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Ah, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ – even if you don’t recognised the title, you’ll know the track. Or if you don’t know the track, you’ll recognise the slogan.

Played on the radio, on film soundtracks, at clubs, festivals, on music compilations and even in Tahrir Square during an attempt to overthrow Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, genius Gil Scott-Heron’s calmly spoken words resonate against the African congas of the first recording (1970; Small Talk at 125th and Lexon) or the better-know full band version (1971; Pieces of a Man). Scott-Heron wrote it in response to The Last Poets’ ‘When the Revolution Comes‘ which bears the line, ‘When the revolution comes some of us will probably catch it on TV’.

While  attending Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, Scott-Heron became interested in the Black Arts Movement, founded by poet Imamu Amari Baraka. Part of the Black Power Movement, BAM’s aim was to culturally liberate African Americans by creating art by the black community for the black community. Scott-Heron, who had already published his first novel at the age of 20, dropped out of university to concentrate on his second. After meeting legendary music producer Bob Thiele of Flying Dutchman Records, he wrote and recorded Small Talk at 125th and Lexon, a record seen, along with the work of The Last Poets, as the beginning of rap and hip-hop.

While ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ has been seen by some as a call to arms, Scott-Heron actually wrote it as a satirical piece, something evident if you read the lyrics. It’s an obvious comment on society. He later said, ‘The revolution takes place in your mind. Once you change your mind and decide that there’s something wrong that you want to effect that’s when the revolution takes place. But first you have to look at things and decide what you can do. “Something’s wrong and I have to do something about it. I can effect this change”. Then you become a revolutionary person. It’s not all about fighting. It’s not all about going to war. It’s about going to war with the problem and deciding you can effect that problem. When you want to make things better you’re a revolutionary.’

A track that we listen to a lot, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ stands the test of time. Apart from being a stellar poem and piece of music, it carries as important a message today in our current world as it did when 21-year-old Scott-Heron first penned it. No wonder when Scott-Heron died, Chuck D of Public Enemy hailed him as ‘the manifestation of the modern world’.

 

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