Why the Name, “Backstreet Djeli”?

Why “Backstreet Djeli”?  (dey-jah-lee?) Kinda simple, really.  It comes from a French term I learned when in the military, overseas, homeported (on the U.S.S. Springfield, a guided-missle cruiser) in France and playing soccer, for the U.S. Navy 6th Fleet Soccer Team, throughout the Mediterranean.  While cultivating several  friendships among Southern France’s French-Algerian/ African communities, listening to street philosophers, intellectuals and musicians – while sipping luke-warm beer, chock-full of flies and stuff,  I once heard the term- Street Djeli–  jokingly used. 

Much later, I learned that “Djeli” merely referred to an African “Griot” of the oral tradition who was “…a West African poet, ‘praise singer’ and wandering muscian, with a vast knowledge of history, who often used his vocal expertise for gossip, satire and/or political comment.” These encounters often involved livley discussions in somewhat backstreet or off-the-beaten-path bars and jazz clubs-  ergo, “Backstreet Djeli.”

But, to set the record straight, the first website I wrote for (rizingcubenterprises.com) was the brainchild of my eldest son, a Marine Corp veteran, and a few of his friends, for their music pursuits.  They were somewhat “new school.” 

On the flip-side, my being a  ’young’ grandpa, Viet Nam Era & Cuban Crisis Navy veteran and all, I’m somewhat “old school.”  Admittingly, subsequent musings within this forum may clearly indicate such.  In addition, while married, raising a family (working nearly 30 years at a public utility) and pursuing business (B.S.) degree and post-graduate studies in evening college (VCU & St. Paul’s College), I was blessed with being able to complete limited independent studies in Ancient African and African-American History, simultaneously, at two other colleges (Virginia State Univ. & VCU- Virginia Commonwealth Univ).  Such is the profile of this former, part-time reporter for the now-defunct Richmond AFRO, and somewhat rebellious preacher’s kid who, during many summer months,  played with pigs and hogs on his grandparent’s farm like most kids played with puppy dogs.  Yep, this much I’ll admit…

Yet, when I look around today at the seemingly convoluted decline of objectivity dynamics, on the playing fields of American broadcast and print medium, I’m glad these ’new school’  folk even asked this ‘old school’ dude to express his thoughts within this forum.  Shucks, the way I see it, in this new social-media age, I hope to learn from them, as much as they expect to learn from me (us?). 

At this point, with this new website, I’m merely transfering what I’ve learned from ‘new school’ folk to this new ‘experiment’ in continuing to write, from my personal perspectives, about the “Missing Pages of History” which everyone- old school and new school– might have some interest.

Please feel free to participate with your comments by posting your reply where prompted.


“Backstreet Djeli”  w.d.s.

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About William "Duke" Smither (formerly, pen name: "Backstreet Djeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at www.backstreetdjeli.com and contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy.