Making his Blinded By the Floodlights writing debut, Matt Bull marks Black History Month by telling us about six important black artists in the Indie/Alternative world, as well as the importance of black musicians to today's music scene.
Origins of today's popular music
Blues music originated in the Deep South of the United States of America in the mid 19th Century by African-Americans and from that emerged bluegrass, country and jazz. A century later reggae music originated from Jamaica and was itself strongly influenced by American Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, and more directly from ska and rocksteady. Around the same time, Soul music was hitting the airwaves and would go on to set a pathway for the emergence of Rock music.
We owe an immeasurable amount to black artists and musicians, not only for their creations and interpretations of profoundly important genres, but their demonstration of how music can be used to harness love, rebellion, pain and happiness.
Huge names in the world of rap, grime, and modern-day R&B, still keep black artists at the forefront of public consciousness. SAINt JHN, Dababy and Stormzy all feature in the top 10 records of 2020 so far (at the time of writing!). But an uncomfortable truth for some is that black artists rarely feature in what is often dubbed as 'Indie' music.
Black artists in the Indie/Alternative world
How many Alternative Rock bands, or Indie Rock bands, Britpop bands or recent punk bands have black singers or musicians? Are their Alternative/Indie singer-songwriters? We all remember when The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives and the Vines pushed Alternative Rock into the mainstream in the early 00’s but where are all black dudes?
For Black History Month I wanted to highlight some black artists who not only contribute hugely to a musical genre mostly dominated by white folk, but whose talents are irreplaceable.
Born in Liverpool by Nigerian parents and now living in London, Kelechukwu Rowland Okerere is without doubt one of the most significant contributors to modern British rock music. Bloc Party’s 2005 debut Silent Alarm was named NME’s Album of the Year and is simply a masterclass. Bloc Party released five albums and Kele has released plenty of stuff as a solo artist and has also recently written a musical with Matt Jones “Leave to Remain” about an interracial gay couple.
I remember watching The Libertines perform 'Up The Bracket' on Jools Holland’s Later way back in 2002 and thinking how emphatic, raucous and sincere the whole performance was, not least because of the spectacular drummer, Gary Powell. Gary is also the drummer for Dirty Pretty Things and Eddy Grant. He also played the drums for Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Specials and even *double-checks notes* Chas and Dave. Gary now runs his own record label 25 Hour Convenience Store so his influence now even goes beyond playing music.
Obaro Ejimiwe has now released five albums in ten years , two of which have been nominated for the Mercury Prize. Ghostpoet has a wonderful, distinctive drool on vowel sounds and complements the other recognisable voices of Paul Smith, Nadine Shah and Lucy Rose, with whom he has all collaborated with. My personal favourites include the expansive Be Right Back, Moving House, the grimey Freakshow, and the simplistic yet endearing Survive It. Actually, the list goes on. Just check him out if you haven’t already.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better well-rounded artist. Seriously, watch Alabama Shakes perform Future People on YouTube and tell me you don’t get goosebumps. Man, Brittany can belt it out. On top of that, she plays a mean guitar, writes amazing songs and now works as a solo artist away from her bands Alabama Shakes and Thunderbitch.
Her work with Alabama Shakes and as a solo artist have earned her four Grammy Awards and a whole host of other awards. There are a lot of fakers in the music industry, spinning out the same old formula, aiming for sales above all else, but Brittany Howard has as much talent as she does passion and integrity.
TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio is one of the best bands that are made up predominately of black artists. Some might argue that they are simply one of the best bands to come out of the 00’s having now released five studio albums, working alongside icons such as David Bowie, Karen O and David Byrne. 'Wolf Like Me', released way back in 2006, was a masterclass in Indie music and features all the electric, rhythm, drumming and singing that are associated with the genre. If you haven’t watched their performance on Letterman, go do that now.
20-year-old Anais Oluwatoyin Marinho from South London is living proof that the Indie/Alternative scene benefits hugely from black artists. I first fell in love with her when she released her EP last year and Sophie was played a fair few times on BBC 6Music. Since then she has continued to release beautiful, articulate, minimalist singles having been longlisted as a breakthrough act of 2020 in an annual BBC poll of music critics, Sound of 2020. She is due to release an album at the beginning of 2021 so look out for this!
This list is just a small selection of excellent black artists in the world of Indie and Alternative music. Can you suggest any other favourites that we’ve omitted? Let us know at @BFloodlights!