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Black History Month: The Playlist (Part Three)

In the third part of this blog, Saxophonist, Author and Music Education Consultant Nathan Holder highlights tracks by Black British musicians and how they can be incorporated into comprehensive lesson plans.

Photograph of a young girl, singing into a microphone. The background of the picture is a yellow block of colour, with graphics of different musical notes flying out and away from the girl.
Playlists like this aren't fully comprehensive or absolute – they are points of reference, sources of discovery, and even reminders of the talent which is all around us. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Read part one of playlist here.

Read part two of playlist here.

Superheroes - Stormzy (2019)

This tune features on Stormzy's 2019 Heavy Is The Head album, but this tune and its accompanying video was released at the beginning of September, perfect timing to send young black boys and girls to school with a positive message after an unprecedented 6 months.

The animated video (taking cues from Childish Gambino’s 'Feels Like Summer' perhaps?) pays tribute to people such as author Malorie Blackman, rappers Dave and Little Simz, footballer Marcus Rashford MBE, as well as providing us with images of a young girl celebrating her natural hair, and a father braiding his daughter's hair.

Even though this tune was dedicated to the late Chadwick Boseman, Stormzy's lyrics show us that not all superheroes wear capes. This tune can be used as a springboard for discussions about recent global events, and about how many young black children see themselves in today's society.

Without You (ft. Leanne Robinson) - YolanDa Brown (2013)

YolanDa Brown is one of the UK’s most loved saxophonists, radio personalities and presenters. She hosts YolanDa’s Band Jam on CBeebies, presents on Jazz FM, and has won many awards including Best Jazz Act at the 2008 MOBO’s and an Inspiration Award at the Black Magic Awards in 2018.

This tune is taken from her April Showers May Flowers Live Sessions album, and features the star of 'The Book Of Mormon' Leanne Robinson, who released a single entitled 'Barriers' earlier this year.

Especially for KS2 and older, students can learn:

  • How to choose scales for improvisation
  • How Brown interacts with Robinson's vocals throughout the song
  • How Robinson shapes her vocal performance

Human - Vadé (2017)

Vadé are a vocal a capella group who won Sky One’s 'Sing: Ultimate A Cappella' in 2017. Since then, they have performed with a number of international recording artists including Beverley Knight and Gregory Porter.

This version of Human (originally by Rag’n’Bone Man) showcases Vadé’s ability to take a well-known tune, and through founding member Philip Yeboah, add a unique twist to it. Their style and arrangements of other tunes such as 'Don't You Worry Child' and 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' have seen them compared to other legendary a cappella groups such as Take 6 and Naturally 7.

This is a great song for children of all ages to understand:

  • What beatboxing/vocal percussion is
  • The differences between Vadé's version and Rag'n'Bone man's original

Paradise - Cherise (2020)

2019 Jazz FM Vocalist of the Year, Cherise wrote, arranged, sang and played the flute on this song, which shows why she is recognised as one of the most important young vocalists in the UK today.

The track also features saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael, who has performed or recorded with SEED Ensemble, drummer Moses Boyd and vocalist Solange Knowles in the last few years. Have a listen to an interview I did with Cherise just before the start of lockdown in March about her process, career ambitions and inspiring the next generation.

This is a great tune for KS3 students to learn about:

  • Orchestration
  • How to construct a solo
  • Scatting

Bittersweet - Lianne La Havas (2020)

Lianne La Havas is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from London, and has released three solo albums including her debut 'Is Your Love Big Enough' (2012). She was mentored by Prince before his untimely passing in 2016, performing with him live, and providing vocals on his 2014 album ART OFFICIAL AGE.

Taken from her latest album, Bittersweet showcases La Havas’ smokey and versatile timbre and incredible songwriting, all over a tasteful Isaac Hayes sample.

KS3 students can learn:

  • The ideas and techniques behind sampling
  • How to construct a chord progression
  • How to play behind the beat

Saint Angel - Goldie (1995)

A pioneer of British electronic music, Goldie released his debut album 'Timeless' to critical acclaim in 1995. ‘Timeless’, which was included in the book ‘1001 Albums To Hear Before You Die’, is still regarded as one of the most influential drum and bass albums of all time.

'Saint Angel' is a whirlwind of sounds and rhythms, underpinned by a drum and bass beat which draws inspiration from London's dub reggae scene in the 1980’s. Each tune on the album feels and is constructed differently, including Sea of Tears which features the sound of waves, seagulls and a guitar, as opposed to the industrial sounding 'Saint Angel'.

KS2 and older students can learn about:

  • Drum and bass, it's history and other influential artists
  • The limitless possibilities of composition
  • Different forms of music notation (i.e. graphic scores)

My Line - Reuben James (2020)

Even though he has graced stages worldwide with pop star Sam Smith, multi-instrumentalist Reuben James’ lead single from his EP entitled 'Slow Down', is a mix of neo-soul and R&B, which features some of the best talent in the UK in Col3trane, Jay Prince and Vula.

Given James’ residencies at Ronnie Scotts and reputation as one of the top young jazz pianists in the UK, it’s unsurprising to hear Soweto Kinch weaving tenor saxophone lines throughout. Check out the #mylinechallenge on Instagram to see 9-year-old bassist Aron Hodek, singer Sam Wills and others from around the world play over this track. Proper vibes.

KS2 and older students can learn:

  • How to solo over a chord progression
  • How to write and rap a verse over the chords
  • How James blends components of different genres together

BAME Members Network

This blog was commissioned as a direct outcome of our last BAME Members Network meeting, chaired by Chardine Taylor Stone.

BAME members are invited to join our BAME Members Network for regular opportunities to get involved, have your say on what we do, contribute to consultation responses, and help make policy that reflects the truth.


Published: 26/10/2020

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