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The Liberation Song: Navasha Daya On Gil Scott-Heron’s Life And Legacy

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Navasha Daya is a Baltimore-based indie soul and jazz singer, songwriter and producer, and a cousin of the late musician and writer, Gil Scott-Heron.

Before Gil Scott-Heron, the legendary singer, pianist, and poet known as a “godfather of hip hop,” passed away in 2011, he spoke with his cousin, Baltimore soul-jazz vocalist Navasha Daya. He suggested that they work on some music together. “I enthusiastically agreed!” Daya said. “Sadly, he transitioned before we could fulfill the original plan.”

Now, ten years later, Daya is fulfilling the promise she made to collaborate musically with Gil Scott-Heron. She recently released The Liberation Song (Red, Black and Green), a cover of a 1975 Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson song. It is the first single from Daya’s upcoming album Legacy (A Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron), which she calls an “ancestral dedication” to her cousin.

For Daya, a major part of Gil Scott-Heron’s legacy is his activism. “He fearlessly spoke the truth about what was happening in society,” she said, pointing to his advocacy, with Stevie Wonder, for making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday, and songs he wrote about the prison system, racism, and South African apartheid.

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Martti Tulenheimo via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Gil Scott-Heron performing at the Pori Jazz Festival in 2010

Daya mixes activism and art in her work, as well. She is co-founder and director of the Healing & Performing Arts of the Youth Resiliency Institute, providing programming and services for children, youth and families in East Cleveland and Baltimore’s Cherry Hill. She is also co-director of the Cherry Hill Arts and Music Waterfront Festival, held at Middle Branch Park.

Daya thinks Gill Scott-Heron should be remembered today in his totality as a pianist, author, songwriter, and singer, as well as for his activism and spirituality. “Gil Scott-Heron was not a commodity. He was multifaceted and really brilliant.”

The Liberation Song (Red, Black and Green) by Navasha Daya and featuring saxophonist Gary Bartz, is available now on Bandcamp. Her album Legacy (A Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron) is expected to be released later this year.

Mark is a producer at WYPR