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#011: The Ballad of Soweto Kinch

Soweto Kinch

Back in 2003 Soweto Kinch released an album called Conversations With the Unseen. It demonstrated his prowess as one of UK’s best jazz saxophonists but also introduced Kinch as an accomplished emcee. The following year he won the MOBO award for Best Jazz Act and his album was nominated for one of music’s most prestigious accolades, the Mercury Music Prize.

A distinct and commanding way of looking at jazz, at hip hop, and at the whole performance situation. Mr Kinch demonstrates what England has to teach us about narrative hip hop [and] has one of the best sounding new jazz groups I’ve heard lately. Don’t sleep on Mr Kinch. - The New York Times

His second album, which came out last year, A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block features much more in the way of hip hop but doesn’t forget it’s jazz roots. The album plays out through the stories of three people who all live in the same tower block in Birmingham and the resulting soundscape varies from jazz jam session vibes through to gritty street rap battles. In the album Kinch wanted to fully represent the reality of urban life, as opposed to what may be represented elsewhere in the media.

A Life in the Day of B19 is actually only the first half of a two-part concept album, the second of which was originally meant to be out this month. However it appears that behind the scenes things have not been going according to plan, as high street retailers have refused to stock his album in the ‘urban’ section.

This is a major setback for the album and me personally. The aim of this album was to turn hip hop heads on to a new type of hip hop and jazz and break stereotypes about what British hip hop should sound like. But that’s impossible if a mainstream audience never even gets to see the album in the shops.

Kinch has been trying to persuade retailers to stock the record in both jazz and urban sections, which is perfectly reasonable because his music covers both areas.

His Myspace blog tells the story…

Major high street retailers refuse to stock it [A Life in the Day of B19] in the urban music sections. Irreparable damage has been done to the album sales, to the point that it has jeopardised the release of Basement Fables, the second part of the story.

I had record of the weekend on 1xtra’s Twin B show with Everybody Raps which has also received lots of daytime play on that station. We had features in HHC, Echoes, Touch Magazine. Ras Kwame Radio 1 live session; Rodney P & Skitz were playing the record, along with many urban DJs. Still retailers wouldn’t move it to both sections, and punters were going into the record shops and not seeing the album because of where it was placed.

The whole argument also raises the validity of retailers having an ‘urban’ section at all. Does jazz not ever occur in an urban setting? Is the word urban patronising, not just for artists, but for consumers also?

For the sake of creativity, diversity, community relations and supporting homegrown art, these issues should be flagged up at a national level.

For anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Soweto Kinch live this is increasingly frustrating. Go to one of his shows and you’ll see Kinch put his all into the music he loves; he can rock a crowd, his freestyles are legendary and his band are full of vogour and talent. He’s the real deal which makes it even more agonising to see his album being pushed back. His track ‘Everybody Raps’ pretty much sums up some of these ideas already but Kinch has decided to investigate the situation further…

This has been the motivation for a series of interviews with artists, record industry experts and fans that have encountered similar difficulties with the ‘urban music’ tag or who feel their experiences chime with mine.

The interviews include UK hip hop big-hitters Ty and Yungun, who seem to share Kinch’s feelings.

Support the music by reading the full story / detective investigation and stay tuned to his blog for video and verbal updates on his investigations.

Links:
Soweto Kinch on Myspace
The War In A Rack - Part 1
The War In A Rack - Part 2
Soweto Kinch interview on local Birmingham podcast
BBC interview with Soweto Kinch from 2003

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