Music and artists have the power to inform, change and inspire. From a gentle symphony, a crashing rock anthem or an uplifting Pop bop, the fluidity that both music and artists carry is something at Spinnup we are incredibly proud to support. It was John Lennon who famously said “…music reflects the state that the society is in” so, when we look back, there are countless songs advocating for change which have soundtracked a greater future (including the man himself with his ageless and poignant Imagine)
Check out our blog article on artists who used their pens for protest which looks back on a range of social and political commentaries by ingenious artists. However, as this month is Black History Month in the UK, we want to take a look at 10 essential tracks that we think champion our Black History Month celebrations:
1. Tori Cross – Talkin’ Bout A Revolution (Cover)
If you follow our socials, you would have seen us talk about the immense talent that is Tori Cross. The Spinnup icon has released only two tracks with us yet, we wait with dedicated anticipation for her next artistic move. Obsessed is putting it lightly and you only have to listen to her cover of the Tracy Chapman’s seminal ‘Talkin Bout A Revolution‘ to know why.
The track itself was written by a 16-year-old Chapman who explained the tracks’ inspiration came from a feeling of anger about the racism and classism she faced as a young girl. She went on to describe that the people around her believed that those who came from a lower income background were treated as if “…their lives weren’t very significant and they also somehow couldn’t make a change. But I feel that’s where change comes from, that’s where people are in most need.”
Including sound bites from Nina Simone, John Boyega and Malcom X, Tori takes the message of a song that is over 30 years old (sadly holding a message that rings true of today’s society) adding her own 2020 light which beautifully feeds the flames of a fire sparking social change around the world. Talking about Black History Month, Tori told us:
“Black history to me means British history. It’s being able to see yourself in positions you’d never envisaged because the school system has never represented you. Including Black history on the curriculum all year is so important for us to understand Britain as a whole instead of a whitewashed version of Britain. As a mixed race British girl I wish I had learned about both sides of my heritage during school instead of playing catch up and teaching myself now. The Tracy Chapman song ‘Talkin’ About A Revolution’ I feel is as relevant now as it was when she wrote it in 1988. We’ve had revolutions and protests in the past and we’ll have the them in the future but I’m hopeful that each time we chip away at something else until there’s nothing left to change. That’s the dream! – Tori Cross (2020)
LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK TORI! Black history IS British History and we couldn’t be happier to celebrate a resilient past and a stronger future with you.
2. Ta Satti – Harqa
Back in 2019, Ta Satti quietly released ‘Harqa‘ with us; a 17-track personal album which delves into the depths of the psyche of a Black man within the UK. Quickly snapped up on our Spinnup Presents Playlist, he went on to be featured by BBC Introducing’s Jill Iszatt which was no surprise to us. This emotive masterpiece is an essential listen (interludes and all), detailing not only his artistic process but, his trials and tribulations whilst also commenting on the social climate and culture we are currently in, forcing us all to both think and feel. MIA is a favourite of ours on the album, tackling cultural appropriation, ‘tradition’ and toxic British values. We could sit here and reflect on this album all day but instead, we urge you to get behind the mystery that is Ta Satti.
3. Formation – Beyoncé
I remember the day vividly. It was the early hours of the morning of my Birthday and I decided to browse YouTube just before going to sleep. A notification for a new Beyoncé upload popped up so, as a loyal member of the BeyHive, I clicked and clutched my non existent pearls. “What a Birthday gift” I thought. I had no idea…
This Black Lives Matter affirmation-anthem continues to be what can only be described as an actual ‘cultural reset’. “I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils” blasts with pride accompanied by visuals which reclaims Black womanhood as a self identity as appose to a stereotype. Defiant in its nature and its strength, Beyoncé embodies unapologetic and powerful imagery of the Black community whilst addressing colourism, police brutality and structural inequality that trickles down to gender and appearance. Almost a call to arms against harmful beauty standards, Formation is a reminder to continue work towards greater equality both culturally and economically as well a societal plea for union when tackling racial barriers. Be right back, we’re just getting in Formation…
4. India Arie – I Am Not My Hair
“I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations, I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within”.
A song of affirmation and self love, this much needed empowerment of Black beauty to combat mainstream Eurocentric standards of beauty broke down barriers and encouraged conversations about inclusivity. This effortless anthem will bring you out of any funk, reminding you that you ARE enough. Concentrating the message to something that has been heavily politicised (Black hair) the track details the negative politics of black hair that have terrorised and plagued the lives of many Black individuals around the world. Attracting unwanted attention and deemed as unruly and unprofessional, this declaration of empowerment and beauty is a must hear this year (and every year after).
5. Black Rage – Lauryn Hill
“Black rage is founded on blatant denial
Squeezed economics, subsistence survival
Deafening silence and social control
Black rage is founded on wounds in the soul”
Lauryn Hill dedicated this track to Michael Brown and all of the protesters that had been (and continue to) speak out about police brutality and the worth of Black lives within society today. Talking about the fear invoked from rage of Police brutality, the song asks for courage to win over what controls you and your reaction. The track does not glorify or criticise Black rage as a response, more evaluates its purpose. Just like Ms. Hill herself, the track is complex and prophetic, forcing you to listen a few times to really understand (which of course, we don’t mind doing).
6. Lift Every Voice and Sing- James Weldon Johnson
Referred to as “Black American National Anthem”, the song was first performed as part of a poem in 1900 in a segregated school in Jacksonville, talking about the contentment African-Americans feel in honour of liberty whilst referencing past difficulties. The track has touched the lives and hearts of millions around the world being covered by various artists including Ray Charles, BeBe Winans, Maya Angelou and Melba Moore, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Beyoncé and countless others. The roots of Black History Month started in the USA (February 1926) so, this ode to justice and liberty for all is an essential addition to any Black History Month.
7. Say it Loud, I’m Black and Proud – James Brown
The song quickly became a Black power anthem and, just looking at the title of the track alone, it is no question as to why. This rallying cry from legend James Brown was summarised best by writer Randall Kennedy when he said that in a climate that still continues to profit from and support racism, the track remains as powerful and important as the day it was created in 1968 as he said “Half a century after James Brown’s proclamation, it remains imperative to assert what should have been assumed and uncontroversial all along: that black is beautiful and as worthy of pride and care and consideration as any other hue”.
8. Get Up, Stand Up – Bob Marley and Peter Tosh
Bob Marley is one of the world’s most prolific songwriters to have ever lived, singing love, peace and harmony into existence. We could pick any track from Marleys extensive and cathartic catalogue, but we chose ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ for its message of strength and bravery, demanding respect by its symbolic standing against oppression. Encouraging listeners to take action, the song was largely influenced by both of the artists upbringing in Jamaica in which they had to fight for respect and acceptance for their often misunderstood Rastafarian religion. The line “How long must I protest the same thing?” is still being asked today over 40 years since its creation…
9. I Can’t Breathe – H.E.R
H.E.R. took her heartbreak over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota last month to music, penning ‘I Can’t Breathe’ about the killing in which a white police officer appeared to kneel on his neck as he lay on the ground during an arrest. “Just by the title, you know that it means something very, very kind of painful and very revealing” she opened up, further stating “these lyrics were kind of easy to write because it came from a conversation with what’s happening right now, what’s been happening, and the change that we need to see. I think music is powerful when it comes to change and when it comes to healing, and that’s why I wrote this song, to make a mark in history. And I hope this song does that.” We couldn’t agree more. She shared the song during her performance on the iHeartRadio Living Room Concert Series to bring attention to the names we know of and those we don’t, as she sings:
“All of the names you refuse to remember, was somebody’s brother or friend, son to a mother that’s crying, saying, I can’t breathe, you’re taking my life from me.”
10. “What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye co-wrote ‘What’s Going On’ as a protest song that, even 30 years after his death, still sounds as if it could have been written today.
The song’s inspiration came from Benson, a member of the iconic Motown group the Four Tops, after their tour bus arrived at Berkeley on May 15, 1969 and they witnessed police brutality and violence in the city in what was described later as ‘Bloody Thursday’.
With the lyric “picket lines and picket signs, don’t punish me with brutality, c’mon talk to me, so you can see, what’s going on”, this could easily set the scene for any protest that has taken place this year as part of Black Lives Matter. The painfully accurate plea embodied in this track calls for his generation to wake up and face struggles many were (and still are) willing to overlook.
As Marvin Gaye reflected on the song, he shared, “To be truly righteous, you offer love with a pure heart, without regard for what you’ll get in return. I had myself in that frame of mind. People were confused and needed reassurance. God was offering that reassurance through his music. I was privileged to be the instrument.” something we couldn’t agree more with at Spinnup and we are proud to be a part of by releasing your music to the world. Join the conversation and get started with us today.
* BONUS: Sounds of Blackness – Optimistic *
Since it is Black History Month, I have to give a shoutout to a track that has soundtracked my childhood. A favourite of my mothers, this uplifting track was a constant soundtrack to every car ride, reminding me that everything would be alright in the end. I include this to remind you to give some love to your own family and friends this month and every month. Be sure to reach out to your loved ones and check in. Until next time friends…