Sandy Brown Jazz

[Some computers might ask you to allow the music to play on this page]

 

 

TEA BREAK

The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians and others an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.

 

Kwaku (British Black Music / Black Music Congress)
December 2019

 

Kwaku

 

Kwaku is the founder of BBM (BritishBlackMusic.com) and BMC (Black Music Congress), which is a forum for discussing black music issues, networking, and highlighting and providing pathways to music industry education. BBM provides via its e-newsletter information about music, music business, and music business education with a bias towards British and black music. Its off-line activities include cultural industries research, consultancy, music business courses, and it organises seminars and conferences, including British Black Music Month (BBMM June/July) and International Reggae Day UK (IRD UK July 1).

His background is as a music industry journalist, lecturer, and consultant. A former columnist for Billboard and DJ, and worker of the now defunct Black Music Industry Association, Kwaku began his career many moons ago running his own indie label and music publishing firm. Having taught on music business courses in University Of Westminster, City University London, City & Islington College, and Collage Arts, he now runs accessible music industry and event planning courses through BTWSC, a voluntary organisation that develops potential through use of the creative arts. BTWSC was formed in April 2002 and named after the successful 'Beyond The Will Smith Challenge' writing competition and publication, which was a Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (CEMVO) Millennium Awards project.

Kwaku holds master degrees in Media, Music Business Management, and an LLM in Entertainment Law, plus BIIAB Award for Music Promoters (AMP). He has a keen interest in IP (Internet Property) issues and he has organised and chaired a number of music copyright seminars, including the annual BBMM Talking Copyright seminar at City, University Of London. He stopped by for a Tea Break:

 

Hi Kwaku, nice to see you, can I get you a tea or coffee?

Hi Ian, tea, preferably herb tea please

 

Milk and sugar?

No sugar, no milk.

 

Each time I read your email newsletters, and you are sending them out regularly at the moment, your agenda seems busier and busier! How do you keep up with it all?

I'm glad to know you are one of those who actually read them! Although I meet people who tell me they look forward to the newsletters, I nevertheless have been concerned that we've been over-burdening subscribers with the frequency and amount of content covered. So I recently decided to switch to the Alert format, which will only come out when we wish to publicise an activity we're either organising or associated with. That way, the content will be short and focused. I've had people complain about having to read so much. I'm sure you too get that sort of response from some of your subscribers.

 

I'm sure that's true. I think I really expect people to scroll down my What's New page and pick up on those things that interest them rather than read the whole page, but I hope some people dip into other things and discover something new.


Good point. In terms of being busy, it's simply something I just get on with. I guess to outsiders it would seem a lot, because one day it's about music, the next time, it could be about the environment, Fairtrade, racism, history or even politics. I also marvel at one person in particular who is active across many discrete areas, and I once asked him how he manages to do so much across several theatres, so to speak. His answer, was 'stealing time', by not sleeping much. Something I know too well!

 

I don’t expect when you started BBM/BMC you expected it to be so busy! How and when did you get into it in the first place?

We started BritishBlackMusic.com (BBM) in 2001. The aim was to use the online arena to replicate some of the functions of an organisation I was involved in, the Black Music Industry Association (BMIA), which by then had become defunct. So the aim was to provide Music Industry Knowledge poaster information about British black music, the music industry – at the time I was an active journalist writing for publications such as Billboard and DJ Mag, and music industry – I've always been passionate about providing industry knowledge, whether as a lecturer at university, be it City or Westminster, through BMIA's seminars, or through accredited and accessible, non-accredited courses offered by BTWSC.

It wasn't too busy at the beginning. However, very soon into the journey, I realised that although it was nice to post stuff online, it was also necessary to have some off-line engagement. So in May 2002 we launched Black Music Congress (BMC) with the first of what was a monthly debating session at City, University Of London. This gradually turned into every two months. Over the years, it's become an ad hoc forum which covers black music issues in different locations. So I guess, we've always been pretty busy, which is a challenge considering we are not funded, and most of our events are free, except for the half day music industry courses. Our busiest period is naturally the June/July window of British Black Music Month, which we started in 2006. Thankfully we have some strategic partners, such as City, University Of London, where we've hosted the Talking Copyright seminars for the last few years. And we now have Goldsmiths, University of London, where we host the International Reggae Day weekender.

 

 

British Black Music covers a whole range of types of music and the International Reggae Day seems to have taken off well. Most people associate Reggae with Jamaica and Bob Marley, but there must be more than that to its origins?

We hosted our first International Reggae Day event in 2017, and have subsequently not only hosted a number of related events, but have also become the UK co-ordinator of the Day in the UK. So far, the events have been London-based, but we are quite keen to have licensed events outside London in 2020. Of course we acknowledge that the birth place of reggae is Jamaica. And indeed, last year that was recognised with UNESCO according Jamaica a world heritage listing for reggae. However, the roots of the music lie in Africa, from where Bob Marley Blue PlaqueAfricans were trafficked to Jamaica and other parts of the so-called New World.

But music, like all cultural forms, doesn't remain static. So in that respect, Britain has made some significant contributions within the reggae umbrella term. I filmed a vox pop documentary some years ago entitled 'Britain's Contribution To The Development Of Reggae', and in it, the over-whelming majority pointed to Britain's development of the sub-genre known as 'Lovers' Rock'. Others pointed to how British musicians have infused reggae sensibilities into genres such as drum & bass, UK garage, grime, dubstep etc. I've also been making the point that without Britain, reggae would most likely have remained a localised musical style, like several of the Caribbean musical styles. It was both the migration to Britain by African Caribbean people, mostly from Jamaica, and the British music industry's efforts, which projected reggae unto the global market.

At the start of this year's African History Month, I worked with Nubian Jak to unveil a blue heritage plaque on the former Island Studios building in Ladbroke Grove, west London which highlighted Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh of The Wailers. At the unveiling ceremony, I pointed out that had it not been for a British company, Island Records, perhaps Bob Marley may not have become the superstar that he is now.

 

Ernest Ranglin at Glastonbury

 

All music has cross-overs – are there elements of reggae that you think link to jazz?

Let me start by saying there's an inextricable link between reggae and jazz. If one goes to the foundation of reggae – call it ska, if you like, you can see jazz influences. At the start of recordings in Jamaica, many of the session musicians were alumni of Kingston's Alpha Boys School, where they received a solid grounding in music education and jazz music.

The first album releases by Island Records in Jamaica were jazz offerings by the likes of pianist Lance Hayward, and guitarist Ernest Ranglin. The latter continues to straddle jazz and reggae, as do British acts such as saxophonist Courtney Pine, guitarist Ciyo, and the Jazz Jamaica band. Saxophonist YolanDa Brown has also been doing the same in recent times.

 

Ernest Ranglin at Glastonbury in 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are several videos of Ernest playing Surfin' on YouTube, Kwaku, including a good version at the NPR Music desk, but I like this video of him playing Lively Up Yourself in Amesterdam in 2011. There is some good interaction with the bass guitarist and it shows his skill on the guitar:

 

 

 

 

But to pick up on the jazz connection there is an excellent compilation video called Ernest Ranglin Order Of Distinction recently out on YouTube that I'd highly recomment - it runs for just over an hour - it's worthwhile just dipping into it:

 

 

 

 

 

Reggae is alive and well – which current bands would you suggest we might listen to?

Dennis Bovell

 

 

Unfortunately I'm very much old school, so singers such as Carroll Thompson, Jean Adebambo and Louisa Marks on the lovers rock front, bands such as Aswad and Steel Pulse still resonate with me. For lyrical witticism Macka B is up there, whilst Mad Professor is still relevant when it comes to dub. Equally, Dennis Bovell is a name to look out for, whether as a producer or a sideman live or on recordings.

In terms of the newer bands, there's Royal Sounds, and for singers and toasters, there's Marla Brown, daughter of Dennis Brown, Josey Roots formerly known as Jo Caesar, daughter of Levi Roots, Deneez Peters, daughter of Freddie Notes, Hollie Cook, Teshay Makeda, Randy Valentine, Andrew Sloley, Melo D, and Gappy Ranks.

 

Dennis Bovell will be at the 2020 One Love Festival in August.

 

 

 

 

 

Those are some great recommendations, Kwaku, thank you. People can explore them. Teshay Makeda and Aleighcia Scott played a nice gig at The Hideaway in 2018 with Ciyo Brown's band 'to explore the music that influenced them from reggae greats Joya Landis, Phyllis Dillon and Susan Cadogan, through to current day RnB divas' :

 

 

 

How about a biscuit or a slice of cake? I have some chocolate digestives, some Hob Nobs in the tin here, or there is some Ginger Cake left in the cake box?

Oh, you're spoiling me. But after all that racking of my brain to recall stuff, I think I'll opt for the chocolate digestives as I'm rather partial to chocolate digestives. My wife always cautions me about my weight when she sees I've bought some, but hey, we only pass here but once!

 

So what is your own background in music?

Well, I’ve never been a musician, but I enjoy listening to music and writing about it. Lately, I've combined my interest in global African history and knowledge of pop and black music history, and become a historical musicologist. I've consequently written a number of reggae history type pieces for The Weekly Gleaner.

 

I believe the Gleaner is a Jamaican newspaper that's been going since 1834! and that there is a UK version which presumably is the one you have written for. How did British Black Music month go this year? I know it usually runs from June into July.

Yes, you are right about The Gleaner and yes, I contribute to the UK weekly version. This year, we deliberately decided to cut down on the number of events for British Black Music Month. I think it worked better, and gave me a bit more time, compared to Kwakuprevious years, when I hardly had a domestic life to speak of!

 

I think one of the valuable events you run during Black Music Month are the seminars on ‘the music business’. They must be popular as you run them each year. What can people expect to discuss at these workshops?

My interests are music, music industry and global African history, so whilst we have workshops that focus exclusively on music industry issues, we also create forums where any of the three areas I've mentioned can be the subject of discussion. For example, I attended a Fairtrade debate yesterday. As a consequence, I'm thinking of programming a discussion around Fairtrade as part of next year's British Black Music Month. Also, next year will be the 80th anniversary of the death of the pan-Africanist icon Marcus Garvey. As he has a great influence over roots reggae, I'm planning on highlighting his role within the reggae narrative. As for the Making Sense of how the Music Industry Works sessions, there is one more this year on December 14th (click here for details).

 

You must have made contact over the years with many musicians, some of them Jazz musicians – what do you think are the main challenges they face today?

I don't think much has changed from the days when a bunch of young African musicians decided in the 1980s to create their own scene, as the European gate-keepers such as agents and club owners wouldn't give them a look in. The result was the movement we now know as Jazz Warriors, from which has sprung many notable individual careers, of which Courtney Pine and Gary Cosby are examples. So in other words, I think the challenges are still the age-old ones of access, particularly access to performing in prominent venues, and profiling in the major media that cover jazz. I'd suggest anyone interested in this issue should check out the 2014 book 'Black British Jazz Routes, Ownership And Performance'.

 

We can listen to Courtney Pine talking about the start of Jazz Warriors in this video filmed before a performance at The Barbican in 2007 where there are some music clips of the band rehearsing too:

 

 

 

Black British Jazz Routes, Ownership And Performance, is still available online and quite expensive (click here), but people could ask for a copy through their local library. I find that black women musicians are really making an impact in Jazz now. People like Nubya Garcia, YolanDa Brown, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Camilla George and Shirley Tetteh. Is it the same in Reggae and other genres?

Last week I attended an opera written by Shirley J Thompson, which featured the soprano Nadine Benjamin, who's well regarded within the classical music field. Reggae has always provided a space for female singers, but few are either musicians or producers. I think the same applies to most black music genres, though it is encouraging seeing the likes of Birmingham grime rappers Lady Leshurr and Lady Sanity who are also producers.

 

Have you worked out a main theme for your 2020 events, Kwaku? What can we expect to see happening in the New Year and how can people find out about the programme?

Our International Reggae Day hub events will take place on July 1 in the north-West London borough of Brent, and the weekend before at Goldsmiths, University Of London. We're planning a reggae album sleeve exhibition and other reggae and black music related activities as part of Brent, London Borough Of Culture 2020. I am also exploring how to engage music with key anniversaries, such as the 80th anniversary since the death of Marcus Garvey or the centenary of the first Pan-African Conference of 1900. Details will be on our facebook page (click here) or on our page of upcoming events (click here)

 

Just talking about it sounds as those it is going to be another busy time! You probably need another cup of tea?

Maybe one more.

 

OK. Choose some music, and I’ll put the kettle on.


Sounds good! Please can you put on Carleen Anderson's Woman In Me, which I recently re-discovered on Youtube

On its way

 

 

 

Utah Teapot

 

Back to Top

Visit us on Facebook Facebook logo

Other pages you might find of interest :

More Tea Breaks
Tracks Unwrapped
Full Focus
Jazz Remembered
Click HERE to join our mailing list

© Sandy Brown Jazz