The tapestry of UK black music creativity in 2018 is encouragingly rich. While grime and, of late, drill continue to cause John Humphries enjoyable confusion on Radio 4’s Today programme and an abundance of nu jazzers draws in a multi-racial 20-something crowd to the festivals, the list of musical mavericks who base their own style on soul, jazz, gospel and pop traditions – and achieve commercial success – is growing.
Into the latter group we can now place our July cover star, Xamvolo. As we pointed out a couple of months back in Soul Sides, Bermondsey-born, now Liverpool-based Xam’s ambitious constructions recall top grade Bilal Oliver in their joyous merging of the meticulous and the free-form, leaning on the sounds of neo-soul and jazz, yet at the same time working in lyrical and other concepts that betray the artist’s feeling for pop and rock icons…
The last time Protoje spoke with Echoes just 18 months ago, he said he was still trying to decide where he wanted to go with his next album, and what kind of sound he wanted. He explained that he was taking his time with it, and listening to lots of different music. Stevie Wonder and Jay Z were just two of the names on his playlist, which suggested that we’d be hearing something other than the roots reggae sound he was known for.
As it happens, his latest album A Matter Of Time isn’t so different from its predecessors, apart from some enhanced production values and the addition of his most commercial recording yet – the latest single ‘Bout Noon, which is an unashamed love song.
“We were just listening to everything,” he explains during a recent visit to London. “I was opening my palette and my ears to all kinds of different sounds.
A woman answers the phone, extends a warm greeting and puts me on hold. I can hear children playing in the background and one of them laughs excitedly, causing me to try and picture the scene from 6,000 miles away. It’s midday in Kingston and the sun will be unrelenting, sending everyone else looking for shade. The air will feel motionless and heavy, despite this corner of Vineyard Town being less than a mile from the waterfront.
The next voice I hear belongs to Micah Shemaiah himself, whose latest album Roots I Vision is the equal of anything we’ve heard from Jamaica’s new wave of Rasta revolutionaries to date. If he’s less well known than his long-time friend Chronixx, then differences in marketing and promotion probably have a lot to do with it, rather than any discrepancy in terms of their talent.
“There is still loads of great grime music coming out,” begins Walton. “But for me, you can’t beat the classic grime sound. It was so raw and simple, but like nothing you’d ever heard before.”
As familiar as it is unfamiliar to anyone who’s investigated grime’s early days, the Manchester producer’s new Black Lotus album works spins off that classic sound, but never tries to repeat it. Walton resists calling himself a grime producer – like most artists who dislike labels – but it’s clear his relationship with the genre is a defining one. “Not gonna lie, I spent a lot of my younger teenage years on Limewire, downloading as much music as I could get my hands on. There were loads of radio sets and instrumentals on there so London music was pretty accessible. Then YouTube took off and everything was all over there.”