LA explained in music

May 27, 1992

Don't Call Me Buckwheat
Garland Jeffreys
BMG records
Available on CD and cassette
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

Rarely does a day go by lately that this album doesn't end up blasting out from my stereo. Musically, lyrically and politically, it is one of the most infectious records I've had the pleasure of listening to.

Over a steady reggae groove, rich layers of soul, R&B and Latin (and even a little vintage doo-wop) are spread. With this smooth blend of the heritage of African American music, Jeffreys' stinging yet sophisticated anti-racist message is stylishly served.

The events in LA have given added poignancy to Jeffreys' themes of a United States where racism runs rampant — "We got the proclamation, Now where's the real emancipation?" he asks in "Bottle of Love" — where culture and politics of the Klan thrive and untold damage is done to people's lives.

Buckwheat represents a much-awaited return to recording by the New York-born singer-songwriter after a 10-year break. Of black, white and Hispanic background, Jeffreys explores the complexities of the effects of racism on, and within, the black community from his own experiences.

The track "Welcome to the World" rejects emphatically the claim that in the US, as Michael Jackson would have us believe, "it doesn't matter if you're black or white". Jeffreys' lyrics leave nobody unsure of his view: "Welcome to the world of opposites/ ... of inequality/ ... of human rights/ Where they're all for you/ None for me/ Blacker than 100 midnights/ colder than a soul on ice/ Police are kickin' out the livin' daylights/ Now that ain't right ..."

The psychological effect of this relentless racial discrimination on African Americans is addressed on "Racial Repertoire": "Before I go out on the street/ Put on my armour of defence .../ It's become unconscious/ Deep within the psyche/ Generations stymied/ A permanent scar ..."

Jeffreys further examines the psychological scars caused by racism in "Spanish Blood", in which he recounts how his parents urged him to "... say you're Spanish" to deny his African American ancestry. This attempt to escape oppression by subterfuge was also expressed politically, as he explains in "I Was Afraid of Malcolm". Jeffreys pays homage to Malcolm X and explains how "I took the white man's cue" and believed the lies told about him.

Don't Call Me Buckwheat is an invigorating musical appeal for people to challenge and combat racism. It's a great record, more than once.

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