Alex Pascall: Praise singing educator for Black London ©

By Thomas L Blair, 4 September 2020

Alex Pascall, OBE, is Black London’s griot — a praise singer and educator in the African and Caribbean oral tradition. Much needed as schools reopen after months of lockdown, he says “In a nation badly informed and historically confused about the Black experience. All because of terrible politicians, uncaring teachers, underfunded schools and a disinterested public”.

The result is  an unequal and ill formed curriculum that unfairly punishes black students, mainly boys, leaving them with few choices other than jail or death at the hands of the police.

Dark strangers” no more, we defy and surprise them.

Pascall, 83, is no novice to the problems and demands of Black school children, teachers and families in the most deprived London areas. For 14 years from 1974 he presented the Black Londoners BBC Radio 4 show, and gave a voice to the unheard. Then he co-founded the Voice, a Black newspaper and helped save the Notting Hill carnival, he told Joe Harker, deputy Opinion Editor for the Guardian recently.

His aim has always been to reform school teaching so children and families can reach all their potential.  His tone is strongly influenced by the colourful music and stories of  his Caribbean homeland, Grenada, and London’s troubled inner city streets.

Master of the iconic carnival steelpan band, his praise song is like a sun-soaked Jamaican rum punch. Lots of fruit from Calypsonian roots and drinks from the refreshing well of historical visionaries – charged with the overproof demands of long denied youth.

All the while the griot drums home the message. “Clock the way we developed, resisting pitfalls and spiked alleyways that lead to nowhere”,

Blazing a trail

Pascall, a well-known expert on Black British urban oral history, can blow your mind with his elders’ wisdom. After all, he is an apostle of fellow Grenadian, Theophilus Albert Marryshaw, the radical reformer and the father of the West Indies Federation.  And, like Jamaican reggae singer, songwriter Bob Marley, he inspires everyone  to “Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right”

Clearly, with pride and passion, Pascall delivers a message relevant to unfulfilled Black Londoners demands. We have all-together created things to be proud of, moments and events to be celebrated for the efforts made and achievements gained, he avows.

Pascall advocates diversity in recruitment and mentoring of faculty and students, research and writing, curriculum revisions, and teaching.

“My emphasis is on education, getting this material into the education system to inform and enlighten children and teaching staff, black and white”. This, he says, is an effective tool in closing the achievement gap and building understanding across lines of race, class and circumstance.

So, says Pascall, we must resist the daily racist aggressions that have the sole purpose of blocking our  paths to individual and collective success. Stand up for including the Black heritage in school syllabuses, in the town hall and university libraries, and national archives.

Together. Stronger. Faster. Further

“Be proud, ambitious, watchful and defiant.
Best of all, aspire to be someone great.
The number one to be desired and admired.
Leave traces of your footsteps for those in pursuit to follow.

“Now, mek I tell you something for nothing,
Pull up your socks and trousers, wear a smile,
Lift up all you head, cut the slack and walk tall,
Cha man! Time for we walk, ‘nough’ time to reason.

“Lace up you boots, nough ah dat lip flapping.
Walk tall! Straighten up your back, let dem see you walk.
Yes, show them how to measure time and walk,
Come… leh we walk and talk.
Liven up yourself, buck up and enjoy the experience.

“Hear what Granny sey? if crab nah walk, crab nah get fat,
Mek time, tek time; cause after one time is two time,
Shine! Step in line, to the Windrush Generation walk
Left, right, left, right, now walk and talk, rap and talk,
Ready, steady… rock your body, now steady;
Do the walk and talk, Windrush Generation walk and talk.
‘Walk good’!”