Carbon footprints should concern us all, but artists who cross continents on a regular basis may think twice about their next steps. With an international following and a busy schedule of gigs that take her through more time zones than a seasoned diplomat, Angélique Kidjo is well aware of the issue of climate change. She is refreshingly frank about being part of the problem, though she wants to be part of the solution.
”We as human beings are here for a reason, and in order for us to achieve greatness we can’t do it without nature,” she states in a commanding tone. “So it becomes obvious through all my crazy travelling… looking at the landscapes and saying, ‘Is there another way for me to be doing this?’ All those questions started coming to me.”
And so did action. Nothing could make Kidjo’s thoughts on the need for urgent policy to keep the earth alive clearer than the title of her new album, Mother Nature…
On Sunday November 24, 2019 Samara Joy McLendon won the eighth annual Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, beating Vivian Sessoms, Viktorija Gečytė, Daniela Spalletta and Christine Fawson in a final held at New Jersey Performing Arts Centre. As first-prize winner of the so-called SASSY Award, Samara received a $5,000 cheque as well as a guaranteed performing slot at the 2020 Newport Jazz Festival, due to take place in August of that year. Except, of course, the latter was cancelled due to the pandemic. In fact, the worldwide Covid lockdown couldn’t have been better timed to disrupt the triumphant arrival of the now 21-year-old, Bronx-born vocalist, her planned and growing show diary being effectively binned from spring ’20 onwards and hopes for a debut recording project put in jeopardy.
Thankfully – like many other artists – she’s been able to find a work-around: Samara Joy’s self-titled debut album will be released in the UK by Whirlwind Records on July 9, three days after her first ever performance at Ronnie Scott’s and the same day as she’s due to take the stage at the Umbria Jazz Festival, Italy. It’s something of a relief, as you can tell by the way she recalls those recent events:
“In March 2020 I was actually getting ready to play live… ”
What on earth is there left to say about Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece What’s Going On, which on May 21 celebrated the 50th anniversary of its original release? In just the last few weeks alone, thousands of words have been reverently written about What’s Going On, and many more spoken. On May 9, for example, television’s CNN network aired a new one-hour documentary on the subject, with Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson among those interviewed. On Sunday, May 23, there was a ticketed onlineconversation about the album organised by New York cultural institution 92nd Street Y, which included the participation of Marvin Gaye’s widow, Janis, and his biographer, David Ritz.
In the UK, there was a BBC radio documentary hosted by singer Emeli Sandé, exploring the subject with archive interviews. Lamont Dozier is one who offered insightful comments, as did former Motown musicians Joe Messina [he played on the album] and Bob Babbitt. The May edition of Mojo magazine had a substantial feature about the album. Also, there was a thorough account by cultural critic Martin Chilton in The Independent, while British-American playwright/novelist Bonnie Greer has written for The New European about the music’s impact on her, growing up in Chicago. Yet hardly anyone has pointed out that in Britain – a country whose ongoing love for classic Motown, its stars and its music is arguably greater than that in the United States – What’s Going On had no discernible impact upon first arrival.
In Jamaica, everyone has another name. Jesse Royal has two and you don’t get to be called “Small Axe” lightly. Bob Marley’s famous song was a warning, bristling with defiance and aimed at the island’s most successful record producers. It’s the mantle of a determined underdog, whilst Jesse got called ‘Royal’ because he was a conscious Rasta youth concerned with uplifting black people and anyone else with the ears to heed his message.
Like Buju Banton, he’s a Maroon. The blood of escaped, unconquered slaves runs in his veins, although by eight years old he was a picture of innocence, living in Kingston and singing in his school choir before Sizzla’s siren call reached him. His first songs were for the Xterminator and XTM Nation labels, Singing The Blues and Loyal Soldier included. He and XTM’s Kareem Burrell were at high school together. Ziggy Marley’s son David is another friend who witnessed his genesis as a talented young singjay with plenty of charisma, as well as lyrics.
Jesse’s never been what you’d call prolific – he prefers quality to quantity – but there’s been a steady stream of hits since then beginning with Modern Day Judas and Finally, both of which later appeared on his debut album Lily Of Da Valley, released by Easy Star in 2017. Four years later and he’s followed it with latest album Royal, again for the Brooklyn based Easy Star, who also played a part in Protoje’s current success. The latter co-stars with Jesse on Lion Order, lead single from Royal and a hymn to brotherhood, both close to home and in the wider sense.
Speaking from Jamaica via WhatsApp, Jesse says the bond among Jamaica’s new school is down to maturity and trust:
“It’s all part of an artist development and it’s such a joy. We just continue to inspire one another… ”