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THE PRIDE OF BIRMINGHAM 

 

 

By Renee Davis

 

Saturday, September 4, 2010.

 

London-born, Birmingham-raised Soweto Kinch is definitely what you call a man of many talents. This Jazz-Hip Hop artist has had a successful steady career, but where did his story begin? 

 

Growing up in such an artistic environment, its obvious that the question  “When did you become interested in music?” can’t be posed  as music was very much a part of his life.  With the love of music engrained into him as a youngster. Soweto learnt to play the saxophone from the age of 9 .

 

“ I took lessons up until grade three which wasn’t a huge level. But I continued to get lessons on a more informal basis from jazz musicians who I really respected . I would often run up to them and ask them for tuition or tapes, any kind of information I could use for private study ,so even  though I didn’t pursue formal study  I certainly continued to practice and appreciate vibes aswell as improvisation.”

 

Soweto’s father (Don Kinch) was a playwright and his mother an actress. Many would think that with such an artistic family and  having grown up around musicians that a career would have started out of this straightway, but Soweto decided to further himself on a more intellectual level at Oxford university, where he studied History. It wasn’t until after he completed his degree that he decided to pursue a full time music career, quite different from what one would expect. Soweto’s genre of music is a fusion of Jazz and Hip Hop. He explains why he fused the two together and didn’t just stick to one primarily.

 

“I think its realising the different sets of resements that the music had with me at some point. Jazz I felt had help me access a vein in my culture which was really important to me and had a deep spiritual level that really resonated with me. And with Hip Hop I was an MC from the age of ten I was rhyming with people and freestyling and that was a big part of my identity in the 90’s and it still is. So I cant really choose between one or the other.”

 

On first impressions, an artist with a mix of sounds so diverse would usually be traced back to America, or even the city of London, but Soweto grew up in Birmingham where cuurent musical sounds are usually Grime. But Soweto very much holds Birmingham as a place that had an affect on his poetry and lyrics:

 

“ Birmingham had an huge influence on the way I grew up and a lot of my closest musical friends were here and we kind of matured together as MC‘S. Also there is a sense of community that’s still here in Birmingham that you wouldn’t find in other parts of the country."

 

But Birmingham isn’t the only place that had an impact on Soweto and his career, in September 2004, he went on what he called a “musical pilgrimage” to New York for six months. He described his time there as not just a career booster, but a chance to better himself as an artist alongside his musical peers. 

 

“It was a pilgrimage for me both in Hip Hop and jazz terms as its like the Mecca of Jazz. And I felt I needed to spend some time there studying, practicing and having jam sessions with the same types of people. The motive was never just boosting my career it was about becoming a better musician.”

 

Although Soweto wasn’t halfway across the Atlantic to prove himself as an artist, the Americans most definitely had something to say about his unique sound.

 

“The critics were a bit sceptical saying 'who’s this British guy, thinking he can come over here and rap better than us, and play sax!' They are very territorial about art forms that they consider to be exclusively 'American' but in the execution in particular I did a number of  shows that were reviewed by the New York Times and Timeout. And the response was overwhelmingly warm.“

 

Apart from NewYork, his career has taken him all around the world. From Europe to Africa, he has made his mark and built up a rapport with many different audiences, he claims that its not just the travelling that helped shaped his career, but the experiences of playing live to people who don’t know what Soweto Kinch is what its all about:

 

“ It was experiences of playing live to different audiences that really helped my career. It could even be in Dudley and I wouldn’t mind!"

 

He laughs.

 

"It's about being able to communicate with an audience who is not familiar with where your coming from, that has really helped to sharpen my stage craft and give me the confidence that I need to cope with certain situations.”

 

Soweto points out this is the key to still being able to hold your own in today’s music industry.

 

“One minute the music industry will be really interested in you and the next turn their eye away from you and focus on the next big thing, where as if you focus on your stage craft and you are a good live performer that can help you sustain your audience.”

 

The black UK music industry is now less about artistic integrity and more about “business” Soweto shared his thoughts

 

“I think its about perspective, you use the term that I hear a lot in TV circles “niche audiences”:  XFactor is a niche as there is a particular segment of society that it speaks too. What we have to do is appreciate that were are our own mainstream and we have our own tastes and ways of doing things.” 

 

Speaking of own ways of doing things, Soweto is currently working on many projects; one being “The Flyover Show”. The show organised by Soweto, has been  running for three years and takes place  under the Hockley Flyover in Birmingham. The primary concept of this show is to elevate those Black British artists who are often overlooked. Artists such as Ms Dynamite. are all set to perform and showcase themselves the way in which they want to.

 

Not only that, but Soweto has set his sights on the big stage and has written a piece of musical theatre called the "Midnight Hop", which is due to come out in the next couple of years. He believes it is going to be “Big and international!”

 

Soweto says: “I also want to get more artistic ventures happening aside from this, I want to educate people on musical history and how to conduct yourself as an independent artist in the market place. We are really in need of collectives which are artist led, one which actually represents an artists needs properly. It is definitely something I am really keen to change.”

 

So it seems that an artistic revolution is in place, these ventures should be a breath of fresh air to the music industry, as so many artists are constantly bound by the rules and regulations of a record contract. 

 

Soweto has achieved quite a lot in a short time, he has won numerous awards such as the BBC Jazz award, Mobo award for Best Jazz act and a Mercury prize award for best album. Not only that but he has been privileged to work with many of his inspirations and peers.

 

But what is Soweto Kinch’s greatest achievement of all time?

 

“ My new album The Emancipation feels like a massive achievement for me. It hasn’t even come out yet and has received really good reviews. It’s the first album I have released independently so it's very symbolic in branching me out as an independent artist.”

 

The new album is still true to Soweto's Jazz-Hip Hop roots, and also has more of a soul element to it, with more songs than the other albums all written by Soweto himself. The album features great vocalists such as Jason McDougal.

 

Soweto is very much someone who can be looked to by many, whether they be young or old. He is not afraid to pursue his goals and go that extra mile to sharpen his craft. His entrepreneurial skills are not only  something to profit himself but the needs of other artists who are trying to break onto the scene without the chains of record labels holding them down. With his experiences in the industry and out, he offers a few wise words to the youth of Birmingham and of other cities whether they be in school, college or university and also to those who may  not be on the right track caught up in drugs and gun and knife crime. 

 

“ Beware of the deception, a lot of people quite rightly feel that they do not want to become some wage slave and work 9-5’s everyday, but beware of the pitfall. People who make money out of drugs are only a tiny percentage of a very big pyramid. And in the long run your likely to make less money than you would working at McDonalds! The other crowning bit of experience I have is that if you make your money slowly, you’ll keep it longer and you’ll tend to have more value and wealth in the things that you have really worked to achieve.”  One thing I say is that  If I have or lose money I'll always be able to play the saxophone, they’ll never be able to take that away from me.” 

 

The Emancipation is out on the  September 27, 2010. For More Information on The Flyover Show check out www.soweto-kinch.com

 

Renee Davis is a Birmingham, UK-based freelance journalist.

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