Music Team Spotlight #9

Our latest roundup of music news, events and entertainment is packed with plenty to help keep you up to speed with anything you may have missed this month, whether you're in the UK or further afield. We point towards a variety of audio, articles, events and films that we've enjoyed or found useful and the theme of Black History Month weaves through a lot of these choices – October is Black History Month in the UK. We hope you enjoy them too. Our own Black History Month playlist celebrates just some of our personal, favourite black British artists.

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Entertainment Spotlight

What to watch

Cathy: On Saturday, I was delighted to attend a live performance of two new operas by four female composers on the main stage of the Royal Opera House. It was a deeply moving experience to be back in the Royal Opera House and there was a real buzz in the auditorium despite the social distancing. The good news is it is also available to stream on demand (for 30 days after) at a modest cost. 

The evening was a sobering reflection on issues that are uppermost in all our minds at the moment, delivered by superb artists.

Hannah Kendall’s one-act chamber opera The Knife of Dawn tells the gripping story of Guyanese political activist and poet Martin Carter as he reaches the twenty-eighth – and most critical – day of his hunger strike in protest at British rule. Kendall and librettist Tessa McWatt, who share their Guyanese heritage with Carter, have created a chamber opera of great beauty and intricacy for small Orchestra – while break-through director Ola Ince creates a visionary, total theatre production for the Royal Opera House stage. New Dark Age, directed by Katie Mitchell, joins music by three of the most exciting contemporary composers – Anna Meredith, Missy Mazzoli and Anna Thorvaldsdottir – in a breath-taking multi-media experience, as three outstanding soloists perform both onstage and on video in a specially created film by renowned movie-maker Grant Gee. Hypnotic vocal sounds, driving electronic music and mesmeric visuals demand our engagement in the big questions of the current moment – where are we at? And where might we go from here? The evening was a sobering reflection on issues that are uppermost in all our minds at the moment, delivered by superb artists. The resonance of our Covid-controlled existence in New Dark Age will particularly stay with me for a very long time. Thank you ROH.

Above: Royal Opera House. Photo credit: Dave Rutt (CC BY-NC-SA-2.0)


Leah: Nineteen Ways of Looking – a new ‘Instagram opera’ by composer and Musicians in Residence alumnus Jasmin Kent Rodgman – will respond to the portrayal of and prejudice displayed towards people of Chinese and East Asian heritage in the West during the Covid-19 pandemic. Commissioned by Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Arts and Chinese Arts Now, it is designed as a multidisciplinary performance to be presented and experienced specifically on social media platforms. The work will explore nineteen different perspectives on the pandemic that relate to isolation, media and mental health. Watch online from 17 November.


Cathy: I strongly recommend taking a listen to recent TV and radio documentaries such as BBC4’s Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History, and the three episodes of History of Black Music with composer Eleanor Alberga (available on BBC Sounds). You will be enriched and also appalled by how these voices were silenced.

Leah: Heart n Soul’s popular Beautiful Octopus Club returns for a festival of online events across November. Expect DJ sets, live music, art exhibitions, meditation and soundscapes, ‘Baking with Beyonce’ (!) and a Heart n Soul x Soho Radio Takeover. Heart n Soul champions the power and creative talent of people with learning disabilities and no-one does it quite like them. They say: ‘Dance, laugh, get creative and immerse yourself in our world. Because getting together makes everyone feel better.’ Also check out Heart n Soul at The Hub, their research residency at Wellcome Collection, bringing together artists, scientists, researchers and clinicians to uncover new insights into the lives of people with autism and learning disabilities.

Cathy: It is a joy to see that the South Bank Centre has reopened with a BLM-inspired season which includes 15 new commissions, all from composers of colour: Adolphus Hailstork, Avril Coleridge-Taylor, Courtney Bryan, Dai Fujikura, Errollyn Wallen, Fela Sowande, George Lewis, Hannah Kendall, Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Jimmy López, Joel Thompson, Joseph Boulogne, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Tania León. Increasingly, programming is changing for our classical orchestras and ensembles. It is very welcome and something which can only make for a richer musical experience for all of us.

Michael: Following on from the Windrush Suite earlier in the Year, London’s Vortex Jazz Club present Renell Shaw’s new work Echo in the Bones, a musical journey of Black experiences through history, with guest performers including Cassie Kinoshi and Orphy Robinson. Catch the live stream on 31 October.

Tom: Anyone who’s familiar with Doctor Who may recognise the name Delia Derbyshire as composer of the programme’s iconic theme tune. Delia Derbyshire – The Myth’s and Legendary Tapes, which premieres at the BFI London Film Festival, begins with the discovery of over 260 tapes and journals and traces the life and influences of this pioneering composer who led a ground-breaking career through her work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The film’s soundtrack comes from performance artist and musician, Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle and COUM Transmissions fame. While the film is sadly no longer available on the BFI player you can read more here or watch our own film, made with FACT magazine, called Sonic Futures which charts the evolution of music and tech from Delia Derbyshire onwards.

Cathy: Here is a series of videos for music makers to watch about how to approach writing music which features Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, Yazz Ahmed, Brian Eno and Cassie Kinoshi.


What to listen to

Stephen: This month, our own Selector Radio show has been catching up with some of the titans of recent Black British music history to hear their stories. Host Jamz Supernova has spoken with Trevor Nelson, Norman Jay and Manchester's DJ Paulette over the past three weeks. Catch the final part of this series on Friday 30 October at

Stephen: Last month Nubya Garcia released her new album, Source. Speaking to Line of Best Fit, she revealed how a trip with the British Council to Colombia led her to work with vocalist and percussionist Diana Sanmiguel: ‘I fan-girled hard and was like “I’d love to do something with you ... if you’d like”’. The result can be heard on the new album.


What to read

Katie: PRS’s M Magazine has invited various Guest Editors this October to commission interesting pieces for Black History Month. Here’s a look at some of the black British female songwriters who have shaped UK music.

Stephen: 'The antiquated perception of a composer as a "dead, white male" can be put to bed once and for all' says this article from BBC Music and it is packed with music to enjoy. To mark Black History Month, they tell a ‘brief history’ of black classical music. For those short on time to delve into the full History of Black Music programme on the BBC (recommended by Cathy above) this is a great place to start. ‘In an ideal world,’ says composer Eleanor Alberga, ‘culture should be engendered by environment, not forced by listeners’ expectations of composers reaching into their DNA and plucking out a spiritual here, or an Asian pentatonic trope there.’

Joel: This inspiring Guardian piece tells the amazing story of the Adenuga Family, whose four siblings are better known to the music world as Skepta, JME, Julie and Jason. Ify Adenuga is no doubt one proud Mum.


Festivals Spotlight

Cathy: This year sees the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music recreate itself as a three-day online event. It’s been developed to feel as much like the live event as possible which inevitably involves moving around multiple venues. There are works that respond creatively to the new digital medium that is such a huge part of our lives now. There are live-streamed concerts thanks again to BBC Radio 3, stalwarts who have provided so many live-streamed events for us in our Covid-restricted world. Listening, watching, experiencing are all recommended! Discover the hmcf// programme here.

Delegates from around the world will be focusing on the global challenges facing artist communities and cultural organisations, sharing examples of how artists and cultural leaders are responding positively to the situation through their work

Our Music team at the British Council is working in partnership with the festival in a new series of three events telling stories from across the world of new music. Delegates from around the world will be focusing on the global challenges facing artist communities and cultural organisations, sharing examples of how artists and cultural leaders are responding positively to the situation through their work, and looking to the future to new ways of working collaboratively across borders.

Joel: The EFG London Jazz Festival is on the near horizon and this annual event will be a hybrid festival this year – a mix of live shows with live audiences, and digital concerts, Living in Two Worlds. It’s crammed with an array of talent from Friday 13 November – Sunday 22 November ...

Stephen: ... So much to enjoy as ever at the jazz fest this year whether you are able to attend a socially-distanced show in person or join the audience online. To pick out just one artist to look out for seems ridiculous but I will anyway: saxophonist Binker Golding, for me, is one of the UK's most exciting talents and he will take to the stage at Kings Place on 21 November with bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble for a night of wholly improvised free jazz. Binker also features in our Black History Month playlist and the launch video below for the London Jazz Festival where he speaks eloquently about hearing the legendary Evan Parker on the BBC and it helping to spark his interest in making jazz.


Music Awards Spotlight

Leah: The 2019 NI Music Prize (Northern Ireland Music Prize) was awarded to Ryan Vail and Elma Orkestra for their collaboration, Borders. 12 new albums are shortlisted for this year’s prize from artists including Arborist, Junk Drawer, Kitt Philippa and The Darkling Air. With Covid-19 having had such a devastating effect on live music, the organisers considered dropping the Best Live Act award, ‘but this felt almost like giving up on what we know will return when there is a safe opportunity’. We’re glad they didn’t give up! Public voting is open across several categories, with winners announced on 12 November.

Cathy: On 14 October, the shortlist for the Royal Philharmonic Society annual awards for classical music was announced. As the RPS itself says: ‘At this critical time, there has never been a more important moment to champion the worth of classical music. The shortlist illuminates the vital role that classical music plays, inspiring and empowering countless lives nationwide’. Particularly of note this year is a new award, the Inspiration Award, where nominations have been open to the public for the first time, to celebrate musical initiatives that have inspired the nation during lockdown. There were an astounding 2,671 nominations! Six winners will be announced at the 2020 RPS Awards digital broadcast at Wednesday 18 November, 19.00 UK time on the RPS website. Musicians and organisations that our own Music team has had the pleasure of working with feature on the shortlist, including the Scottish Ensemble (Ensemble category), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for their STROKESTRA project, The Irene Taylor Trust (both in the Impact category), the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (Concert Series and Events) and Timothy Ridout (Young Artist) who most recently performed in Krasnoyarsk as part of the UK Russia Year of Music. We wish everyone on the shortlist the warmest congratulations and thanks for keeping the classical music flame alive!

There has never been a more important moment to champion the worth of classical music

Stephen: Not traditional ‘music awards’ but the belated announcement of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list – delayed to October due to Covid-19 – included honours for a number of notable UK music people. Much too modest to mention this herself, our own Director for Music at the British Council, Cathy Graham, receives an OBE for ‘services to music and cultural relations’ – a testament to her tenacity and deep passion for music which has helped her to support innumerable artists, orchestras, organisations and international collaborations ...

Cathy: … We were also delighted to see awards for tenor John Mark Ainsley, composer Sally Beamish, oboist Nicholas Daniel, conductor Jan Latham-Koenig, violinist Jennifer Pike, MC, rapper, songwriter and record producer Dizzee Rascal, rapper and singer Lady Leshurr, and Bill Bankes-Jones, Artistic Director of Tête-à-Tête Opera Company, and Sarah Bowern, Deputy Head of the English National Opera’s Costume Department, one of the sector’s Covid heroes. Congratulations everyone!


Spotlight on Music and Covid-19

Does streaming work for you? Photo credit: Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Stephen: The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee – a cross-party committee of MPs appointed to scrutinise the UK Government – have asked a question that has been hotly debated for a long time: ‘do the economics of music streaming work for everyone?’ They have launched an enquiry and they are looking for responses across the music industry. Given Covid-19’s impact on the live music sector, depriving many musicians of much or all of their usual income, the monetisation of recorded music should rightly come under sharper focus. It will be interesting to see what the Committee concludes and where this enquiry will lead.

Stephen: This month the Association of Independent Festivals announced that - together with The Events Industry Forum, Attitude is Everything, Public Health England and others - they were launching new Covid-19 planning guidance for festivals: ‘The aim is to assist festival organisers, local authorities and other industry parties in assessing risk levels and planning based on a flexible, pragmatic and realistic approach to the current pandemic.’


Going International

Michael: Here is a fascinating series of pan-African discussions about music and fashion bringing together perspectives from South America, Africa and the UK. These conversations were produced in partnership between the British Council and the Festival de Música del Pacifico Petronio Álvarez in Cali, Colombia. The two music panels explore the topic of festivals and the broader music scene, with UK speakers including: Paul Duhaney (Africa Oyé), Justin McKenzie (Jazz Re:freshed) and our own Jamz Supernova (Selector Radio, BBC 1Xtra). All sessions have subtitles in English, Spanish and Portuguese.