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Black History Month: The Playlist (Part Two)

In the second 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.

Published: 13 October 2020 | 12:00 AM
Photograph of a group of children playing music in a classroom.
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.

Gorée Island – Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop (1997)

Gary Crosby OBE is a founding member of the Jazz Warriors and Tomorrows Warriors, based in London. These two bands have helped to nurture some of the UK’s best and well-respected jazz musicians, including Binker Golding, Theon Cross and Sheila Maurice-Grey to name a few.

This tune is named after a small island by the same name, situated off the coast of Senegal in West Africa. It is famous for being the largest centre of slave trading activity during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 15th-19th centuries.

Saxophonist Tony Kofi takes the lead on this, with a harmonically rich solo and melodic embellishments which seems to evoke the horrific nature of what happened on that island all those years ago.

This tune can be used to teach KS3 students about:

  • Various elements of jazz
  • How to evoke ideas, history and stories through a tune
  • How musicians connect with their cultural histories

Cleopatra’s Theme – Cleopatra (1998)

‘They’re from England?!’ That was the question on the lips of many of us back in ’98 when we first saw this music video. Back then, seeing a young, black British female pop group, dancing, singing and wearing their braids with pride was the first time we had seen anything like it.

Mum doing a little girl's hair was a weekly occurrence in many households, but on screen, remained the preserve of US shows such as Moesha or Sister Sister. Even the cartoon characters in the video reminded us of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back and Fat Albert.

This song is great for all ages to:

  • Dance and sing to
  • Learn about elements of a pop song

Black and Ready – Jords (2020)

“I’d go back to where I came from if I knew where that was”

Jords wrote this song on 3 June 2020 to express his frustration and anger at not only the death of George Floyd, but his own personal experiences with the police and racism.

With a ‘Black Lives Matter’ chant underpinning much of this song, Jords’ easy-going flow is juxtaposed against hard hitting lyrics which many people in the Black community can immediately identify with.

Look out for artwork inspired by this tune in Clapham High Street and Shepards Bush market. Black and Ready was released as a single, but he's just released a new album called Almost An Adult (2020).

This tune song is great for KS3 students and older to:

  • Discuss the lyrics and themes contained in this song
  • The origins of sampling, and how it can be used
  • How to write about personal experiences through song

Say Yes - Live At The House Of Blues, New Orleans – Floetry (2003)

The Songstress (Marsha Ambrosius) and The Floacist (Natalie Stewart) released their first album in 2002, with Say Yes being the second single from that album.

Since going their separate ways in 2006, Ambrosius has collaborated with the likes of Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Robert Glasper and Jill Scott, while The Floacist has released three solo albums and collaborated with Lalah Hathaway, Raheem DeVaughn and Musiq Soulchild. Speaking of Robert Glasper, watch The Robert Glasper Experiment's take on Say Yes, live at the iTunes festival from a few years ago.

Ambrosius had to move abroad to find further commercial success, and one can only wonder how many young and talented Black artists don't get the recognition they deserve in this country.

KS3 students and older can:

  • Compare the album, and other live versions with each other
  • Understand elements of the neo-soul genre
  • Understand ways to shape live performances

Lupita – NSG (2020)

NSG (Never Stop Growing) are an East London group whose music includes elements of reggae, grime and afrobeat. The artwork of their 2020 mixtape Roots, symbolises how they see themselves – British, but rooted in specifically Ghanian and Nigerian traditions and culture.

The title of the tune refers to Lupita Nyong’o, the multi award-winning actor from Black Panther and 12 Years A Slave, a representation of many dark-skinned Black women who have been routinely discriminated against due to colourism.

This tune is great for KS3 students to:

  • Learn about some elements of afrobeat and modern music with West African roots
  • Think about the differences between speech, rapping, melodious speech and singing

Deep River – Sheku Kanneh-Mason (2018)

World renowned cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, plays his arrangement of the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s arrangement (how meta!) of the traditional song Deep River. The African American spiritual itself was first written about in 1876, and Coleridge-Taylor potentially heard it on his first visit to the US in 1904 as a 29 year old.

This version is particularly special considering it was recorded by Sheku and his older siblings Isata on piano, and brother Braimah on violin. To glean some insight into Sheku and his family, check out this BBC documentary (it's only available for 3 months).

Appropriate for all ages, it's a great alternative to learn about:

  • Dynamics, tempo and playing as an ensemble
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's life and music
  • An opportunity to discover other Black classical composers

Old School Medley – Volney Morgan & New-Ye (2017)

In many churches up and down the country (pre-Covid), singing medleys of commonly known gospel songs is commonplace.

With songs like Holy Ghost Power and We Shall Have A Grand Time, Morgan & New-Ye not only give a nod towards other popular medleys (e.g. Donnie McClurkin’s Caribbean Medley), but combine elements of shout music, and reggae to produce an upbeat, rhythmically and harmonically rich arrangement. Have a listen to Tye Tribbett's Still Have Joy - Live (2006) for another reference point.

Children and young people of all ages can listen and learn about:

  • Elements of modern gospel music
  • Vocal harmonies

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.

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