This blog has been in four parts, each week of Black History Month. You can read part one, part two and part three on our website. You can also listen to the full playlist on Spotify.
Music In The Air – Matumbi (1977)
With Bevin Fagan leading on vocals, and producer Dennis Bovell on guitar, Matumbi were one of the most successful British reggae bands of the 1970’s. The band was made up of first generation Brits (either born or expatriated from various Caribbean islands) who were at the forefront of the British reggae, lovers rock and roots scene.
As they weren’t a Jamaican reggae band, "the record companies and the media were looking to get groups in from Africa (and by extension the Caribbean), and would look on anything being done in London as not being authentic…" – Bradley, 2013
Despite this, Matumbi’s cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Man In Me’, was the biggest selling reggae single in the UK in 1976.
Use this tune with children of all ages to learn about:
- Reggae artists not named Bob Marley
- Call and response
- Compare and contrast with the orginial gospel song 'Up Above My Head'
1980 – Estelle (2004)
This track isn’t available on Spotify, but you can purchase it on Audio CD.
Many people may know Estelle from her 2008 hit ‘American Boy’ ft Kanye West, but almost half a decade before that, Estelle announced herself to the UK with this, her first single from her debut album, 'The 18th Day'.
Her rapping and singing skills reminded us of Lauryn Hill, and we could identify with many of the cultural references she mentions, such as stuck down baby hair, church and stew pea soup.
Building on the success by other singer/MC's such as Ms.Dynamite, Estelle won a MOBO award in 2004, and has gone on to work with artists such as Tarrus Riley, John Legend and George Clinton.
This is a great song to teach KS3 students about:
- Black British culture in the 80's and 90's
- Female rappers (Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Ms Dynamite etc)
- How to create songs which reflect their upbringings
Stand Up – Blue Lab Beats ft. Kaidi Akinnibi, Richie Garrison, Ms MAURICE (2019)
NK-OK and Mr. DM are a Jazztronica duo based in London. This tune features tenor saxophonists Kaidi Akinnibi and Richie Garrison exchanging rhythmic and harmonic ideas, before solos from multi-instrumentalist Mr. DM and Ms MAURICE on trumpet.
Their innovative mix of jazz, afrobeat, funk and neo soul flavours, has seen them collaborate with other artists like Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia and Sampa The Great. See if you can hear and name the jazz standard quoted in the saxophone exchanges.
Use this tune for children of all ages to:
- Dance and identify different rhythms
- Learn how to improvise
- Think about how different genres can blend together
You Rope You Tie Me (Live) – Joan Armatrading (2010)
Armatrading is a prolific musician who has released over 20 live and studio albums over the last 50 years. This tune is infused with many different musical genres including the blues and rock, and was first released on her 1978 album ‘To The Limit’.
Her distinctive vocals and songwriting have seen her receive an Ivor Novello Award and three Grammy nominations. In 2019, a few years after earning a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award, the BBC aired a documentary called ‘Me Myself I’, detailing Armatrading’s life and music.
It's a perfect song for KS3 and older students to:
- Learn about the blues scale
- Understand how to arrange a song for live performance
- How a walking bass functions
You Gotta Be – Des’ree (1994)
Also well known for her hits ‘Kissing You’ (1997) and ‘Life’ (1998), Des’ree is a multiple award-winning international recording artist, who has collaborated with South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Courtney Pine and Terence Trent D’Arby.
‘You Gotta Be’ has featured in many adverts and movies including ‘The Next Karate Kid’ (1994) and Captain Marvel (2019). Even today, the lyrics are still relevant and can serve as inspiration for people from different backgrounds, genders and ages.
This tune is appropriate for all ages to learn:
- How non diatonic chords can work in a pop song
- How to write inspirational lyrics
- How to play piano/bass/guitar/drum parts
Mighty River – Errollyn Wallen (2017)
"It is an innate human instinct to be free, just as it is a law of nature that the river should rush headlong to the sea. That is the concept behind Mighty River," – Errollyn Wallen
This piece was commissioned to mark 200 years since the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which was passed in 1807. It is comprised of one single movement, and explores key figures and locations such as William Wilberforce and Hull, as well as enslaved Africans and their eventual freedom.
The piece itself, was performed by Wallen’s orchestra called Orchestra X, and includes references to the hymns 'Amazing Grace' and 'Go Down Moses', the latter of which, was introduced to the UK by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1873.
KS2 and older children can learn:
- What the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act meant
- How to create a graphic score
- About other black female composers
Adios – Benjamin Clementine (2016)
A true storyteller, Clementine’s life is seemingly reflected in his music; unconventional, yet hypnotic, intriguing and highly emotive. His 2016 album ‘At Least For Now’ showcases a wide range of vocal techniques (‘Quiver A Little’), orchestration (‘Nemesis’) and use of time (‘London’).
In different ways, 'Adios' forces you to question how a song can be constructed, with a short spoken word section introducing a lamenting (mostly) falsetto interlude, before returning to the main theme. He has been internationally recognised for his music and artistry, winning the 2015 Mercury Prize, and being honoured by the French government for his contribution to the arts in 2019.
It is a great song for KS3 children to understand:
- The different forms a song can have
- Many different ways of using your voice as an instrument
- Effective ways to use melodic and harmonic repetition
Butterfly – Courtney Pine ft Omar (2017)
Two titans of UK music collide on this interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s 1974 tune ‘Butterfly’.
The influence of Courtney Pine cannot be understated, having played an instrumental (forgive the pun) part in the formation of the Jazz Warriors and helped to nurture and inspire many current black British jazz musicians.
Omar’s best known hit ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ (1991), is a staple at many black British wedding ceremonies, and his contribution to the music industry has seen him collaborate with the likes of Stevie Wonder, and recieve an MBE in 2012. His silky vibrato and layered adlibs juxtaposed against Pine’s slightly brash tenor sound is a great combination.
KS2 and older children can use this tune to:
- Compare and contrast this and the original version
- Understand different ways to layering vocals
- Think about how to write a tunes about different animals
Long Road – Jake Isaac (2017)
Isaac is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from London, who has performed, recorded and supported artists such as Cynthia Erivo, Gabrielle and Elton John in his career.
‘Long Road’ appears on his first full length album called ‘Our Lives’, and showcases his songwriting and arrangement skills, with entrances on the second beat of the bar and a driving four on the floor beat which builds the tension at strategic points of the song.
In September, Isaac appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, showcasing his talents to a large US audience with a song called ‘New York’ from his latest EP entitled ‘Things’ I’ll Tell You Tomorrow’.
This song is great for children of all ages to learn:
- How to use silence and pauses in a song
- How to sing the song
- How Jake Isaac breaks the song down and builds it up
Black Pride – Brown Sugar (1977)
Brown Sugar were a British reggae trio who released a few hits under the Lovers Rock record label set up by British reggae legends Dennis Harris, Dennis Bovell and John Kpiaye.
1976 was an important year for many black British people, with the Malawi refugee crisis and Notting Hill riots, before the Race Relations Act was passed in that December. ‘Black Pride’ was released a year later, which talks about feeling proud to be who you are, despite the difficulties faced because of the colour of one’s skin.
One of its members, Caron Wheeler, went on to form the band Soul II Soul, and won a Grammy for their hit ‘Back to Life’ in 1990.
KS2 and older children can use this song to learn about:
- Why Brown Sugar felt the need to write a song like this
- What Britain was like in the 1970's for black people
- Typical rhythms associated with reggae
All I Want (Sunship Radio Edit) – Mis-Teeq (2001)
'M with the I with the S T double E Q'! Alesha Dixon’s distinctive vocals were a throwback to an early 1990’s mix of hip hop, jungle and drum ’n’ bass which became known as garage. ‘All I Want’ is from Mis-Teeq’s first album ‘Lickin’ on Both Sides’ which peaked at #3 on the UK Albums chart, and has since been certified double platinum.
Even though their biggest hit ‘Scandalous’ introduced them to the US market in 2004, they split a year later, with Dixon and lead singer Sabrina Washington going on to have solo careers in music and television.
This is a great song for KS3 children to learn:
- About the development of UK garage
- About other British female musicians in the early 2000's
- To play the bassline/strings on different instruments
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