When I heard that one of my favorite Indianapolis singers (Bashiri Asad) was recording a tribute to one of my favorite songwriters (Gil Scott-Heron), I reached out to the former to talk about the latter immediately.
Bashiri Asad should require no introduction to Indianapolis music fans, for the last decade or so the singer has been a dominant voice in the Indianapolis soul music scene. I caught up with him via phone to discuss his new Gil Scott-Heron tribute EP, slated for a December 23 release.
NUVO: Tell us about your new project, The Gil Suite.
Bashiri Asad: It's an EP featuring my interpretation of five Gil Scott-Herron songs. I plan on doing another volume in the future. There are a couple of his more popular songs on this installment, like "Home Is Where the Hatred Is." I also recorded "Pieces of A Man" which is a very personal song for me, because it reminded me of my father and the things I saw him going through as a man.
I did a version of "Must Be Something" which is sort of a rallying cry. These songs are still relevant to the issues going on today. Look at all the injustice going on with people getting killed at the hands of law enforcement — which has been going on forever.
I picked "A Toast To The People" which is a tribute to us as a people. Showing love and appreciation for who we are and how far we've come, while also stating we have a long way to go to get where we need — not specifically speaking to African-Americans but just people in general.
Gil was a great songwriter and he kept his finger on the pulse of what was happening during his time. His work wasn't always pretty, and that's one of the things that drew me to Gil. His voice wasn't the prettiest, the content of his songs wasn't pretty — but it was real, and honest.
NUVO: The range of topics Gil covered in his music is really staggering, and so many of the subjects he covered are still hotly debated today, from the dangers of nuclear power to the welfare of undocumented immigrants. Where do you see Gil's place in American music?
Asad: For many people, Gil is a bit of an acquired taste. But he shouldn't be. If you look at the great songwriters in terms of socially conscious writing, he has to be in the top five. There are other writers who spoke about this stuff, but Gil lived it. He could tell the story from the view of the person standing on the sidewalk watching what was happening in the street.
NUVO: I'm curious about the timing of this release. There's such a heightened awareness right now about the injustices Gil addressed in his music.
Asad: The spark behind the project goes back to my conversation with DJ Rasul Mowatt during the Gil Scott-Heron tribute show at the Jazz Kitchen. I was asked to do a couple songs in that show and I really identified with the songs I performed. It's something special when you're singing songs and you're moved by them no matter how many times you've heard them.
Rasul said to me, "It would be fresh if you recorded a tribute to Gil Scott-Heron and just flipped the music. Mix in some electronica and do some different things with the music but keep the message the same." I thought it was a great idea, and fortunately I was able to get in touch with Davison Robie and Matt Vice who produced the EP.
These songs are a soundtrack to what's going on in our world today. So the timing is perfect.
NUVO: You mentioned that you're already thinking about a second volume. Do you know which songs you'll be featuring on the next EP?
Asad: The next one will have songs like "Winter In America," "Legend In His Own Mind," "Did You Hear What They Said," and the list goes on. I have five in total picked out.
This first volume is the maiden voyage and I am confident people will be interested. Whether or not people will love it doesn't really matter to me at the end of the day because these songs are important.
A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.