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Ready for Reparations

Ready for Reparations

Ready for Reparations

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Eddy Grant tells Davina Morris why slavery cannot be forgotten.

Well known for politically-charged hits such as Gimme Hope Jo’hanna (his musical attack on South Africa’s apartheid regime), music legend Eddy Grant remains as politically driven today as he was when he released that hit in 1988. But then, calling his new Best Of album Road to Reparation is a pretty big give-away that Grant is still politically driven.

“For me and I think, for most African people, reparations is the last unexplored area of our issues with the white world,” says Grant, who turned 60 this March. “I think that reparations are absolutely mandatory.”

“People always think in terms of money when you talk about reparations. No African controls the destiny of money, so what would me the point of that? It didn’t take a day for African people to arrive at a point of almost mendicancy in the world. And therefore, reparations, as a discussion, will not take a day. But if we don’t address this issue, it will be with us forever.”

He considers what makes him so passionate about the condition of society.

“I love people­– that’s the first thing. And I think writers are in the best position to articulate certain issues; issues that affect our people. I don’t really want to write these bloody songs. I wish I didn’t have to write about issues like reparations. But the organic nature of what I do interferes with the process of day to day living and then I have to write that song– because I’m a musician.”

He continues: “The fact that some leaders can dismiss the issue of reparations, is beyond me. Some of them are like, ‘Oh, but we said sorry.’ If a guy steals sufficient amounts of money, can he turn around to society and just say ‘sorry’? And slavery– we’re talking about the greatest genocide the world has seen.”

Hearing Grant’s passion about the condition of black people, it’s not hard to imagine how many record company execs must have tried to convince him to water down his musical messages. That is, if they’d had the chance.

But the fact is, Grant has been an independent artist throughout almost his entire career, and has, therefore, never had to deal with corporate big-wigs threatening to drop him if he didn’t toe the commercial line. Just as well really; Grant is too devoted to speaking on issues dear to his heart.

“You can’t write something and not be it,” he says. “I am what I write about and I’m not a hypocrite. I’ve been consistent, even when other black artists were not interested in protest. They were being told that black artists don’t write protest songs. And if you go back through the archives of popular music, you won’t find protest songs by black artists. But you’ll find protest songs from white guys like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. There were people who told me that I wouldn’t enjoy success with protest songs. But no; there was no compromise for me.”

Grant’s credentials seem never-ending. Of course, he’s known for hits including Electric Avenue and I Don’t Wanna Dance. But he’s also recognised as having recorded the first soca song with his hit, Hello Africa; he founded the first black-owned professional recording studio in Europe (The Coach House) and also owned the first black-owned record manufacturing plant in Europe (British Homophone).

In addition, Grant set up his own label, Ice Records and his own recording studio, Blue Wave, as well as his own publishing companies and distribution, to be in complete control of the whole creative and manufacturing process when making his music.

But one of his most notable credentials, is, surely the fact he is the only major artist to own every recording and song that he created over a forty-plus year career. Considering he began his career in his teenage years, how did he have the business savvy to know the importance of owning the rights to his musical catalogue?

“My father was a musician and he never made any money. So it was very difficult for him to support his family. He had to work as a mechanic, as well as making music. I saw all of that. So I decided that when I began my career, I would have to make it work.”

“Also, before I started with music, I actually had ambitions to be a doctor. But when I scored my first hit, my medical plans went out the window! But first manager said to me that as I’d decided to give up a great career as a doctor, I should pursue my music career in the way that I would have pursued my career as a doctor. I took his advice.”

In addition to his solo success, Grant is remembered as being part of the group, The Equals– the first multi-racial pop/rock group to achieve international acclaim. The group topped the chart with their classic, Baby Come Back, and with Eddy as songwriter, lead guitarist and producer, they went on to achieve three more major top 10 hits in the following 18 months.

“The Equals and our impact on British society, is almost immeasurable. It’s only when people look back– if they choose to– and write the history books, that they’ll realise the impact of the multicultural aspect of the band. Some people have sought to write the band out of musical history. But we were like the first of that batch of boy bands that you see today.”

“And the way that we conducted ourselves– we were the first to dress in colourful clothing. There was a time when pop groups dressed in suits. But The Equals were the first to come along in bright and colourful outfits and look like young people. The Beatles never looked young! The Equals– three black guys and two white guys– we were trendsetters.”

He continues: “There were people at the time who were saying that black guys didn’t have any bottle, but I was walking around with bleached blonde hair. Those kind of ridiculous myths were part of the reason why there were no black footballers: because people used to think that black footballers wouldn’t have the bottle to play in the snow!”

“So when you’re in a position to move society forward like The Equals did, that’s worthy of mention. The chronicles of pop culture don’t seem to want to give The Equals that credit. Maybe they don’t know the facts, maybe they’re prejudice– it doesn’t matter. They cannot change that which was.”

Does Grant feel that things have changed over the years or does prejudice still exist in the music business?

“How many black executives do you know in major record companies in England? Until we have these things– black people in positions of power– change will not come for us. These are not outrageous demands. Look at America: it took a very long time, but now here is a (black) guy who could well be the next President.”

Music aside, Grant is very much the family man. The father of four will celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary this year. One wonders if his marriage was ever strained due to the demands of his career.

“All marriages are under strain,” he says. “But fortunately I married the right person. She understands that I’m driven by music and allowed me to live a life that most men would die for.”

Ah, so did Mr Grant do the groupie thing? He laughs: “How many musicians do you know who didn’t do that? But it’s like everything else in life; you don’t over do it. There’s that old cliché about ‘wine, women and song.’ There was certainly no wine, but there was lots of song– and not too many women!”

The Very Best of Eddy Grant - Road to Reparation is out now on UMTV.

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