The Ends Festival, due to take place over three days at the end of May/beginning of June in Croydon’s Lloyd Park, has been adding more star names to the extensive line-up. Here’s the up-to-date run-down:
Friday, May 31 Headliner Nasplus De La Soul, Ghetts, A2, Kojey Radical, Nadia Roseand Rachael Anson.
Saturday, June 1 Headliner Wizkidplus Wande Coal, Maleek Berry, Kojo Funds, Kranium, Donae’o, Teni The Entertainer and Juls.
Sunday, June 2 Headliner Damian Marleyplus J Balvin,Burna Boy, Nao, Masego, Mansur Brown, The Compozers, Jaz Karisand Croydon FM.
The Ends Festival is also partnering with Croydon Music and Arts Council to promote local and homegrown talent. Thus they will be running The Croydon Council stage, which will feature local artists across the festival weekend. The objective is to provide a platform for 14-30 year old musicians in the hopes that they can follow in the footsteps of those who came before them.
“It feels a bit like I’ve been in a time machine. Or like we went to Mars and came back 18 years later,” Paul Tucker, half of Lighthouse Family, tells me with a chuckle.
Listening to the duo’s ‘comeback’ album, Blue Sky In Your Head, instantly you know what he means. The trademark anthemic songs, the uplifting grooves, that unmistakable lead vocal from Tunde Baiyewu… it sounds like they’ve never been away.
The return of Lighthouse Family after almost two decades – yes, really – has taken many of us by surprise, not least, it seems, the two people at its core. The latter because, not to put too fine a point on it, for a while there they needed to be away from each other…
The realities of life on the road for most improvising musicians are rarely discussed. Audiences see performances rather than the prelude to them, which in some cases can be fraught with untold stress, if not tension, mostly as a result of logistical nightmares. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis has many stories to tell about the challenge of taking to the stage with an instrument that has been damaged in transit, but perhaps even worse is the fallout of a schedule that goes wrong right in the middle of a tour.
As we sit down for mid-morning tea in central London, the 58-year-old needs little prodding to head off in the direction of a dark anecdote on recent airport drama…
Little Simz’ career started with a sustained bang. She released four mixtapes from 2010 to 2013, followed those swiftly with seven EPs, then gave us two albums, A Curious Case Of Trial + Personsand Stillness In Wonderland. She’s been busy. During that time, she received MOBO nominations, an AIM award, got a co-sign from Kendrick Lamar for Curious Case, then went on tour with Gorillaz. Some artists might need a breather after such an intense burst of activity, but Simz seems to thrive on it.
“When I get a push,” she begins in her soft-spoken but firm voice, “that puts more fire in my belly. It makes me wanna go harder, it makes me wanna step my game up. I don’t think, ‘Sick, I’m comfortable, I’m chilling’. If anything, it makes me wanna turn the volume up. Because I have a message; I want people to hear what I have to say.
Jamaica’s blessed with talented young female artists right now, singing everything from roots to dancehall. Khalia made her debut alongside Tifa on Ride Up– a stiff test for any newcomer – but it was My Namethat got her noticed last year, and led to tours of Jamaica and Latin America.
She’d just finished a lengthy film shoot for latest single Designerwhen we spoke. Her voice is hoarse, but Khalia’s excited about the video, which was shot in Port Antonio and she describes as “Jamaican dancehall fashion meets high-fashion.” The Jamaican born young Londoner is signed to Tony “CD” Kelly’s K.Licious label, but isn’t fazed at working with dancehall legend Kelly, who’s produced a stunning playlist of hits over the years, featuring many of the genre’s biggest names.
“This latest video, it’s been a collaborative process with Tony, the directors and everyone involved,” she explains. “We all talk about it and share ideas but I don’t have a stylist, so I choose what I’m going to wear and how I’m going to look, and I also spend time thinking about what kind of emotion and expression I’m going to bring to my performance… ”
Jen has further dates throughout the year too. If you can’t get to this month’s London gig, check her at one of these:
London, Under The Bridge [July 5]; Southend-on Sea, Village Green Festival [July 13]; and Luton, Wardown House [September 8].
New Daughters Of Africa: An International Anthology Of Writing By Women Of African Descent. Edited by Margaret Busby[Myriad]
With more than 200 black women writers in its 700 eventful pages, this inspiring collection punches above its very considerable weight. Editor Margaret Busby, who was at the helm for its predecessor 25 years ago, proves again to be as discerning and adventurous in her choice of contributors, as well as the genres in which they express themselves. The result is great diversity within a supposed minority, a resounding statement of the infinitely rich life experience of the ‘sisters’ drawn from Africa and the Diaspora. As was the case with the acclaimed first edition there is a commendable balance between those who are known and those who are unknown but nonetheless have illuminating things to say. There are thus few surprises about the excellence of Bernardine Evaristo’s On Top Of The World, a wonderful piece of prose that melts down any expectation of what a British-Nigerian could have in her DNA by way of an impassioned homage to icebergs in Greenland. On the other hand the poignant verse of Zambia’s Ethel Irene Kabwato will be a revelation, as will the luminous narrative and penetrating character studies of African-American Jesmyn Ward. Needless to say a host of other writers of varying profile, from Zadie Smith to Catherine Johnson, Mailka Booker, Jane Ulysses Grell and Attilah Springer, to name but some, also contribute work of a very high standard. Busby has grouped the texts by decade, reaching right back to the pre-1900, which results in a clear and vivid sense of evolution in both style and subject matter. It is timely to learn that Haiti, defined by western news in the 90s and 2000s as a blighted land of dictators and hurricanes, produces poets with the strength of a tempest, such as Anais Duplan. Her forensic depiction of blackness in a world where too few questions are asked is indispensable.
Koffee is the name on every reggae fan’s lips right now. The 19-year-old from Spanish Town was a popular choice for Reggae Newcomer Of The Year in 2018, despite having only released a handful of tracks since being discovered by the world champion runner Usain Bolt just 18 months ago. She’s been living in the fast lane ever since – and especially after signing to Columbia Records late last year.
Koffee, real name Mikayla Simpson, knew a few chords on guitar but hadn’t been thinking of a career in music when her teacher suggested that she write a song about a hero – someone she really respects. Her mum was first choice – “She was a single parent and she was the only person I basically knew,” she says – but Usain Bolt is Jamaica’s biggest hero after Bob Marley and so she wrote a song about him instead, called Legend. She then posted a video of herself singing it on Instagram, Bolt reposted it and, by the time she entered the studio for the first time a few weeks later, she had 15,000 followers…
As much as Donald J. Trump’s ongoing term of office has seemed like the sourest of jokes on the world, at least we’ve been able to find a degree of refuge in the cultural response to his continued shithousery. He’s easy meat for the comedians and satirists, of course, but the musicians have lately been stepping up to the plate too.
Alicia Olatuja’s newest album, Intuition: Songs From The Minds Of Women, for example, can definitely be seen, in part, as a reaction to the misogynistic and generally abusive treatment of females that have famously found recent expression in the Pussygrabber-in-Chief’s off-podium antics, as well as the career-long [and now -ending] behaviour of such as Harvey Weinstein.
“Absolutely,” agrees Alicia, as we speak ahead of her recent European tour dates. “It’s often conflict and unrest that unleashes a wave of creativity…
Since she’s already an accomplished and award-winning songwriter, it’s perhaps a little curious that, for her debut single as a solo artist, Oakland-born soul singer Conesha “Ms. Monét” Owens should elect to release a cover of Billy Vera & The Beaters’ all-American prom-night staple At This Moment,instead of choosing one of her own. Especially given that her credits include co-writing the Lucy Pearl hit Don’t Mess With My Man, the less well known [but equally fantastic] Can’t Stand Your Motherand Leela James’Rain. Surprising, that is, until you actually hear her take of Vera’s ‘80s chart-topper, which is turned from a slight, pop-soul standard into a showstopping five-and-a-half octave gospeldelic belter – the kind of gazump that cover specialists Donny, Aretha or Whitney would have relished.
“Well, I wanted to do something as Ms. Monét that represented me now,” she explains on the phone from her new place of residence in Las Vegas, Nevada. “It had to sound timeless and classic: a song that I could recreate, but do it in this soul fashion… ”
Over the years writers have been referenced many times by musicians, usually because the words of the former can somehow resonate with the thoughts [and notes] of the latter. London pianist Sarah Tandy has put her own stamp on this lineage by way of the thought-provoking title of her debut album, Infection In The Sentence.
“It’s a play on inflection,” Tandy says. “I first came across Inflection In The Sentenceas a chapter of Madwoman In the Atticby Sandra Gilbert; it’s originally a quote from an Emily Dickinson poem. What appealed to me was that I liked the wordplay on ‘inflection’ and ‘infection’, because of my experience. When I moved back to London and engaged with the jazz scene I found myself sharing the stage with people from different backgrounds, and learning something from their own use of language… ”
Freedom Song Hackney Empire, London.
Louis Armstrong’s beaming smile in the corridor of ‘London’s most beautiful theatre’ serves as a reminder of its pedigree. The innovative trumpeter was here in 1934, but the trail blazed by African-American performers in Britain years before the marketing of the music known as jazz also included the gospel ensemble, Fisk Jubilee Singers.
This excellent production tells the story of the birth of the group in segregationist America in the 1870s, its courageous tour in said land of the free and home of the brave and subsequent triumphant appearance before the great and the good abroad. At the behest of the philanthropist Earl of Shaftesbury, The Fisk singers performed for Queen Victoria and William Gladstone before sweeping all before them in Europe, India and Japan. Their talent proved irresistible in a world that still resisted equality. Justin Butcher’s text establishes a clear, sharp narrative, highlighting the indignities suffered by ‘Negro’ artists as well as the resolve of their white patrons, such as George White and Clinton B. Fisk, while Harvey Brough’s score for a vocal quartet that comprises soprano Emily Dankworth, alto Christina Gill, tenor Wills Morgan and bass Michael Henry has the right amount of intensity and sobriety to do justice to the subject matter. Filling the stage behind them are the Hackney Community Choir and Riverside School Singers while a rhythm section that includes double bassist Neil Charles and guitarist Mike Outram ensures this gargantuan swell of sound is well anchored by a beat that shifts in and out of gospel, R&B and jazz.
However, the masterstroke is the deployment of multi-reedist Finn Peters. He solos liberally on many of the songs to become a kind of wandering spirit in the show, thus reinforcing the central themes of movement, change and challenge to the status quo. Notable as the individual performances are this is very much a triumph of the ensemble, which also underlines the raison d’etre of Fisk. The group was founded in order to raise funds for one of the first American institutions to educate people of colour. It is something to think about as patrons file out after a standing ovation, and put their hands in their pockets for charities collecting for victims of modern-day slavery. Kevin Le Gendre
Everyone seems to have a different opinion of what exactly it is that Adia Victoria does. One of the more imaginative descriptions appeared in Rolling Stone magazine, where they suggested she sounded like, ‘PJ Harveycovering Loretta Lynnat a haunted debutante ball’. Somewhat less cinematically, her Wikipedia page has Adia down as ‘Gothic Blues’. What she’s definitely not, though, is ‘Americana’.
“I was at the Southern Literary & Arts Festival in Memphis Tennessee,” she explains, “where I was being introduced by a young, white lady, probably in her twenties, as an ‘Americana’ artist, and I felt I had to step in and correct that.”
Adia describes how she had leaned into the mic and said: “Adia Victoria does not sing Americana; Adia Victoria sings the blues.”
There was a long queue to get in Bush Hall on a cold January evening, for a film screening and acoustic set by Michael Franti. Then again, everything this lanky troubadour from San Francisco does is full-blown and – it soon transpires – the same goes for some of his fans.
After we’d watched his latest documentary – the touching and thought-provoking Stay Human– Franti appeared for a short Q&A session. There was no mediator and the first member of the audience to speak stood up and launched into a monologue with no mention of film or artist, and which didn’t include any questions either. Five long minutes later and the man – who turned out to be from Amsterdam – proudly announced that he’d sprung a surprise on his confused looking girlfriend by asking her to marry him in front of all those people. I probably wasn’t alone in wanting to shout out, ‘Say no!’ when he popped the question… but still cheered when she said yes, just like everyone else.
“I think some people have forgotten a lot of things about hip-hop,” declares Jerry Beeks, one half of duo Bronx Slang.
Named after Beeks’ solo single from 2001, the pair’s name is a shortcut for what to expect from their debut album: Beeks and his partner in crime Ollie Miggs make classicist New York rap. In short, it’s not a new chapter for the famed New York borough, but one that ruggedly picks up the baton for the place that birthed the music, though it’s more ‘Diggin’ In The Crates’ than hip-hop’s first wave.
Still, if anyone hasforgotten where hip-hop was born, Bronx Slang is an ample reminder of the borough’s infamous pedigree.
“We felt like the name ‘Bronx Slang’ stated who we are,” says Beeks, “where we come from, what we represent, what we’re saying and what we want you to hear, all in one name.”
“I’m a believer!” exclaimed country music star Blake Shelton, coach on the US version of televised singing competition The Voice. To the roars of the crowd his was one of two chairs to turn – along with that of talent show queen and originalAmerican Idolwinner Kelly Clarkson – during DR King’s belting, soulful rendition of the Imagine Dragons’ pop anthem Believer. “Ah wow!” said fellow coach Alicia Keys upon seeing D.R. after the blind audition was over. King cut a striking figure, wearing a green suede jacket with black lapels, white t-shirt and skinny black jeans, his short length dreads held up with an orange & paisley bandana. “Yeah, you killed that,” added Keys. “So is that DR, as in Doctor King?” asked Blake. Watching the Youtube clip back – it’s had over three million views – you can understand where Blake was coming from. Google makes the same mistake too, confusing DRK with MLK.
“My full name is Donald Ray King Jr.,” says DR to me over Skype, taking a short break from tour rehearsals in LA for an upcoming run with his former Voicecoach Kelly Clarkson. “People have called me ‘doctor’, but I always corrected them for clarity.
Lighthouse Family are back – with a brand new studio album in May and a live tour this autumn.
After a gap of 18 years since their last recording, original LF members Tunde Baiyewu and Paul Tucker have reunited to cut a whole album’s worth of new material, Blue Sky In Your Head. It will be released on May 3 and contain and additional set, Essentials, which includes all their classic songs remastered for the first time.
The lead single, My Salvation, was unveiled on March 21 on BBC Radio 2 and will spearhead the duo’s comeback.
Says Paul: “What happens when Tunde and I get in the studio is, we just drift off – we don’t ever row! There’s no shouting or throwing things. In fact we only ever had one argument – but it lasted 20 years!”
Tunde and Paul formed Lighthouse Family after meeting at Newcastle University in the early 1990s. Their 1995 debut album Ocean Drive sold six times platinum while staying in the album charts for almost three years. Lifted became one the defining songs of the era, a pop-soul classic that was simply inescapable. The 1997 follow-up, Postcards From Heaven, featured three Top 10 singles [Raincloud, High and Lost in Space] and also went six-times platinum, charting across Europe, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand. Their third album, Whatever Gets You Through The Day  produced another Top 10 single in the shape of [I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be] Free/One, but by this time the band were at breaking point, their friendship burnt out after years on the road living in each others’ pockets. And Tunde was dealing with the grief of losing his mother, a situation complicated by the fact that his stepfather, Olusegun Obasanjo, was at the time the President of Nigeria. The duo badly needed – and took – a break.
In the intervening years Paul formed a band, The Orange Lights, while Tunde released two solo albums, but the old connection between the pair remained, and in 2010 they got back together with a view to making a fourth album.
“Somehow we couldn’t knock it together in the studio,” says Paul. “So we decided to go and do some shows, to remind ourselves who we are and what we do. As one of the Duran Duran guys said to me: ‘What do you want to go in the studio for? That’s where all the arguments happen! Go and do some gigs…’ So, that’s what we did, and it was great.”
Tour dates for the Autumn are:
Birmingham, Symphony Hall [November 11]; Glasgow,Royal Concert Hall ; Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle City Hall ; Nottingham, Royal Concert Hall ; Halifax, The Victoria Theatre ; Manchester, Bridgewater Hall ; Bexhill, De La Warr Pavilion ; Bournemouth, Pavilion Theatre ; and London, Palladium .
Richard 11 [Shakespeare’s Globe, London. Photo: Ingrid Pollard]
Shakespeare with an all-women-of-colour cast has become the main, perhaps inevitable, media story of this production, yet there is much more to note. Above all the joint direction of Lynette Linton and Adjoa Andoh is a triumph in itself, not least because of the coherence they achieve as a team when taking on demanding material that requires absolute focus to really get right. From the design and staging to the choreography and score, there is a vivid and ambitious vision that reflects a strong commitment to showing the bard’s characters and stories in all their universality and timelessness. In the title role, Andoh is commanding, hitting the right emotional peaks as the monarch’s grip on power loosens steadily and irrevocably following the calamitous decision to banish his cousin, Bolingbroke and Mowbray, after the former accuses the latter of plotting to murder the Duke of Norfolk. The dramatic exile of the pair cannot hide the self-destructive hubris of the king amid the very clear and present danger of civil war in his own land. He is politically inept. He is emotionally fraught.
How indecision, greed and ambition all play out in electrifying exchanges between the characters is as significant as the ‘action scenes’ that push the plot along, and the beauty of Shakespeare – his great insights into human nature amid the slings and arrows of societal conflict and change – is well rendered by an excellent ensemble, of which Dona Croll as John Of Gaunt is outstanding. Others are convincing too, none more so than Sarah Niles as Bolingbroke and Shobna Gulati as York. They convey all the hard, cold calculation as well as the vulnerability of men who are playing a high stakes game in which the losses will be tragically substantial.
All of which resonates powerfully with a world that we know only too well. A gale of bitterly ironic audience laughter nearly blows out the lanterns of Rajha Shakiry’s intimate and atmospheric set when Gaunt wearily declares, “England that was wont to conquer others, hath made a shameful conquest of itself!” The howls from Brussels should be loud enough to send a hurricane over London when that line rings out again on March 29. Therein lies the ongoing necessity of Shakespeare, and the urgency to cast it across borders of race and gender, before any ‘red lines’ are forever drawn.
Kevin Le Gendre
The Love Supreme Festival has announced another wave of acts confirmed to perform at this summer’s event, which returns to Glynde Place in East Sussex from July 5-7. Joining a line-up that already includes the likes of Lauryn Hill, Gladys Knight, Jamie Cullum, Snarky Puppy, Chick Corea and Kamaal Williams will be some of the standout artists from the UK scene as well as a selection of talent from across the international jazz and soul spectrum.
You can now add Louie Vega and his full Elements of Life band to the list, plus Parisian electro-swing collective Caravan Palace, fiery New Orleans five piece Tank and The Bangas, pianist Christian Sands, Aussie soul guys The Teskey Brothers and two acts from the forefront of the thriving Chicago scene: drummer and producer Makaya McCraven, and trumpeter Marquis Hill’s Blacktet.
There’s also strong contingent of UK acts, including Gogo Penguin, Mahalia, Brand New Heavies, Tenderlonius, Maisha, Joe Armon-Jones, Orphy Robinson [who will recreate Van Morrison’s seminal Astral Weeks album], Sons of Kemet tuba don Theon Cross, London groups Steam Down and SEED Ensemble.
What’s more, alongside a packed schedule of gigs, the festival will host after-parties, including a Louie Vega DJ set; the Jazz Lounge, which will feature artist Q&As, panels, exclusive album playbacks and film screenings; a number of kids areas including the vintage funfair; early morning salsa classes; the Jazz in the Round stage; the Verdict Bandstand; Bands & Voices cabaret and spoken word stage; late night jam sessions; long table banqueting; secret swimming and much more.
Visit lovesupremefestival.com for more.