No two ways about it, Michon Young sounds a lot like Anita Baker. Not all the time, sure, and never to the point where it feels like it’s merely an imitation… yet the influence is – pleasingly – there, nonetheless. So it’s a bit odd that nobody ever mentioned the fact to her until, 15 years ago, she moved to Anita’s hometown of Detroit and, after a further seven years as member of a local church, decided to sing in the choir. And who was it that drew those first comparisons? None other than Pastor Marvin Winans, whose church it happened to be and who, you won’t need to be reminded, knows The Songstress rather well.
“Pastor Winans had heard me during rehearsal and asked me to be one of his background singers for his solo project tour. He always promised me that he’d introduce me to Anita Baker if ever she came to a service. Then one day she did come and he sent out security to find me so I could meet her. Well, I panicked! I was so afraid ‘cause I didn’t want her to think I was trying to steal her style, or anything. And when I saw them coming, I literally ran to my car and sped off!”
Last year was, famously, a pretty dire one for a lot of people, what with Trump, Brexit, frequent police shootings in America and the perceived spate of celebrity deaths. For some, however, it wasn’t so bad.
Take Avery*Sunshine, for example. She got married, for a start: to her longtime musical buddy Dana ‘Big Dane’ Johnson.
“I am so happy to have found such an amazing human to share my life with. Yeah, I know that sounds so flowery and sun-shiny, but it’s really real,” she exults in that bright and breezy way she has.
Moreover, she also experienced some richly supportive backing from one of her all-time heroines in the shape of soul queen Aretha Franklin.
“Aretha invited me not once, but twicein the same year – to her birthday party and then to her Christmas party,” enthuses Avery, sounding like she’s trembling with delight at the memory. “You can only imagine what that was like!”
Indeed. What with my voice.
“You hear that she is very, very particular about what she likes – and also that she is pretty vocal about what she doesn’t like too. And, for me, Aretha was everything – along with people such as Patrice Rushen and Carole King and Roberta Flack, these were all pianists and writers and producers. To get an email directly from her… in what universe does this happen?”
Small in number, the best duos in improvised music are usually big in character. Personality is strong amidst the empathy. That certainly holds true for Binker & Moses. Drummer Moses Boyd is genial, saxophonist Binker Golding forthright, if not intense, and by his own admission he is the one who might call for revisions when they are recording jointly composed material. He might be the one to crease his brow rather than crack a smile.
“Of the two of us, I’m the worrier,” says Binker with a steely glance as Moses beams in the background. We’re in the north London office of Gearbox, the label to which they are signed.
“He’s like, ‘Oh yeah, it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine’, and I’m like, ‘No, how do you know?’ I’ll say we need eight bars of this here and we’ll do it; and he’ll be, ‘That’s good too’. I mean, we can both balance things up.”
The twisting road that takes you up Stony Hill gets steeper the nearer you reach the top, but you can breathe more easily here, high above Kingston. The views from the mountain are stunning and Jamaica’s natural beauty is all around. Close to the summit is a house that once belonged to a local soundman, and shelves full of vinyl LPs and singles spanning all eras of Jamaican music line the walls. Inna De Yard recorded their debut album The Soul Of Jamaica there and the timeless atmosphere of the place is reflected in the music, made by a loose collective of singers and musicians whose best-known members include Ken Boothe, Kiddus I and Cedric of The Congos. It’s the sound of brethren making music together – people who share the same values, both musically and according to how they live.
The majority of them had previously taken part in the series of acoustic sessions recorded at Earl “Chinna” Smith’s home in Kingston and released on French label Makasound under the heading of “Inna Di Yard.” That’s where the name started and the approach remains the same, even though Chinna’s no longer involved and Chapter Two have now taken up the baton from Makasound where exposing the real authentic roots music from Jamaica is concerned.