn't no earthquake, but it shook the ground.
It made me think about power, like it or not:
I got to work for earth for what it's worth,
'Cause it's the only earth we've got.

Shut 'um Down!
If that's the only way to keep them from melting down!
Shut 'um Down!
If that's the only way to keep them from melting down!

I've heard a lot about safety and human error.
A few dials and gauges is just a wing and a prayer.
If you need perfection, and that's what it takes,
Then you don't need people, can't use people,
You know people make mistakes...

Shut 'um Down!
If that's the only way to keep them from melting down!
Shut 'um Down!
If that's the only way to keep them from melting down!

Scott-Heron’s “Shut ‘Um Down” passed the test. Steele appeared to be
pleased – so far. However, the “s___” hit the fan with my next

I choose to play Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Inglan Is a Bitch”.

Inglan is a bitch
Inglan is a bitch

w'en mi jus' come to Landan toun
mi use to work pan di andahgroun
but workin' pan di andahgroun
y'u don't get fi know your way aroun'

Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
dere's no runnin' whey fram it

mi get a lickle jab in a big 'otell
an' aftah a while, mi woz doin' quite well
dem staat mi aaf as a dish-washah
but w'en mi tek a stack, mi noh tun clackwatchah!

Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
noh baddah try fi hide fram it

w'en em gi'you di lickle wage packit
fus dem rab it wid dem big tax rackit
y'u haffi struggle fi meek en's meet
an' w'en y'u goh a y'u bed y'u jus' cant sleep

Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch fi true
a noh lie mi a tell, a true

mi use to work dig ditch w'en it cowl noh bitch
mi did strang like a mule, but, bwoy, mi did fool
den awftah a while mi jus' stap dhu ovahtime
den aftah a while mi jus' phu dung mi tool

Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
y'u haffi know how fi suvvive in it

well mi dhu day wok an' mi duh nite wok
mi duh clean wok an' mi duh dutty wok
dem seh dat black man is very lazy
but it y'u si mi wok y'u woulda sey mi crazy

Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
y'u bettah face up to it

dem have a lickle facktri up inna Brackly
inna disya facktri all dem dhu is pack crackry
fi di laas fifteen years dem get mi laybah
now awftah fiteen years mi fall out a fayvah

Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
dere's no runnin' whey fram it

mi know dem have work, work in abundant
yet still, dem mek mi redundant
now, at fifty-five mi gettin' quite ol'
yet still, dem sen' mi fi goh draw dole

Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
is whey wi a goh dhu 'bout it?

Why would I do this? Steele flipped. He called me into his office and
read me the riot act. He said, “A woman in the Canadian Prairies
called and complained”. He then begins to question my ability. He
actually told me that I was a “side man” like Ron Carter was for Miles
Davis and Jimmy Garrison was for John William Coltrane. You are not
the leader. He bought out my Mau Mau Maoist side and I turned into
“Bunchy” Carter, Nina Simone and Peter Tosh rolled into one. I called
him everything but a child of Allah. I reminded him I came in talking
about playing Quiet Storm music and told him to kiss my African ass.

I will deal with my struggles with the Black press later.

Norman (Otis) Richmond, aka Jalali, was born in Arcadia, Louisiana,
and grew up in Los Angeles. He left Los Angles after refusing to fight
in Vietnam because he felt that, like the Vietnamese, Africans in the
United States were colonial subjects. After leaving Los Angeles in the
1960s Richmond moved to Toronto, where he co-founded the Afro American
Progressive Association, one of the first Black Power organizations in
that part of the world. Before moving to Toronto permanently, Richmond
worked with the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
He was the youngest member of the central staff. When the League split
he joined the African People’s Party. In 1992, Richmond received the
Toronto Arts Award. In front of an audience that included the mayor of
Toronto, Richmond dedicated his award to Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata
Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, the African National Congress of South Africa,
and Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba. In 1984 he co-founded the
Toronto Chapter of the Black Music Association with Milton Blake.
Richmond began his career in journalism at the African Canadian weekly
Contrast. He went on to be published in the Toronto Star, the  Toronto
Globe & Mail, the  National Post, the Jackson Advocate,  Share, the
Islander, the Black American, Pan African News Wire, and Black Agenda
Report. Internationally he has written for the United Nations, the
Jamaican Gleaner, the Nation (Barbados), and Pambazuka News.
Currently, he produces Diasporic Music a radio show for Uhuru Radio
and writes a column, Diasporic Music for the Burning Spear Newspaper.

For more information

No comments: