CELEBRATING BLACK EXCELLENCE



I’ve had a few reviews ready to post and some longer-form content that I’ve been waiting to share but now is not the time.

The events happening in America, and across the world, have once again reminded those of us in privileged positions, such as myself, being a white male, of the horrific and vile nature of the system we currently have in place. A system specifically designed to oppress and discriminate against people simply for the colour of their skin. A system we, as white people, are complicit in. The state-sanctioned murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent reaction from President Trump are akin to war crimes. Police are using tear gas, a chemical weapon banned in warfare, and inciting violence against peaceful protesters.

For too long, people such as myself (and by that, I mean white people), have sat idle. We’ve shared the hashtags, we’ve claimed how ‘shocked’ and ‘appalled’ we are, and we’ve retweeted some half-arsed remarks from celebrities.

That is not good enough. It has never been good enough.

We cannot forget, again. We cannot fall silent, again. We cannot wait for the next tragedy to speak up.

This is because the reality is that white people are privileged. Racism is not something that affects our everyday lives. People of colour have no such privilege. Racism is not something they can escape, not something they can tweet in opposition of and then forget. White people have to learn about racism, that is our privilege. Black people are forced to experience it.

The reality is, segregation ended in the US in 1964. 1964. Less than 60 years ago. The system has not changed. Racism has not ceased to exist; it has been forced to adapt. We, as white people, like to claim we live in a post-racial society, we claim we see no colour and that everyone is treated equally. We claim this because we have laws that prevent discrimination against marginalised groups. We claim this because we are either ignorant or unable to accept the uncomfortable truth, perhaps both. Tackling racism will take far more than passing a few laws. We need systemic change to root out the systemic racism. We need to push not just for equality, but for justice. This means challenging our racist institutions, challenging racist ideals and challenging the very system designed to oppress our black and brown brothers and sisters.

White people designed this racist system, so why do we expect the communities it oppresses to be the ones to change it?

We, white people, need to be allies. We need to use our privilege. Use our voices. Vote. Protest. Sign petitions. Donate if we can afford. Lobby our elected officials. Challenge other white people who make racist remarks or exhibit racist micro-aggressions. Silence is not an option; it never has been. Silence means you are complicit.

Part of that allyship is amplifying Black voices and celebrating Black excellence, particularly in media where Black culture is often appropriated and then sold back to white audiences in more ‘acceptable’ packaging. So that’s what this article is about, using this tiny platform to celebrate the work of some truly incredible Black creators.


DONALD GLOVER



Donald Glover is a man who needs no introduction. Whether you know him through his work on Community, 30 Rock, Atlanta, The Lion King, Solo, or his musical career as Childish Gambino, one thing is clear: the man is exceptionally talented. He can write, direct, act, rap and sing with such skill and craft that it borders on infuriating. I maintain his current venture and brainchild, the multi-award-winning series Atlanta is one of, if not, the best things on TV right now. Glover has created a surrealist world that feels grounded. There is a sense of removal from our society that allows us to evaluate and discuss the themes and social commentary Glover presents to us (of which there are plenty) more objectively. Episodes such as Teddy Perkins (a horror episode with a Michael Jackson-esque character as the villain, brilliant I know) explore themes of abuse, the power of art, and celebrity culture. Across the course of the show, we meet Justin Bieber (except he’s black), a man who lives with an alligator, invisible cars, and Migos in place of a Spanish Cartel. It’s a show that makes you laugh out loud and evaluate the fabric of our society in the same moment. Glover frequently collaborates with Hiro Murai (director of the This Is America music video) and their creative consciousness is one I envy. The quality of work they produce together is beyond belief, there’s complete harmony between the concept, the script, and the direction. Every episode Murai has directed for the show is a bonafide success. I can’t wait to see their future work together and, please, watch the show if you haven’t already.

BRITANNY HOWARD



Best known for her work fronting the Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard's powerful and soulful voice is something to behold. In the Shakes’ acclaimed track Don’t Wanna Fight we hear her fantastic range, the song opens with a sound reminiscent of a high-pitched squeal, before Brittany Howard snaps into strong and defined vocal delivery. The emotion she conveys through her singing is something to be envied, the reassuring tones she delivers on the track This Feeling make the song. The lyrics, beautifully simplistic by nature, are elevated by her delivery: we feel the tone of the song almost entirely through her voice. This is due to the stripped backed, acoustic sound of the song and simple, repetitive lyrics. There’s a real tenderness to her delivery that makes the song a work of art and one that resonates with me so deeply. However, Howard’s talents are not just confined to her work with the Alabama Shakes, she is an artist in her own right. Her 2019 album, Jaime, displays her versatility as a musician. It is far different from anything the Shakes ever produced, ensuring she carves out her own creative expression which some artists struggle when striking solo. It’s a deeply personal album, a true form of self-expression driven by the passing of her older sister aged 13 when Howard was just 8, from whom the album draws its’ title from. Yet despite the album being named after her late sister, Howard confessed to The New York Times, “The record is not about her. It’s about me.” It’s sonically far more diverse than anything seen from Howard before, in any of her creative ventures, with influences ranging from electronica to more acoustic tones. There’s a real vibrancy to the album, one that is no doubt drawn from Howard’s excitement at her new career path. I am too. Nothing is more exciting than when true artists experiment, and Howard’s album is a perfect example of such a venture. It bends genre, far more willingly than anything The Alabama Shakes ever produced, and acts as the important first step in a fully-fledged solo career. Her sound might not be defined, but I don’t think Howard ever intended it to be. This diverse and eclectic sound is perhaps a perfect representation of her ambition: to express herself however she feels fit.

LOYLE CARNER



There’s a softness and tenderness to Loyle Carner’s music, both sonically and lyrically. Throughout his discography, a theme of introspection is a constant. His music radiates with warmth, perhaps emblematic of his seemingly very warm and welcoming nature. Across his two studio albums, Ben Coyle-Larner explores feelings of grief, love, loss and hope with eloquence, his evident talent as a storyteller shining through, as he invites us into his world. This world we are brought into is one that I can’t help but find myself drawn to. There’s a strong female presence across both albums, with his mum featuring in both albums. On his sophomore album, his Mum even has her own track, ‘Dear Ben’, delivering a spoken word poem over a beautiful arrangement. A track which has moved me (and my mum for that matter) to tears on several occasions. It’s a moving and deeply personal exploration of their mother-son dynamic and beautiful ode to the strength and meaning of that relationship. Ben Coyle-Larner has himself claimed, in many interviews, that he believes that she has the strongest verses across the album and it’s hard to disagree with. This strong female presence, both within the album and Coyle-Larner’s upbringing, is perhaps the reason for this warmth the music emits- in an age of increasing consciousness regarding the toxicity of the western ideal of masculinity Coyle-Larner shines bright. His music is powerfully open and vulnerable. In a genre commonly associated with bravado and materialism, the music of Loyle-Carner is a refreshing take on our understanding of masculinity, highlighting the power of personal relationships, even after death. This openness rings true and speaks to the universal human understanding, even if the themes Coyle-Larner is exploring are alien to some. The world could do with more Ben Coyle-Larners, that’s for sure.

SHABAKA AND THE ANCESTORS



Jazz is not a genre of music I will pretend to at all be well-versed in. The complexity and idiosyncrasies of the genre, and Shabaka and the Ancestor’s music, will no doubt be lost on me. However, I know when I like a sound.


The group is led by saxophonist and composer Shabaka Hutchings, and draws upon South African musical influences to create a sound that is, at times, almost overwhelming to listen to. The songs ebb and flow, each individual section equally defined from each other, yet undeniably cohesive as a whole. The track Go My Heart, Go To Heaven, is perhaps best representative of this. Here, the saxophone acts as the guide for the listener through the song, taking as through the diverse and eclectic proceeding six and a half minutes. This, for someone new to jazz, was a welcome tool, there was this sense of the sax acting as a structural constant, something I gripped myself onto. This made the track feel more accessible to a first-time listener, as jazz is without doubt one of the most intimidating genres to listen to, the rhythmic patterns and complexity of music composition can be extremely confusing for someone such as myself who’s musical literacy is extremely low. The music of Shabaka and the Ancestors compels me to learn more.

LITTLE SIMZ



Little Simz is one of the shining talents of the UK music scene right now. Her third studio album, Grey Area, is a critical hit and deservedly so. It’s a sonically diverse album, with soul, jazz, grime and wider hip-hop influences. On the track Venom, Ajikawo references her struggles with being a woman in the music industry “They would never wanna admit I'm the best here/ From the mere fact that I've got ovaries/ It's a woman's world, so to speak/ Pussy, you sour/ Never givin' credit where it's due 'cause you don't like pussy in power”. It’s an extremely direct and powerful track, Simz flows at breakneck speed over a twisted strings arrangement to deliver an aggressive and captivating sound. It’s a no-nonsense track that highlights Simz at her very best, with direct and slightly comedic lyrics that allude to deeper themes and connotations coupled with a distinctive vocal delivery. My favourite track closes the album, a collaboration with another extremely talented Black musician (and a personal favourite of mine) Michael Kiwanuka, titled Flowers. The track is an outstanding fusion of Kiwanuka and Ajikawo’s sounds, the jazz influence, choral vocals and Ajikawo’s flow create this incredible sound, unlike something I’ve ever heard before. It’s something I instantly added to my playlist upon listening, and a track which I expect myself to be returning back to frequently. Audibly, it’s so rich and layered, each listen I hear another interesting piece of production that feels new and refreshing. I will not belittle Little Simz by referring to her as the most talented ‘female rapper’ in the UK scene as much of the mainstream (white) media have tended to, a practice Ajikawo herself has spoken out against, “I’m not a UK female MC, I’m an artist”, she said speaking to The Guardian in 2015. She is indeed an artist, and her experimental and explorative approach to the genre is evidence to support this, and should not be defined by her gender, a restriction her male contemporaries will not have experienced. Little Simz is an artist whose creative vision, and willingness to subvert and incorporate new genres, is incredibly exciting and one which, without doubt, will spawn some fantastic art.

 

RESOURCES I'VE BEEN LEARNING FROM:

Education disparities in the US, by race (published 2004)

https://www.educationnext.org/the-struggle-continues/


The Lammy Review

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/643001/lammy-review-final-report.pdf


Akala: "The battle of Britishness in the age of Brexit"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDmdAkvHoaQ&list=PL9t3IFiu2c-kHbxZq3x8NGrduEQ3ztOrf&index=5&t=257s


Owen Jones meets Akala | ‘The black-on-black violence narrative is rooted in empire’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soim1n4nFaQ&list=PL9t3IFiu2c-kHbxZq3x8NGrduEQ3ztOrf&index=6


Online Petitions to Sign

https://signatures.carrd.co/


Black Lives Matter Information

https://moreblminfo.carrd.co/


More Petitions and Valuable BLM Information

https://blmsites.carrd.co/


The Meaning Behind ACAB

https://whatisacab.carrd.co/


John Boyega's Speech at London BLM Protest

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGXEB25WdyQ