This month, we’re celebrating Black History Month. As the month comes to a close, we wanted to look at how black culture has claimed its place in modern society.
Throughout recent history especially, black culture has left an indelible mark on society in an incredibly positive way. Looking back, a large number of touchpoints can be found in which black culture has set precedents and altered the future of popular culture for generations to come.
In the 1940s and 50s, acts such as Howlin Wolf, B.B. King and Muddy Waters brought blues music to prominence in America and laid the foundation for rock ‘n’ roll acts such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Sammy Davis Jr who soundtracked a post-war boom and inspired bands who would follow such as The Beatles and Elvis Presley.
Around this time the UK was experiencing what is now known as Windrush, in which from 1948 to 1971, immigration increased from Caribbean countries caused by an advert posted in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago for reduced price travel to Britain after the Second World War and a promise of a better life and guaranteed work in the recently founded NHS and National Rail services.
Those that made the journey brought entire new forms of music with them such as Calypso, that became embedded in the cultural landscape, especially in places like London. But more on this later..
Back across the Atlantic, Motown came sweeping down from 1960s Detroit bringing Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye to a global audience and sparking a love so strong that the UK music industry would replicate the sound through its own Northern Soul offshoot in the north of England.
We then jump forward into the 1970s and witness the birth of hip hop in The Bronx, New York that grew out of people emceeing over music at house parties and outdoor block parties. Created in an environment of post-industrialist poverty, pioneers like DJ Kool Herc developed the use of ‘break beats’ which in short was using two turntables to switch back and forth between two copies of the same record to extend the incredibly popular drum breaks.
In the following years, hip hop has taken a deep root in American culture and created a creative powerhouse unlike any other from history, the foundations of which lie in the decades of blues, rock and soul before it.
Over in the UK, black music has had a monumental impact on British culture. The Windrush generation and Northern Soul were substantial turning points in UK music, laying the foundations and slowly developing into drum and bass, dubstep, urban and garage music in the early 2000s amongst others. Black British music truly flourished with acts like Craig David, Estelle, So Solid Crew, and MCs such as Klashnekoff and Skinnyman making huge waves in the industry. MTV Base and Channel U on British TV gave this new rush of artists platforms to reach a mainstream audience and linked a series of disconnected scenes to entire communities of new fans.
Towards the end of this period, grime music began to gain popularity led by Wiley and Dizzee Rascal amongst others and quickly found mass-market appeal, commercialising what was once a firmly underground, organic scene.
Around this time, with the mass use of the internet and a more connected world, music spread more quickly between countries and this brings us through to the modern era in which consumers listen to music from a huge variety of places. This has brought new inspirations to the UK and wider music industry and merged sounds that in the past would have taken entire generations to meet. Acts like Kanye West and Drake are as common in UK charts as Skepta and Jorja Smith, and Drake has been quoted as having ‘fallen in love’ with the UK.
One great example of this new merge of sounds is from ACC patron and alumni, Ed Sheeran, who’s biggest single to date ‘Shape of You’ that took inspiration from Jamaican Dancehall and West African Afrobeat was the top selling song of 2017 in the UK and the second best-selling digital song worldwide.
There are now fewer international boundaries in music, and that can only be a great thing. Arguably, at least some of the credit for this blurring of musical borders should be given to those from the past mentioned above.
In 2021, black culture is celebrated more than ever and has spread into our music taste, fashion and even our use of language. The subject has a rich and deep history that you can follow through decades of past generations and is a success story based on years of working in spite of a society that was trying to shut them out. That it is now so heavily entrenched in our present, inspiring entire communities, trends and behaviours, is a true achievement and testament to the efforts to claim space in the world of pop culture, and something that we should all be proud of and inspired by.