Diasporic Music – Jalali Pens tribute to Milton “The Voice” Blake

TORONTO–Milton “The Voice” Blake was more than a brother to me; Blake was my comrade. Comradeship is ideological; brotherhood is biological.
The revolutionary ancestor from Guinea-Bissau, Amilcar Cabral, was clear on this issue. Said Cabral: “I call you ‘comrades’ rather than ‘brothers and sisters’ because if we are brothers and sisters it’s not by choice, it’s no commitment; but if you are my comrades I am your comrade too, and that’s a commitment and a responsibility.”
The Fort George St. Ann Bay, Jamaica-born Blake would have been 70 years old on September 25th. I lost a part of myself when Blake succumbed to colon cancer on October 18, 2007. It was like losing an arm, a leg or an eye.
Blake and I were like political Siamese twins. We engaged in many righteous, political battles together. When my wife, Yvonne Kentish, joined the ancestors in December of 1987, Blake gave me his bed. He did not want me to stay in my apartment by myself.
My son, Malik, who was born pre-maturely after only being in his mother’s womb for 27 and half weeks, was at Women’s College Hospital in an incubator. Blake became Malik’s godfather. To put it mildly, me and the guy with the golden voice were closer than close.
When Blake and this writer created the Black Music Association’s Toronto Chapter in 1984, it was our intention to plug African-Canadian music makers into the international music market. Only jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, had penetrated the global market at that time.
Most observers of African Canadian Music credit Norman Granz, a Euro-American, and not the Canadian industry with Peterson’s success. .
Blake fought for “justice for black music
Blake and I were well aware of this fact and sought to correct it. We sat down with Garth White, Diane Liverpool, Francis Omoruyi, Daryl Auwai, Wayne Lawson, P.V. Smith, Xola Lololi and Cris Thomas and formed the Toronto Chapter of the Black Music Association (BMA).

The Toronto arm of the BMA was pan-African from its inception. We were never a “tribal” group. Our leadership was made up of people from the continent of Africa, the Caribbean and North America.
The BMA in Toronto (along with the New York City Chapter) distinguished itself from many of the other chapters in the BMA by supporting the United Nations-sanctioned cultural boycott of South Africa.
We held a demonstration involving 300 musicians and friends to prove our point. Most members of the African Canadian community supported the cultural boycott, although another Black music group criticized the BMA for its stand.
Our chapter supported the efforts of Kenny Gamble of Philadelphia International Records and co-founder of the BMA, and Dick Griffey, head of Solar Records and the Chairman of the BMA, to have our convention in Nigeria.
Not all members of the BMA wanted to visit the Motherland. Many were of the opinion that “I ain’t left nothin’ in Africa.” We in the Toronto Chapter quoted El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) and reminded them, “You left your mind in Africa.”
Blake and the BMA/TC forced the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science (CARAS) to add two Black Music Awards categories into the 1985 Juno Awards. That was one of his milestones.

Toronto chapter of Black Music Association formed

The BMA/TC had called for three new categories to be included in the Junos. CARAS added an R&B and Reggae Awards but failed to add a Calypso category.
The BMA/ (TC) held a protest at the site of the Juno Awards ceremony in 1989 because of CARAS’ failure to add the Calypso Award category.
The BMA/ (TC) were not satisfied with their decision, arguing that reggae and calypso are too distinct to be lumped into one category.
In 1987, the organization engaged in further lobbying by sending a letter to CARAS that outlined various reasons why the Reggae/Calypso category should be split in two.
This yielded no change by the Academy over the next few years, so the BMA/ (TC) held a protest at the entrance to the Toronto venue for the Juno Awards.
Fifteen members of the BMA/ (TC) demonstrated by carrying placards and marching in a circle while shouting among other things “Justice for Black music,” as celebrities arrived for the ceremony.
The BMA/TC fought against the apartheid regime in South Africa with the cultural boycott. Blake and I were foundation members of the Biko Rodney Malcolm Coalition (BRMC).
The BMA and the BRMC supported the United Nations sanctioned cultural boycott of South Africa. This battle united us with Elombe Brath (New York City).
An African Invasion is coming to Toronto’s Koerner Hall (273 Bloor Street West) starting in November. I am looking forward to Angelique Kidjo, Zap Mama, Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express and Gilberto Gil. I also want to see the First Nation artist, Buffy Sainte-Marie.

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.

Richmond is currently working as a producer/host of Saturday Morning Live on Radio Regent (radioregent.com.) He can also be heard on Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio (uhururadio.com)

His column Diasporic Music appears monthly in The Burning Spear newspaper.


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