Black Her_stories Music
I love listening to the radio. I grew up with the radio always on in the background, and every now and then, we would crank up the volume for one of our favourite songs and sing and dance along. It was joyous. I still love it today – because it always manages to come up with that tune that transports me and lifts my mood.
The other day, the room filled with the roaring sound of drum & bass - Goldie celebrating 30 years of Metalheadz, the label he launched with DJ Kemistry and DJ Storm – the most influential female DJs of the 90’s drum and bass scene, who got him hooked on the sound ... and it sparked a thought: every year, once October has passed, Black History Month gets ticked off. Not at London Feminista!
During the pandemic, I shared london feminista’s lockdown classics playlist … it’s still live – the latest addition is a kick ass feminist anthem by ‘Big Touble’ by Be Your Own Pet. As we face another defining moment in human history, the same motto applies: “hard times require furious dancing”!
Continuing this year's theme, we are Saluting Our Sisters with a playlist and blog dedicated to Black British womxn and queer musicians, whose talents grace our playlists. We salute and thank you.
🎧 Click here * for over two hours of eclectic music, stertching from classical, jazz to pop, hip-hop and D'n'B - a whole bunch of absolute classics. The playlist and narrative below are not in any particular order – I’m not currently in the mood for linearity. Like the pervious playlist, it's live – so, stick it on shuffle … and enjoy!
Homage to Black British Womxn Musicians
In the spirit of what got this list off the ground, I’m starting with DJ Kemistry. Birmingham born Valerie Olukemi A "Kemi" Olusanya came to London in 1990s, got into clubbing and it all kicked off from there. Reunited with her childhood friend, Jayne Conneely, AKA DJ Storm, they formed a pioneering music duo that extremely succesful. They succeeded in a very male dominated, misogynistic scene ... and this partly because, at first, promoters didn't realise when they listened to their demos that they were women ... and by the time they'd booked them, it was simply too late! They were flying in what felt a like a bit of a 'fairytale' story – until Kemistry was killed in a freak car accident. Goldie’s Kemistry, released in 1992 when they were in a relationship together, now sounds like a haunting tribute. If you’re into D’N’B, you’ll love DJ Kicks, the stunning mix by Kemistry and Storm.
Nia Archives is part of the new generation of musicians who emerged straight after lockdown at the forefront of jungle revival. Having started a new course at London’s Community Music School just before the pandemic, she was suddenly stuck indoors and decided she wanted to make music that she would also want to dance to … and her career took off. She is extremely talented and is clear that, as a young Black female artist, she wants her voice to heard, which is why she succesfully lobbied MOBO to get them to reinstate the electronic and dance music award and went on to win it!
"I cannot stand by and watch the music I love continue to be gentrified and whitewashed. Electronic/dance music is music of Black origin.
I'm not afraid to acknowledge it,
why are you?"
A few weeks ago, Pauline Black, the front woman and lead singer of The Selecter celebrated her 70th birthday … but that’s not stopping her – and frankly why should it?! Some of the original members have reformed, produced their sixteenth studio album, ‘Human Algebra’, and are embarking on a tour. Formed in the late 1970’s, The Selecter were one of the founding bands of 2 Tone, the independent racially diverse ska-punk-rocksteady record label launched by Jerry Dammers of the Specials. At the time 2-Tone was ground-breaking. Pauline AKA the ‘Queen of Ska’ and one of the only Black female singers and remembers:
“There was much to admire about the 2 Tone movement
– the music, the anti-racist, anti-sexist stance, the unity politics –
but, of course, it was much easier
to be a white man within it
than a black woman.”
Staying in the 1970’s with what is for me THE quintessential punk band, X-Ray Spex. Nearly half a century later, 'Oh bondage, Up yours!' remains a riotous feminist anthem and epic rejection of social and gender norms – as do most of their other songs with themes from climate change to consumerism. Poly Styrene took the early London punk scene by storm with her energetic presence, trademark dental braces and fearless brand of who gives a fuck feminism which challenged the convention of the typical submissive, pretty female rock star, paving the way for many of her contemporaries. If you haven’t seen it yet, the documentary 'Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché '(2021), a collaboration between Styrene’s daughter Celeste Bell, biographer Zoë Howe and director Paul Sng, is inspiring, even if it was before your time.
Keeping energy levels up and up with Skin, the first Black British artist to headline at Glastonbury as the lead singer of rock band Skunk Anansie - in 1999! – and while this may sound last century, she is still very much in the picture – as musician, singer, songwriter and techno DJ. Find out more in Skin, Blood and Guts.
Changing styles completely now – with a classical piece … and someone you may not have heard of: Avril Coleridge Taylor - the daughter of celebrated composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor. Following in her dad’s footsteps, she wrote and published her first composition at the tender age of 12. In 1933, she made her debut as a conductor at the Royal Albert Hall. Some 20 years later, she went to South Africa during the apartheid regime to play. Upon learning that she was of Black heritage, the government banned her from working as a composer and conductor, which led to her political awakening.
Cardiff born Shirley Bassey needs little introduction. The veteran diva started performing 70 years ago as a teenager in a pub. 70 albums, 140 million sold records and theme songs to not one, but three James Bond films - Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker, that remain her greatest hits. In 2020, she became the first female artist with an album in the Top 40 in seven consecutive decades. She performed ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ at the 2022 BAFTA – marking the 60th anniversary of the song.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist, Joan Armatrading, is a long-standing performer whose career spans nearly 50 years. Best known for her 1983 hit, ‘Drop The Pilot’, she counts a total 20 studio albums covering different genres, including folk, rock and blues ... and of course there was that stunning BAFTA film awards performance of 'Heart of Fire' with Little Simz.
When she performed Buffalo Stance on Top of the Pops, 7-months pregnant in 1988, Neneh Cherry caused an absolute furore – this was 3 whole years before the famed Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover. Just imagine, a young, sassy, confident pregnant Black woman, singing and dancing with her tummy out. What would old Mary Whitehouse have to say about that, now?! Not that Neneh Cherry cared – she was far too cool for that. To her the song was “about female strength, female power, female attitude.” She grew up with her mum, Swedish artist Moki Cherry, who had an exhibition at the ICA earlier this year, and stepdad, American jazz trumpeter, Don Cherry. At 15 she came to London from New York and became involved in the punk scene … the rest is history!
Ms Dynamite, know as the ‘urban diva’ back in the day, began her musical career in the garage scene. Then, in 2002, she released her first album ‘A Little Deeper’ featuring ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’ which propelled her to the top of the charts and won her the Mercury Prize! In 2003, she performed at the anti-Iraq-war demonstration in Hyde Park. She went on to sing an amended version of 'Faith' with George Michael at the Brits – as an anti-war song. In 2010, she worked with DJ Zinc on the very danceable track ‘Wile Out’. And fun fact: she is Akala’s big sister!
Beverley Knight’s musical career was inspired by her mum who often sang in church, and the gospel music they played at home, not least Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke. By 21, she had a record deal on a small, independent label and produced 'The B-Funk', hailed at the time as the best British soul album ever made. But it wasn’t until her second album, 'Prodigal Sista', that she made it big, winning best R&B Act MOBO Award two years running and making it into the mainstream … and she’s showing no signs of stopping. She is marking a four decades music, theatre and radio career with an album and a tour.
Super talented, Nigerian born singer, Sade Adu, is a defining voice of 80’s music. She moved to the UK with her mum at the age of four after her parent separated. Her early musical memories are filled with the voices of American soul music, mainly Donna Hathaway, Curttis Mayfield and Bill Withers. Music wasn’t her first choice, however, she tried her luck at fashion and studied at St Martin’s School of Art in London, before joining her first band, Pride. It was during that time that she wrote ‘Smooth Operator’, the song that propelled her to fame. That year, 1983, she formed the band Sade, with three existing members of Pride. Their debut album 'Diamond Life' was a resounding success. She's been dipping in and out of the limelight – often preferring privacy to the tabloid craze.
Nubya Garcia’s musical career began at her local Camden music centre where, age five, she learned the violin. By ten, she had switched to playing the saxophone… and it all grew from there. By 2016, she’s graduated in Jazz Performance – alongside jazz drummer Moses Boyd, and a year later released her debut EP. 'Source', her debut studio album came out in 2020 andsoon after, she performed at the BBC proms. She is part of a whole wave of talented young Black jazz musicians who are mixing different genres into jazz to create a more contemporary sound – hers is infused with rich African and Caribbean diaspora influences.
London-born Arlo Parks had only just released her first EP in 2019, when her diary started filling up with tour dates for summer 2020 ... and, of course, we all remember what happened next! She used the lockdown to create 'Collapsed In Sunbeams' - her first album filled with tender, reflective, intimate songs about growing up in London, and daunting issues around sexuality or depression, such as 'Black Dog'. The album won her a host of nominations and the 2021 Mercury Prize. She’s already got a second album, 'My Soft Machine', her first book 'The Magic Border' and lives in L.A. with her girlfriend, punk rapper Ashnikko.
Bristol-based producer, vocalist and DJ Grove is at the forefront of club culture. 'Feed my Desire’ is pure energy as it blasts out of the speakers and trasnports you straight to a dark sweaty dancefloor. It was released last year as part of their entirely self-produced debut EP, Queer + Black. The project is at the heart of Grove, the individual: proudly Black and queer. It is an introduction to their experience of the world, where the personal is decidedly political – in true intersectional feminist style!
And, finally, the one and only Little Simz. She was a household name even before winning the Brit award for Best album with ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ last year – and she just keep on rising! Her latest album and tour of the same name ‘No Thank You’ received rave reviews!
I‘ll leave it there … I know, I know, the list is far from complete, but like the lockdown playlist, it will keep growing …
*For ease I’ve put the list on spotify – I know they are awful and underpays artists … so I hope that if you have the means to, you’re able to support artist in different ways.