On The Map: The London Musicians Redefining the Black British Experience
Our latest installment of On The Map takes you through the new revolutionary sounds coming out of London.
In our series, On The Map, we ask artists, DJs, writers, and general in-the-know people to tell us about what’s happening in their hometown’s music scenes.
It’s no secret that London is a hub for eclectic music scenes and envelope pushing artists. In this fourth edition of On The Map, writer, music geek and occasional radio host Remi Graves takes us through the new revolutionary sounds coming out of London.
First up is Gaika who’s stand-out vocals and forthright command of a blend of genres means he’s the artist in everyone’s earbuds. Following last month’s launch of his new SECURITY mixtape at Boiler Room, Gaika just wrapped up his first world tour, which saw him play New York’s RBMA and close things out at Tropical Waste in London.
Listening to his Red Bull Music Radio slot (he plays Bones Thugs-N-Harmony alongside Rage Against the Machine) uncovers the range of influences that can be heard in his genre-bending productions. From dancehall rhythms to dissonant bass and eerie distorted vocals, the Brixton based artist packs a mean multilayered punch with each release.
From a stellar feature on the remix of Kelela’s “All The Way Down” to collaborations with Mykki Blanco and Bipolar Sunshine, Gaika’s atmospherically melodic rapping is the sound of an artist experimenting with groove and grit. The result is unique and enticing. If you’ve never heard Gaika before, wrap your ears around his haunting banger "Blasphemer" below.
With Kojey Radical making similar waves on the alternative rap scene—and beyond—it’s no surprise he featured on the line up for Gaika’s mixtape launch. The Ghanaian Londoner sits on the boundary between poetry and rap, filling the liminal space with his version of what it means to be a black Brit in London today.
His aesthetic toys with a unique blend of hip-hop, trap and spoken word, speaking to current trends whilst also shifting their course. Whilst sleek and arresting visuals add weight to his already poignant lyrics, Kojey’s live show is a level up.
From krumping to azonto-ing on stage, the vibe is electric. For an artist currently without a record deal, the turn up and turn out at his shows is testament to the relevance of his work. “We’ve come a long way from being scared to say our African names when asked” reads the strapline on Kojey’s latest EP 23 Winters (which dropped earlier this year).
It sums up the specific black British experience that Kojey speaks to, where tracks like “Kwame Nkrumah” place the African ancestry of Black Londoners on centre stage. Fresh from supporting Ghost Face Killah at The Royal Festival, Kojey has just dropped fresh visuals for his track "Footsteps" (watch below) and will be performing in Bristol on June 15.
Co-founder of NON Worldwide; Nkisi is a regular on London’s best independent station NTS radio. Based in London but originally from Brussels with roots in Congo, Nkisi plays high-speed experimental techno, doomcore, house and electronic music from the diaspora on her monthly show. Her own productions (which featured on NON’s 2015 compilation) push the boundaries of music fusing dissonance with breakneck speeds and minimalist yet danceable, flickering beats. Whether spinning tracks in London’s underground basements or avant-garde art shows such as Paul Maheke’s Squad, Nkisi's redefining, rather smashing to smithereens, the limited idea of what black music can and should be.
London isn’t all nightclubs and well-established concert venues, and it’s in Clapton’s aptly named St James the Great Church that one of London’s best home grown live outfits Yussef Kamaal sweat it out to pay tribute to iconic jazz drummer Idris Muhammad just a few weeks back.
Drummer extraordinaire Yussef Dayes and killer keys man Kamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu) are the pioneers behind Yusseff Kamaal , a jazz band that brings pure groove to everything they touch. The tribute brought together some of London’s most talented young jazz musicians including Rocco Palladino on bass, Nubiya Garcia on saxophone and the inimitable 19-year-old Mansur Brown on guitar.
Drummer Yussef Dayes, leads the band driving through breakbeat, and jazz/hip-hop grooves with mind bending ease, smoothed over by the woozy sound of Kamaal’s Rhodes. They played to a full house at Jazz Re:freshed's 13th birthday (the hotspot for London’s homegrown jazz) and mentioned the forthcoming release of their album, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, tastemaker Gilles Peterson (and long standing supporter of the band) has put the band on the lineup for his Worldwide Festival in the South of France this summer. Yusseff Kamaal are part of a larger scene of envelope pushing jazzers keeping the form alive and share a bill with drummer and producer Moses Boyd alongside Kamasi Washington at London’s Sunfall festival this summer. Watch a teaser of their church show below.
Though the artists listed above are independently covering new ground in their respective genres, there’s a tangible feeling that their scenes overlap. These are London-based artists with roots in the black diaspora who are no doubt influenced (but by no means limited) by their identities.
With its finger on the pulse it’s no surprise that NTS, which has grown from a digital community radio station in Hackney to a household name for independent artists in the UK and beyond, is at the heart of the community supporting, and promoting the artists in this list.
Finally, because his track "Coffee with Larry B" (watch below) is an absolute scorcher and he’s been hinting at the imminent arrival of new music on his Instagram, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for new work from South London DJ and producer CKTRL. A regular at NTS Radio and at club nights such as Brixton’s LOCAL, he released his Forest EP last year, a blend of pitched up R&B vocals, the occasional saxophone, grimey electro and beats you’d expect to hear on the dance floor of a Vogue ballroom.
Despite the closure of pioneering club venues like Shoreditch’s Plastic People (and Dance Tunnel which is set to shut in August), the artists fuelling London’s independent club scene give no sign of letting up.
And we are forever grateful.