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Judy Collins: ‘When I found folk music, I also found drinking’ | Folk music From “World news | The Guardian”



Barbara Allen, by Jo StaffordI’d been playing the piano since I was five, and by the time I was 15 I was memorising Rachmaninov concertos. But Barbara Allen, recorded by Jo Stafford, turned me towards the music that was becoming the rebirth of folk music in the US. I knew Stafford’s voice very well – her My Funny Valentine was one of our favourites. She was such a magnificent singer, and her version of Barbara Allen was just stunning. That and The Gypsy Rover were songs that plunged me into a new life. I often say, though, that I was born knowing the lyrics to Danny Boy because my father sang all kinds of things – I would have heard that in the womb.When I found folk music, I also found drinking. I found I could play guitar, sing a song and have a few drinks. You can’t do that when you’re practising Rachmaninov – there’s much too much required. So I found a social milieu and a career in folk music. And I’m an alcoholic. If it wasn’t the parties up on Lookout mountain near Denver with a gang of folkies, these long-haired creatures in sandals (even in the snow), I would have found something else because I had to drink.Jo Stafford’s Barbara Allen.I tried to kill myself at 14 because I was depressed – of course I didn’t succeed, fortunately for my family, as I think it would have destroyed my father. People who attempt suicide, they’re not giving you a warning – it’s always serious. I changed my mind, most definitely, but there was no question I was serious when I was making my attempt.My father, Chuck CollinsI drank for 23 years, and in that time I was able to forge a career that has gone on to this day, like the Energizer bunny. I was pretty much the pure definition of an alcoholic – I didn’t do many drugs, I always thought they interfered with my drinking – and I was a successful, working alcoholic. It came to an end in 1978 – I was terribly sick, and I had really lost everything that meant anything to me. I didn’t have any money, and I couldn’t work. I got sober, thank God, as I have these ferociously busy, successful, extraordinary years to look back on. Without discipline, I would be nowhere today.I grew up with this sense of discipline and art: getting up, having meals, going to bed, doing two hours of piano practice, all at a certain time. I wanted to rebel at times, which is probably why I started drinking. After my suicide attempt, my father wrote me a letter, and apologised for being such a taskmaster – which he was – and yelling at me for not practising enough. That apology went a long way in securing my sense of healthy attitudes.He made his living in the radio business and doing concerts – he had this gorgeous voice, and he would sing, tell jokes, talk politics … it was that old-fashioned golden era of radio. He was also blind, which interested people, and made him a double hero. He got around without a dog or a cane; he would come round to your house and quickly get to know where every room was, and how to get up and down the stairs. He walked everywhere – at first, the bus driver in our neighbourhood didn’t know he was blind, and then tried to offer him a free fare, but my father refused it, saying: “I’m like everyone else, I’ll pay my way.” Which is what we were all taught: pay your way.Judy Collins with her father, Chuck, in 1951.He was a great reader. We were brought up with Dostoevsky, Moby-Dick and War and Peace. He would read to us from his braille books that he got from the Library of Congress; these huge constructions in these boxes would rise up the walls. We had a whole wall of our garage in Denver filled with them. He said: “It’s not so bad. At least you can read in the dark.” He was remarkable in many ways, and he died too soon, of an aneurysm, in 1968 at 57. He lived long enough to see me have a career, and that was very gratifying to him.We were Roosevelt kids, raised from the results of the Depression. Like a lot of parents who came out of that, and who lived through horrible things such as the McCarthy era, they came out with values and a sense of style and integrity that I think is lost on our compatriots today. Taking responsibility for yourself was what we were taught in our family; that and manners and generosity. We’ve got a whole new lease on life over here now, because we’ve got a president whose hero is Roosevelt – Biden understands that you’ve got to take care of those who do not have. I don’t care how hard the Republicans are going to fight because they’ve always fought us, and they are always out to tear down government, to do evil to us. I don’t think they’re going to succeed in breaking through this new breath of fresh air. It’s a miracle. This past four years, we were heading toward the abyss. On every level: moral, physical, spiritual, the integrity of this country was up in smoke. So to have this happen, it makes you believe that someone somewhere has something good in mind for us all.Antonia Brico, music teacherBrico Antonia … ‘She was a pioneer.’ Photograph: Duane Howell/Denver Post/Getty ImagesBrico was the first female conductor to conduct major symphonies in the world, starting in the Berlin Philharmonic when she was 27, and later becoming the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic. She was a pioneer – and here she was in Denver. I walked into Brico’s studio, and she listened to me play and said: “I don’t know – the technique is pretty bad, but let me see what I can do.” She took me under her arm, handed me the score for Mozart’s K.365 piano concerto and said: ‘In two years, you’re going to play this with my orchestra.’ I spent the first month memorising it, on a road trip from Denver to Seattle to visit my relatives. The score was spread out in the car’s back seat on my lap.She was a powerhouse, and extremely demanding. To this day, I can sit at the piano and practise my exercises while reading a book; quite often I’d be reading The Count of Monte Cristo while doing Hanon [piano exercises]. After I left, having told her I was going to sing Jimmy Crack Corn instead of playing Rachmaninov, she would come to see me do concerts at Carnegie Hall and say: “Little Jude, you really could have gone places!”I decided I would make a movie about her – it cost me a couple of hundred thousand dollars – a lot of money in 1972, especially if you were somebody who didn’t have any. It came out in 1975, as Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman. It was nominated for an Oscar and added to the Library of Congress, where it lives for ever, along with Chinatown, for the year 1975. Her career was back on track because of this movie, so I had made it up to her, although she never did say thank you. For a number of years, I wrote songs and performed at the National Dance Institute, for children who were dancing. One year, I brought her to that event. She turned to me afterwards and said: “You are wonderful.” That was it! In 50 years!Denver’s folk sceneAt the Denver Folklore Center, I would go and sit around with these long-haired hippies and listen to their versions of Barbara Allen. It was run by this very interesting man named Lingo the Drifter, who had come to Denver from Chicago with his guitar. He was an eccentric like my father – multifaceted, with a literary education – and they talked, sang, drank and read poetry to each other. Lingo didn’t have any money, so my father said: why don’t you go to Los Angeles and go on one of those quizshows? Dressed in his buckskin and turquoise jewellery, Lingo went to Hollywood and got on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life – he won and came home with $64,000 in a couple of paper bags. He bought the top of Lookout mountain, and he’d have these gatherings of the folklore society there. He’d make home-brew, and borscht, and we’d all sing to one another.Fern Lake, in Colorado. Photograph: Ray Wise/Getty ImagesI met two inspirational kids there, a couple of years older than me, when I was 16 or 17: Dick Barker and Mart Hoffman. Mart was this skinny guy. He picked up his guitar and sang a song called Deportee. “The crops are all in and the peaches are ripening …” It absolutely blew me away, and I said he had to teach me it, which he did on the spot. Deportee, next to This Land Is Your Land, became the jewel of Woody Guthrie’s material. I don’t think Mart ever understood what he had done, how important it was and how valued, and valid, his contribution was with that melody – it’s ingenious. I kept in touch with Mart, who moved down to Arizona, and one night in 1972 I got a call from his brother who said that he had taken his life. I later wrote Song for Martin for him.Fern Lake, the Rocky mountainsWhen I was 18, my teenage sweetheart Peter Taylor and I hooked up. We went up to Estes Park, and lived for a couple of weeks in a cabin owned by my godfather Holden Bowler – whose name was taken by JD Salinger for Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye after they got friendly on a ship – and we were ecstatic to get a job running a lodge in the Rocky Mountain national park, a nine-mile hike up to 11,000ft. Peter ran pipes down from the mountain, so we had water, and we were there for three months. We served lunch to hikers who came through – I baked on a wood-burning stove and Peter did the wood-chopping. It was heavenly – at the end of the summer, how could you leave paradise? We wanted to buy the place, but we had to go back to Boulder where we lived. By March the following year, my son was born, and I took my first job, at Michael’s Pub, because we didn’t have any money.Flannery O’Connor … ‘I was enthralled with her.’ Photograph: Apic/Getty ImagesFlannery O’Connor – The Habit of BeingI was enthralled with Flannery O’Connor: her struggle and how she continued in the face of her physical adversity with lupus. And I was just overwhelmed with this book: mostly letters, which tell us what she was doing every day, how she communicated with her editor, how she spent time feeding the chickens. It talked about the organisation of thought, and the organisation of skill and how you pursue it. If you’re an energised person who has a lot of ideas in many directions, you have to be able to harness them; The Habit of Being helped me understand my multifaceted life. I remember when I first got into therapy in the early 60s, when I got to New York, the first thing my therapist taught me was: stay in touch. If somebody doesn’t answer your call, call them. Make it your enterprise to create relationships. It’s your job to make this life as interesting and educational as you can – and that I got from Flannery O’Connor, too.When I was in school, it took everything I had to succeed at geometry. I think that’s also part of the secret of my career and my life: I know how to get to where I’m going. Judy Collins’ new album, White Bird – Anthology of Favourites, is released on 7 May on Wildflower Records In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.







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‘10,000 tiny instruments’: how Lego made the experimental album of 2021 | Experimental music From “World news | The Guardian”



Out of my headphones comes a flow of odd, weirdly tactile sound: what could be an army of ants marching across a plain of contact mics, a landslide of scree recorded from a mile away, or perhaps the first field recording taken from Ingenuity, the tiny robotic helicopter currently flying sorties above the Martian landscape. Delicate clicks, burring friction and the waterfall-like spatiality of granular flow all galvanise my ears.It’s the sort of thing that may interest subscribers to The Wire magazine, or that an underground musician usually seen sweating over a badly soldered modular synth could make in a moment of calm. This is Lego White Noise, and while it definitely sounds like experimental music, the name makes it clear that this is the work of the world’s most “reputable brand”.The project was devised by Lego’s “head of creative” Primus Manokaran, who describes the streaming-only album as “a collection of soundscapes” designed to promote relaxation and mindfulness. Although the seven tracks, which each run to half an hour in length, are different in their granular details, essentially they were made by Lego pieces being poured out of tubs, sifted through and clicked together.Manokaran’s team began thinking about why people love Lego during lockdown, and realised that a big hook was how it sounds. Inspired by the online craze for white noise as an aid to relaxation and focus, they began recording. “The acoustic properties of each brick was slightly different,” he says. “It was like composing with 10,000 tiny instruments.”They used as many different Lego elements as possible – from outsized toddler-friendly Duplo bricks to tiny minifigure heads – to create a wide range of raw sound, without using much in the way of audio processing bar some EQing, and reverb to create ambience.The album covers more ground than you might imagine. Built For Two is the classic sound of a Lego build: the painstaking search for the right piece typified by bricks being scraped across baseplates and the swish of elements being brushed left and right, but it is essentially abstract noise. Searching For the One (Brick), on the other hand, has a tangible structure. A hand rustles through a chaos of elements and then plinks a single piece on to a separate pile at distinct intervals (a process definitely enhanced by sequencing and looping). So there are two unique “song” styles on this album – that’s the same number as Oasis featured on their debut and one more than the Libertines achieved in their entire career, so who are we to say this isn’t music?Manokaran says each track “has a ‘formula’ and utilises a family of bricks that have similar audio qualities” but stops short of describing them as actual music, preferring the comparison to nature sounds – a wildly popular YouTube phenomenon for recordings of rivers, gentle breezes and rainfall, valued for their relaxing and often sleep-promoting properties.The “but is it music?” question that can be levelled at Lego White Noise is at least a century old itself. Italian futurist Luigi Russolo published The Art of Noise in 1913, claiming that in the age of industrialisation and modern warfare the orchestra was redundant and should be replaced with an “infinite variety of noise sounds”. Erik Satie coined the term Furniture Music the following year, an early precursor to what Brian Eno termed ambient in 1978, a liminal music intended for ignoring as much as enjoying. When Edgard Varèse described his own work as “organised sound” in 1966, he was only giving elegant echo to the ideas first dreamed up by French composer Pierre Schaeffer and his GRMC unit 25 years earlier when they first conceived of musique concrète – the practice of assembling recorded sounds as a form of composition.The affordable sampler has since created a handful of notable noise maestros including Matmos, who have created work by recording such varied sound sources as a washing machine and silicone breast implants; and Katie Gately who has used an MRI scanner as an instrument. Even the idea of making music using children’s toys is not unique, as they have long featured in the kit of veteran improvisers such as David Toop and Steve Beresford, not to mention Rie Nakajima, a favourite at east London experimental haunt Cafe Oto who, if memory serves correctly, I once saw playing a solo on a set of wind-up teeth at a Norwegian arts festival.There are many parallels between Lego White Noise and music I genuinely love. The track The Waterfall, created by thousands of elements being poured out of a huge tub reminds me of one of my favourite ever gig moments: watching Einstürzende Neubauten perform the song Unvollständigkeit and at the climax, spill a seemingly never ending stream of glittering metal rods out of a hopper on to a microphone, creating a delightful shiver of sound. In this sense, the Lego music has definite ASMR properties, the pleasant tingling sensation and euphoria triggered by specific visual and sonic triggers.John Doran and his son after a successful Lego project. Photograph: Maria JefferisI enjoy listening to Lego White Noise for much more fundamental reasons, though. My son turned 10 last week and this milestone birthday arrived with a dawning, bittersweet realisation. Over the last decade I had been blithely convinced I was helping him cement permanent joyful memories when we played together, whereas I was probably just creating Proustian triggers for myself, which will only become fully activated after he leaves home. I tried to engage him in a conversation about Thomas the Tank Engine yesterday only to discover that his memory of the show, despite an overwhelmingly intense four-year obsession with it, is now cursory at best.I feel that there is a greater chance of him clearly remembering the happiness Lego brought him, however, because of how it appeals directly to the senses, from its bright colours to its sharp-edged utilitarian design (those who have trodden on it while barefoot might disagree with this point).And most of all, because Lego sounds unique. This peculiar audio signature is due to the material it is made from: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS. It has to be light enough to facilitate the building of complex towering structures, resilient enough to withstand constant reuse, and easy enough to mould to great degrees of accuracy. The resulting sonic properties are closer to glass or porcelain than most common plastics.But plastic it is, and the knowledge that 600 billion Lego pieces have been produced to date, comes with a significant sense of disquiet. Lego has given itself a deadline of 2030 to devise a more eco-friendly alternative to ABS. When the new Lego turns up in eight years’ time will it sound the same? I suspect this probably isn’t a priority for the company and that, unfortunately, it won’t. Perhaps Lego White Noise will ultimately end up a work of hauntology, a valuable sonic document evoking happy cultural memories of childhoods, and parenthoods, via sounds now in danger of being altered for good.







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Leigh-Anne Pinnock of Little Mix: ‘Being Black is my power. I want young Black girls to see that’ | Music From “World news | The Guardian”



Leigh-Anne Pinnock has been living the pop star dream ever since she was 19 and stepped on to a stage to audition for The X Factor, singing Rihanna’s Only Girl (In the World). She has now spent almost a decade in one of the UK’s biggest girl groups. But she had a difficult start with Little Mix, and not because she didn’t get on with her bandmates. She felt “invisible”, and would regularly cry in front of her manager. “I just couldn’t seem to find my place, and didn’t know why,” she said in a magazine interview in 2018. “I didn’t feel like I had as many fans as the other girls. It was a strange feeling.” She had, at that point, finally realised what the trouble was. “I know there are girls of colour out there who have felt the same as me,” she said. “We have a massive problem with racism, which is built into our society.”If she expected the interview to change anything, she was disappointed. “I really did feel as if it fell on closed ears,” she says today, speaking from the Surrey mansion she shares with her footballer fiance, Andre Gray. “It was almost like people just weren’t ready to talk about race then.”Now she is giving it another go, as she fronts a BBC Three documentary, Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power. “The majority of the film is me talking about my experiences, being the darkest member of my band in my very white pop world,” she says. “I really wanted people to see that just because I’m successful doesn’t mean I’m not going to be affected by racism.”My parents didn’t say: ‘Look, life is going to be hard for you because you’re mixed-race’The documentary was shot over the course of 2020, a year in which the convergence of George Floyd’s murder and Covid-19 lockdowns provided many people with an unusual amount of time to reflect on the racism within society. Pinnock’s own intervention, a five-minute video posted on Instagram, went viral in June, with 3.5m views. As well as sending her condolences to “George Floyd’s family and all the other families who have lost someone due to police brutality and racism”, she talked about the loneliness she felt while touring in “predominantly white” countries. “I sing to fans who don’t see me or hear me or cheer me on,” she said. “My reality is feeling anxious before fan events or signings because I always feel like I’m the least favoured. My reality is constantly feeling like I have to work 10 times harder and longer to mark my place in the group because my talent alone isn’t enough.”The documentary grew out of a conversation over dinner with old schoolfriends the previous year. “Leigh-Anne opened up to me, for the first time, really, about how she’d been feeling about her experiences in the band,” says Tash Gaunt, a documentary-maker who has worked with the BBC and Channel 4. “She was having a series of quite painful realisations about how profoundly racist the world is, and if she identifies [an issue] she wants to go and do something about it.” The two joined forces, and 2020’s summer of Black Lives Matter (BLM) activism gave them a renewed sense of mission. “We always wanted to make something that was knotty, and really challenged the audience,” says Gaunt. “Something that leaned in to the difficult conversations, rather than sidestepping them.”Jade Thirlwall, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Perrie Edwards and Jesy Nelson on The X Factor in 2011. Photograph: Ken McKay/Talkback Thames/Rex/ShutterstockIn one early scene, Pinnock literally leans into a conversation at a London BLM protest, and asks how the young activists think she should be using her Little Mix platform. They tell her she should educate herself and speak out. Later, she reproaches Gray for a series of tweets that he wrote before they met, describing them as “a blatant example of colourism”. She also sits down with her parents – both of whom were raised by a Black father and a white mother – to discuss racial identity. (“I identify as John Pinnock,” says her dad, bluntly.)Race wasn’t discussed much at home in High Wycombe when Pinnock and her two sisters were growing up. Her father (a mechanic) and mother (a teacher) “were both brought up in Caribbean households so, in turn, we were brought up in a Caribbean household, but they didn’t have ‘the talk’ with us. They didn’t say: ‘Look, life is going to be hard for you because you’re mixed race.’”She didn’t encounter any racism at her Buckinghamshire secondary school, which she describes as “very multicultural”, and looking back she understands her parents’ desire to insulate their children from the wider world. However, she says: “If we had had that talk, I would probably have been better equipped for when I got put into the group.”After so long as a Black woman in the public eye, Pinnock was prepared for the kind of angry reaction that the documentary has already received from people who, as she puts it, “do not want to understand racism, don’t care about racism. They never have and they never will.” Yet no sooner had the project been announced than a backlash of a different sort began. The working title, Leigh-Anne: Colourism & Race, led some to conclude that Pinnock would be holding forth on skin-tone-based discrimination within communities of colour, in a way that was oblivious to her own light-skinned privilege.It’s a criticism that she wants to address head-on. “I know my privilege, and what I explore in the film is the fact that if I were some shades darker, I probably wouldn’t even be here.” Nor was the decision to include the voices of dark-skinned Black women a hasty attempt to muffle criticism: “It was definitely always the plan, 100%. We know already there is not enough representation of dark-skinned women in the media – that’s just a fact.”When Pinnock needed support through all this, she could call on bandmate and bestie, Jade Thirlwall, who has Egyptian and Yemeni heritage on her mother’s side. “It has definitely helped – having someone close to me, who I’m with 24/7 – who just gets it and understands.” She had another sounding board in her former bandmate Jesy Nelson, who announced her departure from Little Mix in December 2020, saying being in a pop group “had taken a toll on my mental health”. In 2019, Nelson had made her own BBC Three documentary about online bullying and body-image issues. “I spoke to her about how it was for her,” says Pinnock. “Being open and being vulnerable is such a hard thing to do.”With Jade Thirlwall in Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power. Photograph: A/BBC/DragonflyLittle Mix have just released their first single as a trio, Confetti ft Saweetie, and while the arc of pop history bends inexorably towards solo projects, after nearly a decade their union seems unusually robust. Perhaps this is because, having started out as soloists, before The X Factor threw them together, Little Mix have held space within the group to do their own thing. “That’s who we’ve always been,” agrees Pinnock. “So it makes sense that now that we’re a lot more grown up, a lot more educated, that we all individually have things we stand for.” Bandmate Perrie Edwards, for example, has teased the launch of a mysterious new brand called Disora, and Thirlwall has made forays into TV presenting. There are apparently limits to this freedom, though. Can Pinnock imagine Little Mix writing songs that address the issues of her film? “I can imagine me writing something about it …”In March, she hired a PR agency to oversee her solo endeavours. “I’m just excited to let people see Leigh-Anne, and not just the girl from Little Mix, y’know?” Aside from the documentary, and the all-but-inevitable music releases, these projects include In‘A’Seashell, the swimwear brand she co-founded with another old schoolfriend, an anti-racism charity called the Black Fund, and the romantic comedy Boxing Day, in which she stars alongside Aml Ameen (Simon in I May Destroy You), who also writes and directs.Pinnock hopes to make “a film a year”, in future, with action roles holding a particular allure: “Maybe I can be, like, a Black Lara Croft?” she says, playfully swinging her Croft-esque high plait. Ameen’s film, though, was the perfect choice for her screen debut. She can relate to the depiction of a lively British-Caribbean family, and also to the celebration of Black love. “Andre is like my backbone. If I didn’t have someone like that through this experience, I don’t know what I would have done. We’ve always had amazing talks about [experiencing racism], from when we’ve met.” Gray is very into Black history, to the extent that his whole back is a tattooed tribute to icons including Bob Marley, Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King Jr. “I love how pro-Black he is,” says Pinnock. “It’s inspiring for me.”It’s already been decided that Little Mix won’t perform when Pinnock and Gray tie the knot next year (“Oh, God, no! They’re coming to enjoy it! No way!”), but add wedding planning to all Pinnock’s professional commitments, and her plate seems stress-inducingly full. When it all gets too much, she can be found listening to R&B slow jams in the bath or reading one of her pile of social and political theory books. Currently, it’s Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, which doesn’t sound very relaxing. “I don’t really read fiction. It’s always educational with me. I still feel like it’s switching off, though, because it’s just me and my book.”She owes at least part of her recent activism to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. “It was like: ‘Whoa! I’m not on my own!’ I think, because I was in this bubble for so long – this Little Mix white world – I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did.”This process of self-education isn’t usually excitingly visual, but in her documentary, Pinnock demonstrates a natural flair for externalising emotion and thought. In one remarkable part, she brings together women of colour from across British pop – founding Sugababe, Keisha Buchanan; 2008 winner of The X Factor, Alexandra Burke; R&B soul artist Nao; singer-songwriter Raye – to share their experiences. It’s like a group therapy session, full of healing, as well as breakthrough moments, such as when Buchanan confronts Pinnock with a thought that seems to momentarily knock her off balance: “They were looking for a minority to be in [Little Mix] to sell records because, let’s be honest, it makes it a little bit cooler,” says Buchanan. “Of course, being mixed race, the more you look like a white person, it’s more acceptable and palatable.”‘There’s only so much you can take of feeling like you are the invisible one, or you’re being overlooked.’ Photograph: Richard Ansett/BBC/DragonflyPart of Pinnock’s journey is this dawning realisation that while her Blackness is seen as synonymous with cool credibility, and commodified as such by her industry, Black artists rarely get the support they deserve when they encounter racism.Pinnock was ready and willing to bring these issues to the heads of her label, Sony Music, but, after some negotiation, they declined to appear on camera. How does she think Sony will react to the documentary? “I’ll be dropped!” she says. It’s a joke, but an anxious one. “No … erm … I am a little bit nervous, but I feel like there isn’t really much they can say.” She points out that Sony has set up various initiatives in response to BLM activism, committing $100m (£72m) to anti-racist causes in June 2020. “So that’s all very positive.” All the same, her frustration that these people – for whom she feels loyalty and affection – have let slip an opportunity to lead by example is audible: “I would hear people say, like: ‘Yeah, but you have to understand, this is very sensitive and this is hard for people to come on [camera], and what if they say the wrong thing?’ And I’m like: ‘Argh! This is not what this is about, though! We are trying to make a change.’”Pinnock herself has been changed in a way that is both immense and irreversible. “There’s only so much you can take of feeling like you are the invisible one, or you’re being overlooked. There had to come a point where I see this as my power and I now do. It is. Being Black is my power. And I want young Black girls around the world to see that.“One of the reasons I didn’t want to speak at the beginning was because I was so scared of offending [Little Mix fans] and losing them,” she continues. “But I just thought: this is not about me. The reason that I am here, in this position, is for me to speak out and do something.” Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power is on BBC Three on iPlayer from 6am on Thursday 13 May, and on BBC One at 9pm the same day.







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‘My energy comes from optimism’: the hopeful music of spring 2021 | Music From “World news | The Guardian”



Ashley MonroeI started writing songs after my father died when I was 13. I used music to release the sadness that was flooding my heart and held on to my guitar like it was a float in an ocean. As an artist, I’ve always wanted to provoke chills, because to me that means I’ve connected with the spirit that’s giving me the music.I’ve become known as a purveyor of sad songs, but this album is different. Life and motherhood have changed me. I’ve realised that so many things I used to lose sleep about don’t really matter. Melodies were coming to me that sounded heavenly and blissful. Long chapters of my life have been very hard, so I thought, what if I just freeze, y’know, this joy?It’s not as if I skip round the house singing a happy song all day. We’re in a pandemic and I know people are hurting. Everyone’s affected by sadness and it’s so heavy and I just want to help people escape that, even for 37 minutes. In the darkest moment, there is always light, even if it’s just inside yourself. Ashley Monroe’s new album Rosegold is released 30 April on Thirty TigersAshley Monroe: Groove – videoDamon Locks, Black Monument EnsembleDuring the summer, around the uprisings following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, people were returning to [Black Monument Ensemble’s 2019 album] Where Future Unfolds. All these difficulties have always been here, but what I was talking about [on that record] we were living every day. My question was, what would Black Monument say now? It would be about imagining what’s next, what’s possible. There’s always a chance to do something that hasn’t been done before.The challenge was, how do I record it? When you have six vocalists, a clarinettist, a drummer and percussion, that’s a lot of breath. It is so comforting to work together but not knowing what was safe was intense. I was worried about the absence of rehearsals and performing, but the electricity of being together again took over. The second day of rehearsal was also the anniversary of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington and the death of Emmett Till, so we had conversations about that. That night, Chadwick Boseman passed away. It was a swirling emotional moment.When I was a kid, I felt very anti-establishment. I was drawn to punk and things that were apocalyptic – Blade Runner, Escape From New York, Mad Max – because we were heading in this direction. Now we’ve been living in the apocalypse, being anti-establishment is popular. I can’t deal with what’s popular. I go in the other direction. So I found myself being very hopeful and very positive. That is what I need to be as an artist in order to survive and create. Or it’s just the punk rocker in me. Damon Locks – Black Monument Ensemble’s album Now is out now on International AnthemDamon Locks – Black Monument Ensemble: Now (Forever Momentary Space) – videoRostamMy life between 22 and 30 was always about making the next album and rolling into the next tour. I never took vacations. Then, starting in 2014, I actually had time to do things during the summer and it changed me. I’d left Vampire Weekend but it was not announced publicly for a couple of years. Then in 2015 I met a guy on a park bench who said: “Change is good. Go with it.” That really resonated with me.Rostam, foreground, with Henry Solomon. Photograph: Olivia BeeMy album Changephobia is about resisting our fear of change. I feel like Covid and global warming are connected symptoms of a careless world. In the next decade, we’re going to have to unlearn a lot of the things we believed were OK to do to the environment. I was thinking a lot about gender and the realisation that a younger generation haven’t been poisoned by this adherence to gender that I certainly felt as someone growing up in the 90s. Homophobia, transphobia and racism are rooted in fear of the unknown and of change.As societies we’re in denial that we have these problems, but over the last year I’ve felt hopeful. Covid has pushed us apart but really connected us. Our lives are going to have to become different, but I think positively. Rostam’s new album Changephobia is released 4 June on Matsor ProjectsJosh Lloyd-Watson, JungleWe were due to release an album when Covid put the brakes on everything. Then I got what turned out to be long Covid, which has been a nightmare. I’ve had everything from extreme tiredness to problems breathing to tinnitus. I stopped working, smoking, drinking and did a total reset.It’s been a weird time for everyone, but the one thing about the pandemic is that it’s given us time to think. We live in an age of individualism, which has taken us away from community, and that community is the only thing that can save us from globalisation, which is pulling us all apart. The pandemic has given everyone the chance to look at themselves and how we’re all connected, and what we value in our lives.Our last album was a heartbreak album, with slow songs, but since then I fell in love. For the new album, we picked the songs with the most energy that felt most uplifting. The first two, Dry Your Tears and Keep Moving, are like mantras. We’ve made an album for large gatherings of people, with the aim of bringing everyone together. Jungle’s new album Loving in Stereo is released 13 August on CaiolaJungle: Keep Moving – videoEsperanza SpaldingSince last February, I had been in conversation with colleagues who were approaching music from a therapeutic context: doctors, paediatricians, music therapists, neuroscientists. When the pandemic hit, we started to ask more about what’s been shown in music to support stress relief and started exploring the connections between immune health and stress.[For Triangle], we drew from raga, Sufism, and of course, the lineage of Black American music. There’s no way to separate the technology of this music from its intended effect, which is healing, liberation and bringing us together. We knew we couldn’t create a musical antidote to the virus itself, but we wanted to see what we could offer to support people using music as a medium.We’ve been stuck at home, often feeling trapped, stalled, held physically, psychologically and spatially. As someone sharing this lived reality, I had to ask myself, “What is my suffering, and how can I imagine music responding to that?” That went into the album. Each song came from my personal recognition of what I would need. And I think that’s a driving force in a lot of people’s music: asking ourselves what it is we need. Esperanza Spalding’s new album Triangle is out now on ConcordEsperanza Spalding: Formwela 1 – videoBen Garrett, FryarsI don’t believe in making music that is solely melancholy because in the worst situations we make jokes. Conversely, when something is really positive, there’s often an undercurrent of cynicism or sadness. While I was making my third album, God Melodies, a friend killed themselves and another came close. The song Your Parade is about the feeling of being around people who are like runaway trains. You want to help them but they’re on that road. I wanted to make something positive from it. The whole album celebrates the impacts that people have and the idea that, whether big or small, they carry on reverberating throughout the ether, where God Melodies come from. The song Wonder sums up the album. One line comes from an Iris Apfel interview in the Guardian where she says of life, “In wonder it begins and in wonder it ends”. I love that. Fryars’ new album God Melodies is released 16 July on FictionFryars: God Melodies – videoBillie MartenI did think putting music out during the pandemic could be seen as insensitive, but I thought back to the beginning of it – I immediately focused on positive things that can make you feel better. This album came off the back of that feeling.Billie Marten. Photograph: Kaie SilvesterI started releasing music in my mid-teens. You’re not really sure who you are at that age. Music always aligned with this sense of melancholy. This time, after having a break from music [and leaving Sony], I wanted to get up on stage and not feel like I had to subscribe to that character.Leaving a major label, it felt like I got some of my soul back. I was the smallest fish in the pond and I was made very aware of that, which meant my voice got smaller and smaller. Demos I made by myself weren’t given any attention. It was: “Please go in with this producer” – usually male. It’s difficult to respect yourself when other people don’t. If you start reflecting positive things, I feel like that gets you further and people still take you seriously. I signed to Fiction over lockdown, which I wouldn’t have done if not for taking that time out and realising what I wanted.When I sang, “I wanna be alive” [on Garden of Eden], it felt like a breakthrough. I was picturing what spring felt like. Nature is my one source of connection. One day the song just fell out of my mouth. It’s a line you can follow to understand that that’s possible – that type of music can make you feel a different way. Billie Marten’s new album Flora Fauna is released on 21 May on FictionRipley Johnson, Rose City BandWe were flying from Berlin to Portugal on tour and had just checked in our bags when the WHO announced a global pandemic. It was very chaotic. Getting home and shutting the door was surreal. The idea that all of a sudden you have all this free time to work is paralysing for a lot of people. Being home, we felt really lucky that Portland’s close to nature, though we had these terrible wildfires. The album title is Earth Trip – to me, it felt like the Earth was trying to tell us something, if it wasn’t already. In nature there’s so much beauty and so much devastation at the same time. I took a lot from that.I use music as a soothing mechanism and that was definitely an idea: this will come out during quarantine and maybe people will get something out of it. I always have that utilitarian mindset. A lot of my energy comes from optimism. I’m not naturally outgoing so when I talk about using positive energy to fuel anything that I do creatively, it’s because I am an introvert. I spent years not doing anything, not being able to get out of my own way. I was in my mid-30s when Wooden Shjips started happening. To me it’s testament to what you can do when you’re passionate about something. Rose City Band’s new album Earth Trip is released 25 June on Thrill JockeyRose City Band: Lonely Places – videoElkkaWriting this EP during [the pandemic] gave me a different perspective on euphoria because it was laced with nostalgia. It made me think about what made me feel euphoric through my writing – warmth and feeling completely free. As a kid, I wasn’t comfortable with who I was so I wasn’t able to let go. Coming to London and coming out let me feel free and safe. With music, I found myself by producing. Euphoric melodies feel right because I feel comfortable in my life.The first night in London I felt that was at an Avalon Emerson gig. We partied all night and ended up in a studio. I miss those moments. I wonder, as you get older, do you have less access to them? Losing a year of that was quite hard, but I am hopeful that we’ll get it back. Taking a minute to appreciate that isn’t a bad thing either. Elkka’s new EP Euphoric Melodies is released 21 May on TechnicolourElkka: Burnt Orange – video In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counsellor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org







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