Letter #119

12.06.20
Hello,

How are you? I hope you and your friends and family are all safe, and healthy.

The response I got from last week’s letter was immense (and pretty intense too). Thank you, and thank you for clicking on so many of the links I shared. It makes me proud to be part of a community like this, but please we have to keep it going. This isn’t a done-once-and-forgotten subject. Keep talking, voting, petition-signing, emailing MPs, reading, learning, listening, watching. It’s not enough to be ‘not racist’. We have to actively anti-racist. This is a drum that I will keep beating. I will not be silent, and I want you to stand up too.

We have a wonderful guest editor this week – Stefan Shillingford – who I met through agency life years ago, after bonding over a love of NightSlugs and wild creative thinking. Stefan has put together an incredible guest letter and mixtape, and as well as talking about his experience as a Black British man, shares some amazing links and stories about his selections too. It’s a classic. You’re going to love it.

This week there’s a trimmed down TL;DR Section, mainly because I’ve had my head in books (below) and work this week. I’ve also reposted some of the links from last week too, because they’re important. Right, that’s enough from me; get reading to Stefan’s letter, and listening to his mixtape.

As ever, please stay safe, and stay in touch xxx

PS. If you’re new then this is how it worksHere’s what you’ve missed so farAnd this is me.

PPS. If you’re wondering why you’re getting Love Will Save The Day so soon again, then it’s because I’ve taken it back to being weekly while we’re on lockdown in the UK – we all need more music, more culture, and more of each other ☺️

PRESS ME TO PLAY
🌪 TL;DR Section 🌪
🙋🏻‍♂️ Driving change 🙋🏻‍♂️

(This is going to be a permanent addition to the newsletter from now on. Here are two of my commitments to driving change)

  • Platforming; If you are black, a POC, or you’re a person that has been marginalised, and you would like to guest edit an edition of Love Will Save The Day, please get in touch with me. I want to ensure that your voice is heard. Just reply to this email.
  • Mentoring; As a senior white man in a media agency, I hold a very privileged position. If you, or any one that you know, is interested in a career in advertising or media and needs a mentor and/or a leg-up, please contact me / get them to contact me at jed.hallam@initiative.com
📚 The notes 📚

To contextualise this Love Will Save The Day guest edition, here’s a little backstory. I’m Stefan. A curious, existentialist trying to beam positivity into this life. I’ve known Jed for many years now. We met at work, my first proper job – in media and advertising. I was impressed by Jed’s maverick and curious thinking and all-black uniform. We bonded over a love for music and curiosity around big questions, if my memory serves me right. This is likely a familiar story for some of you. Following Letter #118 I messaged Jed, as I sometimes do, with positive feedback and to my surprise, following a lil’ chat, I was invited to do a guest mix. I was shook (scared)! And here we are. It was a fun experience, and nothing to be scared of.

My immediate idea was that this needs to reflect the shared global reaction to the heinous murder of George Floyd. This didn’t feel sincere enough – though well-intentioned. My second idea was to make this about my personal experience of race as a Black Brit, reflecting on race relations in the UK and US. This felt somewhat ego-driven and potentially preachy, but note that the Akala track is a notable key reference to this. My third idea was to try and facilitate a journey of ups and downs, blind corners, forks in the road, starts and stops, and an energy that all people could experience as the journey of life. I think I’ve ended up with a subtle blend of all three.

Essentially, what I am trying to communicate is that it should now be clear that many people have been unaware or unobservant of an alternative experience of reality, faced by groups of under-represented, mis-represented and oppressed people (best explained by James Baldwin in early this video). As such, it makes sense for these groups of people to be angry, disappointed, depressed, combative or uninterested – or even suspicious – of the new attention on issues that have been raging in their lives for many many years, without positive progress, whilst the majority of people ignored or dismissed their cries of unjust mistreatment, pain and suffering as delusions, exceptions or exaggerations.

The mood could be visualised as ‘chiaroscuro’, which is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark in art, usually using those bold contrasts to affect a whole composition, and achieving a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures (wiki explanation). I tried to find a painting of Plato’s cave at first but this didn’t work. Then I tried photographs by Philip Lorca Di Corsia, and Gregory Crewdson, both masterful chiaroscuro photographers but couldn’t find the right one which obscured the individuals enough to make the image feel universal. Then on one of my many Pinterest boards, I found this image of Brazillian youth by Hick Duarte, which somewhat evokes the interplay of dark and light, whilst anonymised individuals create a sense of narrative, but you must create the meaning within the frame.

The music is contemporary and covers a wide variety of styles because I wanted it to create a sense of movement throughout the structure; omnidirectional, sometimes stuttering, or abruptly switching, rather than it being fixed on a smooth course as this definitely does not reflect our modern lives, certainly not mine. The lyrics and sounds reflect a blend of human experiences, that I can relate to specifically as a London-born Black man but I hope that most of these songs speak to the commonality of the human experience; with tenderness, pushing and pulling between light and dark forces, progress and failure, belief, resilience, joy, discomfort, confusion, passion, heartbreak, celebration and hope.

Here’s a brief insight into each selection and therefore some of my life experience that I’d like to share with you. Also I’ve included a couple of links to other bits of inspiration and key references.

Aisatsana [102] – Aphex Twin. A palette cleanser that sets the mood. Tune in and let go. Taken from the amazing album Syro.

In god’s childlike hands – Lauren Auder. A stirring and cinematic soundtrack that portrays, in many senses, the world of my fairly lively South London council estate and the mindset of all inhabitants seeking to elevate themselves or escape from the surrounding throng.

Doomed – Moses Sumney. I often ask myself if I am living a true life; one based on love and courage, or presenting a ‘self’ (as Erving Goffmanproposed) with what Sumney describes in a romantic sense as an ‘idle heart’. This tune expresses this whirling internal monologue and emotions. I found this sumptuous tune through season three of Westworld. A true “must watch” if you like Black Mirror and sci-fi, you’ll like this more cinematic, perplexing and quite violent series.

God willing – Mansur Brown. Reminiscent of my journey into consciousness; meditation, religiosity, spirituality, CBT, journaling etc. From the amazing album Shiroi. Possibly one of the most expressive guitar players around right now.

Rats in a sack – Ghostpoet. A reflection on the Windrush scandal and racism in British society. My favorite track taken from Ghostpoet’s most recent album I Grow Tired but Dare Not Fall asleep. Sometimes you can’t help but pay attention to politics.

Amandla’s Interlude – Steve Lacy. Things get heavy but we can choose to stop and smell the roses, laugh and gratefully experience the beauty in this life. Apollo XXI is an amazing album that repeatedly had me in my feels for months. Lacy is a brilliant musician. Check out his iphone recording approach, and his music as part of the band The Internet (all of which have amazing solo projects).

Slow Jam – Tirzah. Family, love and relationships. Single mum matriarchy and the safety of the nest. All of Tirzah’s writing and composing stirs me to think, feel or to dance.

Fire in the Booth, Pt..1 – Akala. A lyrical lesson in the plight of Black British people, class inequality and self-determination. Akala has a brilliant mind on race in Britain and beyond. He is a great orator (so much stuff on YouTube) and writer also.

Thoughts and Prayers – Manga Saint Hilare x Novelist. This conjures up ideas of belief and faith in a God that is protecting and guiding, with a banging beat (hypes me up!). Religiosity has long been on the decline in England, but in Black British life, it’s a support for millions that isn’t going anywhere.

Touch Absence – Lanark Artefax. That sense when you want answers, so you look to philosophy, socio-political commentators, art and generally people who make sense of stuff… Then when you find something, and your mind is blown with your new understanding… The Whities label is one of my top five G.O.A.T with many mind-blowing tunes.

iii’s Front – Overmono. Just when you’re getting into a rhythm and seemingly nailing life, celebrating your wins and overcoming trials, you think, ‘am I nailing it’? Then your rhythm gets all weird and you think ‘I dunno, forget trying so hard – let’s party’.

Roots – LSB, Kinross. Some lightness that reminds me everything is fine and we’re making progress so let’s meditate on compassion and gratitude. D’n’B like this always hits the spot. A truly Great British invention.

Vula Vala – Dj Maphorisa, Kabza de small, Nokwazi, Virgo Deep. I still believe that by travelling, we’ll understand the universality of life and learn from others that will, in turn, encourage growth. Maybe I won’t go back to SA in the post-COVID-19 world, but I can still venture beyond the areas I know in the UK. Amapiano House from South Africa is dangerously hypnotic, hype and simultaneously chilled.

Night – Kelly Lee Owens. Perfect for my night owl sessions, thinking, creating, reflecting, being alone, calling for epiphanies in the stillness of the night. Haunting and hopeful, an insight into the feeling of my busy mind which battles with ANTS (Automatic Negative Thoughts) in the day yet it is clear and positive in the small hours of the night.

U.FOrb – The Orb. Day breaks and we’re slapped back to reality of the rat race, family, capitalism, political nonsense or the pace of the city and you know you’ve got to keep on going. Chug along. Found this track via the amazing book Bass, Mids, Tops by Joe Muggs. Thanks Becca!

Phase Two – Afrodeutsche. A meditation on the Black British experience and its parallels with the African American experience. Dave goes a great job of describing a shared reality in his tune Black. Afrodeutsche will set any dance floor on fire as a DJ; riotous fun, hands in the air happiness and visceral stomping.

BBoy – Fotomachine. Ecstasy.

Hall of mirrors – B12. True OG Detroit Techno sound, but made by two British geezers! In Hak Baker’s voice – “Yeah mate, it’s proper, innit”.

Bromley – Joy Orbinson, Overmono. Great things can happen when you let your mind wander when listening to a good banger, especially if in Corsica Studios. There is something in the water in South London.

Gwindingew Rine Shumba – Thomas Mapfumo. Political activism is a lifelong pursuit and must forgo personal comfort for the betterment of others. Nicknamed “The Lion of Zimbabwe” Thomas Mapfumo is a legendary musician known for his acerbic criticism of the government of Rhodesia and President Robert Mugabe. He was imprisoned and exiled. A reminder that the resistance isn’t pretty and might require sacrifice. We must actively resist what we oppose.

Strings of Light – Yussef Kamaal. A heady mix of energy. Start, stop, driving, shifting, evolving, elevating, exploding sounds to summarize the journey in the previous two thirds of the mixtape and signal a new chapter in the mix.

Never change – Obongjayar. That dynamic voice. Aiy yi yi! What a beaut?! Nuts music video for this track too. The kilter of the beat and his lyrics struck a chord with me. Reflecting on many of the themes discussed in these notes, these lyrics are profoundly linked to my journey and reminiscent of my experience of learning more about the history of systematic racism as a tween.

Black Truck (extended version) – Mereba. Oi! That beat and synth grove is solid! I used to play the drums as a kid and dreamt of playing as crisply and cooly as this. Importantly again, the lyrics are personally inspiring. Love the harmonies to close this out. Another beautiful video.

Tuff Seed – Stonebwoy. This tune is an anthemic pick-me-up. It makes me think of the strength of character encapsulated in all people that speak truth to power, but more specifically the strength to be derived from Maya Angelou’s life and incredible poem Still I Rise.

Jah Blessing – Sizzla and Luciano. A sweet reggae anthem to remind all Black people how to live with love, by two lyrical legends of the sound. An education in living with light, spirit and a reminder that the system can’t win if We fight with love.

Eternal Light – Free Nationals & Chronixx. “Good vibrations”… nuff said.

As long as ropes unravel fake will travel – Dean Blunt. Maverick music from the inimitable artist. This is a bit of an anomaly in Dean Blunt’s quite punk-edged discography. A pre-desert or a palette cleanser to bring us down to a more reflective state following the previous intensely lyrical section.

Goodbye Blue – BADBADNOTGOOD. I hope you’ve listened, learned, contemplated, been moved by emotion and fizzed with energy during the mix. At this point it’s time to say goodbye. The repeated lyric “did I say it right?” is what I was thinking when composing the mixtape and notes [editors note; you said it perfectly].

Ti-De – KOKOROKO. UK Jazz had me in my feels in 2018-19. This slow swinging groove gets me everytime. I’d like to play it at some point during my funeral, probably early in the mix before the upbeat tracks ring out.

Total Praise – Sunday Service Choir. So, you’ve got a fairly detailed insight into my views on life experiences and maybe, into the lives of countless others. Amen or we can say so be it.

Thanks,
Stefan

📖  Old notes  📖
Notes on culture
Notes on music

Notes on mental health

📃 The tracklist  📃
  1. Aphex Twin – aisatsana [102]
  2. Lauren Auder – In God’s Childlike Hands
  3. Moses Sumney – Doomed
  4. Mansur Brown – God Willing
  5. Ghostpoet – Rats In A Sack
  6. Steve Lacy – Amandla’s Interlude
  7. Tirzah – Slow Jam
  8. Akala – Fire In The Booth, Pt. 1
  9. Manga Saint Hilare & Novelist – Thoughts & Prayers
  10. Lanark Artefax – Touch Absence
  11. Overmono – iii’s Front
  12. LSB & Kinross – Roots
  13. DJ Maphorisa – Vula Vala
  14. Kelly Lee Owens – Night
  15. The Orb – U.F.Orb
  16. Afrodeutsche – Phase Two
  17. Fotomachine – BBoy
  18. B12 – Hall Of Mirrors
  19. Joy Orbison & Overmono – Bromley
  20. Thomas Mapfumo – Gwindingew Rine Shumba
  21. Yussef Kamaal – Strings Of Light
  22. Obongjayar – Never Change
  23. Mereba – Black Truck
  24. Stonebwoy – Tuff Seed
  25. Sizzla & Luciano – Tuff Seed
  26. Free Nationals & Chronixx – Eternal Light
  27. Dean Blunt – As Long As Ropes Unravel Fake Rolex Will Travel
  28. BADBADNOTGOOD – Goodbye Blue
  29. KOKOROKO – Ti-de
  30. Sunday Service Choir – Total Praise
💥 If you enjoy this letter, then please take a second to forward this email, or share this link with a recommendation on Facebook or Twitter 💥
See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *