Miriam Makeba

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Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 Nov 2008)

Miriam Makeba was born in South Africa, but spent the first 6 months of her life in jail after her mother was arrested and sentenced for selling homemade beer. She first started singing in her primary school choir, and was due to sing for the visit of King George VI, but he drove by her and her choir while they stood waiting for him in the rain. At the age of 18, not only gave birth to her daughter, but was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, she was treated successfully by her mother who was a traditional healer-herbalist.

Her musical career got a big break when she was first featured on a poster, and sang with the South African jazz group called the Manhatten Brothers. In 1956, she recorded and released the song Pata Pata, which made her a household name in South Africa, and over 10 years later, her album Pata Pata peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in 1967. She recorded over 100 songs with the Manhattans, which allowed her to sing with artists like Dorothy Masuka, Abigail Kubeka and Mary Rabatobi. She toured Africa for 18 months after being recruited as a soloist in the African Jazz and Variety Review and became the female lead role in the South African musical named King Kong.

Her career continued to take off and she appeared in a film entitled Come back Africa. She was invited to the screening at the 1959 Venice film festival, and later flew to New York and played the Village Vanguard jazz club. She met and sang with Harry Belafonte at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden and met the President later that night. her South African passport was cancelled and she testified against apartheid at the United Nations, with Guinea, Belgium and Ghana offering her passports. She won a Grammy in 1966 for her album with Belafone called An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, and other songs such as The Click Song and Malaika became famous worldwide.
This all came to an abrupt end when she married the Black Panther Stokely Carmichael in 1968 as her record contracts and tours were cancelled. She relocated to Guinea where she became their official delegate to the United nations, and in 1975, addressed the United Nations for the second time.

Everybody now admits that apartheid was wrong, and all I did was tell the people who wanted to know where I come from how we lived in South Africa. I just told the world the truth. And if my truth then becomes political, I can’t do anything about that.

Her career includes performances at the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Ali and Foreman in 1974, and the Graceland Tour. She went on to record with artists such as Dissy Gillespie, Hugh Masekela and Nina Simone, performing at Nelson Mandelas 70th birthday tribute, and even appeared in an episode of The Cosby Show in 1991. She was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the FAO of the United Nations in 1999, and won the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United National Association of Germany in 2001. When she died in 2008, she the world mourned a woman who had stood up against apartheid, one of the first internationally famous African vocalists ever, and recorded music that still has relevance today.

And why is our music called world music? I think people are being polite. What they want to say is that it’s third world music. Like they use to call us under developed countries, not it has changed to developing countries, it’s much more polite – Miriam Makeba

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Rudolph Dunbar

Rudolph DunbarRudolph Dunbar (26 Nov 1907 – 10 June 1988)

Rudolph Dunbar was born in Guyana, and began playing the clarinet in the British Guiana Militia Band after being inspired by their arrangements of Wagner and Elgar when he was 14 years old. He moved to New York at the age of 19 to study at the Institute of Musical Art (now Julliard), majoring in composition, piano and clarinet. He became involved in the Harlem Jazz scene and featured on recordings by The Plantation Orchestra.
He moved to Paris in 1925, and spent time in Vienna, studying with some of the top musicians in Europe including Felix Weingartner and Louis Calusac. He was once invited to give a private recital to the widow of Claude Debussy of members of the Paris Conservatoire. He then moved to London and set up the first ever clarinet school, which lead him to write the textbook Treatise on the Clarinet (Boehm System) which became the standard reference work for the clarinet.

In London, he made pioneering recordings with the All British Coloured Band and Rudolph Dunbar and his African Polyphony. He also composed a ballet score Dance of the Twenty-First Century, which was broadcast nationally. In the years following, he became the first black man to conduct the London and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as conducting in Russia and Poland in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

Unfortunately, he has never truly been recognised as a pioneer not only of classical music, not only of British classical music, but of Caribbean music too. With so much focus on the likes of Louis Armstrong and other African-American musicians, the feats of many Caribbean musicians in Europe and indeed has gone under the radar. Let’s help change that.

#hiddentalent

Why Ed Sheeran IS the most important act in Black and Urban music.

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What do Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman and Elvis Presley have in common? They have all been labelled as Kings of their craft.

The King of Swing, The King of Jazz, The King.

They were all White musicians, coronated standing on the shoulders of Black artists like Fletcher Henderson, Jackie Wilson and Count Basie.

Ed Sheeran joins the list of those White musicians who have risen to the top of music originally made by Blacks. Its nothing more than history repeating itself.

As I read inflammatory articles and status updates talking about BBC 1Xtras decision to name Ed Sheeran at the top of the list, I sat and smiled. People are getting too hyped about the inevitable its unreal. This post isn’t to knock Ed Sheeran as an artist at all. There is no doubt that he is talented and no doubt that he deserves all the recognition for his hard work. This is about the Black reaction to the list.

Q: How can a White man be the most important act in a category for Black people?

A: If the category isn’t representative of Black music.

What is Black music anyway?

Can you really define a genre of music by the colour of some peoples skin? If so, where is the White Music category? Brown Music? Somewhere-inbetween-Beige-and-Caramel-Music?

What is Urban Music?

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adjective \ˈər-bən\ : of or relating to cities and the people who live in them (Merriam-webster)

Why get annoyed?

‘Black music’ has always transcended physical, emotional, spiritual and legislative barriers. If the BBC decide to anoint Ed Sheeran as the King of Urban Music 2014 then so be it. If Blacks continue to identify with categories not defined by themselves, their identity will be lost and will only be resurrected by the next batch of Caribbean, African American or African immigrants whose identities are reflected even by their names. As much as you want to laugh at so called ghetto names like De’Vondra or TiAndre, maybe that expression of identity is not so different to Ornette Coleman and ‘The Shape Of Things To Come’ . It says ‘I refuse to be labelled as what you say I am, I refuse to do the norm. Here’s something different. Something I define and my people understand’.

Maybe the BBC needed to crown Ed in the Black and Urban music category because they didn’t know how else to define the music Blacks are making. Maybe they picked one of the most popular singer songwriter around today and unwisely compared him to a pioneers like Wiley and Dizzee. It shouldn’t have happened. But the fact that it did, shows that ‘Black and Urban Music’ is no longer for and no longer made by the very people it originated from. Lets all move on and keep calm.