‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ has left a permanent mark on our modern lexicon. This song by legendary musician and spoken-word artist Gil Scott-Heron – who sadly passed away in 2011 – is a social message advocating equity and justice and the direct action needed to bring them about.
Used as part of the philosophical underpinnings of the Black Power Movement in the 1970s, what is the context behind the song? The lyrics themselves are a blast at gross consumption and the ‘consumer culture’ and a high five in the face with a closed fist to corporate and consumerist America. The song is a mockery of the empty messages spoon fed to society by profit-driven companies. Pointing a finger at mainstream consumer brands such as Xerox, NBC, Dove, coca -cola, Listerine and Hertz, the song tells you, ‘The revolution will not go better with coke.’ As Gil Scott-Heron explained in an interview the message contained in the song is a simple one, the first change that takes place is in your mind, the thing that’s going to change people and effect change will not be something you see on film.
And so the song references popular brands, TV commercials and even movie stars and politicians, telling people that the change they seek will not be found in their lounge but out on the street. ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’ encompassed a whole movement, a change in the mind set of African American people, to renounce complacency and fight against the oligarchy. Raised before the end of legalized segregation Gil Scott-Heron was no stranger to oppression. And his song became the sound of a movement, a rallying cry against a system that was far from free or equal. He received inspiration from the Last Poets, a group of poets and musicians in the late 1960′s who fought for civil rights for African Americans and the forefathers of hip-hop music.
One of these men, Abidoun Oyewole, told Scott-Heron to start a group like The Last Poets, something Scott- Heron took very seriously, and not long after that he released an album with ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ on it. The rest is history, the song became far more than a civil rights song, it was the start of the spoken word genre, the beginning of the roots of rap and hip-hop with men like Scott-Heron and Oyewole at the helm.
In the upcoming issue of one small seed – Issue 24 “Listen to my Colour & Look at my Sound” – one small seed features an exclusive interview with Abidoun Oyewole, a no-nonsense talk with one of the fathers of hip-hop, the guy who robbed the Ku Klux Klan and who paved the way for the hip-hop artists of today.