Free thoughts on musical emancipation ...
Soweto Kinch Photo: © Getty Images
Musician and regular Radio 3 Listener Blogger Rosalind Porter reflects on a stimulating session at the Free Thinking Festival
I am rather ashamed to admit that before this lecture I knew little of British jazz star Soweto Kinch, the saxophonist, composer and rapper who has twice won a MOBO award and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Sometimes being so heavily entrenched in the classical music genre has its drawbacks.
Soweto Kinch has a charismatic presence onstage and communicated an obvious passion for his subject matter: the relationship between music and emancipation. It was thought provoking to accompany him on a whistlestop journey through black social history and its inseparable bond to music. The choice of music examples was excellent and brought the lecture to life. Segueing through the pathos of 'John Henry’s Ballad' from the mid-19th century, to rebellious 1980s English punk performed by The Clash, the highlights were definitely Mr Kinch’s own alto sax solos – an expressively played blues by Duke Ellington and bebop from Charles Parker.
After his lecture, Soweto Kinch was interviewed by BBC Radio 3 Night Waves presenter Rana Mitter, who also invited questions from the enthusiastic audience. This provided a much appreciated opportunity to hear some of Mr Kinch’s own music commenting on social issues, as well as to discuss the current dichotomy of contemporary popular musicians taking a serious view of society and politics against the meaningless pap of mass-produced pop sold to the masses via the X-Factor and other media outlets.
But I was left with a sense of optimism that the development and democratisation of technology, the continued importance of the live gig and the many independent means of music distribution would further enable musicians with a conscience to spread their feelings to a wider audience.
I would have liked to have heard more about Soweto Kinch’s music festival working with underprivileged groups in Birmingham, and was sorry to hear that he has not yet collaborated with classical musicians in his music-making. My pervading thought as I left The Sage Gateshead's Hall Two was: Where is classical music’s Soweto Kinch? Where are the young classical composers and musicians who can make their music-making vividly relevant to social and political issues of today? We talk about improving the accessibility of classical music to the younger generation – perhaps this is a route we need to explore, or does the still predominantly middle-class and white background of classical music preclude this from happening? I sincerely hope not.
Do look out for details on the BBC Radio 3 website for the broadcast date of this Night Waves programme. It is highly recommended.