MOBO AWARD Best Jazz Act 2007
BRITISH JAZZ AWARDS, Alto Saxophone 2007
URBAN MUSIC AWARDS, Best Jazz Act, 2006
BBC JAZZ AWARD, Best Instrumentalist 2004
BBC JAZZ AWARD, Best Band, 2004
PETER WHITTINGHAM, Jazz Innovation, 2004
URBAN MUSIC AWARDS, Best Jazz Act 2004
MERCURY MUSIC PRIZE, Album of the Year, 2003
MOBO AWARD Best Jazz Act 2003
BBC JAZZ AWARD, Rising Star 2002
MONTREUX JAZZ SAXOPHONE
COMPETITION, Winner 2002
“Mr Kinch demonstrates what England has to teach [the USA] about narrative Hip-Hop. Don’t sleep on Mr Kinch” (The New York Times)
“It’s a clever and entertaining juxtapostion of idioms that kicks pure Jazz and authentic rap into a brave new world.” (The Guardian)
Born in London, England on 10th January 1978 to a Barbadian father and British-Jamaican mother, Soweto Kinch is one of the most exciting and versatile young musicians to hit the British Jazz and Hip Hop scenes in recent years.
He first became interested in music at the tender age of eight, playing clarinet at primary school. He quickly developed a fondness for the alto saxophone and was given his first instrument when he was nine. After meeting Wynton Marsalis four years later he discovered and became passionate about Jazz, first concentrating on piano and later, in his teens, focusing on saxophone.
His family had a strong artistic influence on him, his father being a playwright and his mother an actress. Having this theatrical background exposed him to performance and meant that he was often surrounded by musicians and other artists such as Jazz tap dancer Will Gaines and percussionist/bebop vocalist Frank Holder. Moving to Birmingham aged 9 was key to Soweto’s development, and the city has continued to play a crucial role in his unique identity He cultivated his interest in the Jazz tradition alongside a passion for Hip Hop culture, joining the group Pentalk in 1994. Soweto is one of only a few artists who’s appeal traverses underground and mainstream audiences, and who is equally respected in Jazz and Hip Hop circles.
Soweto is essentially a self-taught musician who has supplemented his musical education by gathering information from books and transcribing Jazz recordings. He was also fortunate in attracting the attention of two of the most important Jazz luminaries in Britain, saxophonist Courtney Pine OBE and double bassist Gary Crosby, both of whom were key mentors. A series of his recent recordings have also seen him extending his skills as an MC and producer, and again drawing plaudits from Hip Hop luminaries on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Mos Def, Rodney P and Ty.
Soweto made the practical decision to become a full time musician fairly recently. Graduating from Oxford University in 1999 with a BA in Modern History, he was set to pursue a career in journalism or to undertake post-graduate studies. However, the offer of a place within the core band of Tomorrow’s Warriors and with Crosby’s professional bands persuaded him to choose music as a career path. In 1999 Soweto began organising and developing his own arts/music project in Birmingham, The Live Box. The project is still going, entering its 8th years as a weekly jam session, and involves Soweto organising special events and workshops for young musicians (aged 6-18). Soweto continues to programme special events to raise the project’s profile, and get alternative culture on the map, and his previous guests include, Jazz saxophonist Steve Williamson, vocalist Eska Mtungwazi and hip hop act, Ty, Wynton Marsalis, and Ursula Rucker. A healthy respect for Jazz pioneers, and an enterprising spirit, and passion for alternative culture at a grass roots level, have really set Kinch apart from many artists of his generation.
Soweto’s musical influences are as broad as they are diverse. He particularly admires Sonny Rollins for his innovative style and successful appropriation of West Indian music within the Jazz canon. His Hip Hop references range from modern day greats such as KRS ONE and Pharaoh Monche to Dub poet innovators such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mikey Smith and beat poets such as Jean Sheppard. Most recently, Soweto has been influenced by baroque and early classical music, following an interest he has in the 17th and 18th century black population of Britain.
Whilst much of Soweto’s music is firmly rooted in Jazz – drawing equally from swing-era, be-bop and post-bop schools – he also works on projects where he can integrate other music. He has been inspired by groups such as De La Soul, and producers like Mad Lib. And his brief spell with Crosby’s Jazz Jamaica, and Ernest Ranglin’s band have nurtured a respect and affection for reggae and Jamaican folk music – which can be heard in both his Jazz work and his Hip Hop production.
As a saxophone player, Soweto is rapidly developing his own sound that is rich, energetic and dynamic and though he clearly has a strong respect for tradition, he is continually exploring his Jazz inheritance. His aim is to move audiences with the simplicity of his Jazz quartet, discovering the breadth of sounds and dynamics he can achieve with these basic elements.
Kinch’s band came together in 2001 as a trio featuring double bassist Michael Olatuja, and drummer Troy Miller, and almost immediately they were supporting Courtney Pine, performing at the Royal Festival Hall and Cheltenham International Jazz Festival.
Soweto made his first appearance on record in October 2001 as a member of the internationally-acclaimed Jazz Jamaica All Stars, a 20-piece big band blending Jazz with Reggae, Ska and other Caribbean rhythms, alongside a number of notable British Jazz musicians, including, Denys Baptiste, Orphy Robinson and Guy Barker. As well as playing in the horn section on all tracks, the album gave Soweto the opportunity to show his abilities as a soloist and arranger.
July 2002 was a milestone for Soweto in terms of his career. First he won the inaugural White Foundation International Saxophone Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival, fending off competition from top young players from all over the world, including graduates of Berklee and Manhattan School of Music. His win assured him of shows for his own band in the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival, the IAJE Annual Festival in Toronto, and at the famed Ronnie Scott’s Club, London. Hot on the heels of this major award, Soweto picked up the prestigious BBC Radio Jazz Award for Rising Star 2002 and, as a member of Jazz Jamaica All Stars, the BBC Radio award for Best Band 2002.
Word began to spread quickly about this amazing rising star and, in March 2003, the great Jamaican guitarist, Ernest Ranglin engaged Soweto to join him, with Mafia and Fluxy, for his Australia/New Zealand tour including performances at Womad.
When he’s not performing or practising, a great deal of Soweto’s time is spent composing and arranging material. Undoubtedly his parents’ affinity to the theatre has rubbed off on him, in December 2000, he was given a role in a film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, The Cat’s Meow (produced in December 2000, released April 2002). He completed a commission with NITRO Black Theatre Cooperative in November 2001 for whom he composed a score for ‘Slamdunk‘ – a Hip Hop musical theatre piece that toured nationally. Similarly, he composed the score for a production in Birmingham, ‘Its Just A Name’ produced by Nu Century Arts (April 2002) and written by his father Don Kinch.
In 2002, Soweto began work on his début album, extending his band to quartet status with the addition of guitar (Femi Temowo). Working with respected saxophonist and producer, Jason Yarde – he created a stunning album that brings together his love of Jazz and Hip-Hop. On Conversations With The Unseen, he brings Charlie Parker and Q-Tip into the zone, combining straight-ahead jazz with cutting edge hip-hop.
Conversations With The Unseen was released in April 2003 and launched Soweto’s career as a solo artist. The album won a Mercury Music Prize for An Album Of The Year 2003 and earned him the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act 2003. Since then, Soweto hasn’t looked back and has been busy touring internationally with his band.
In December 2003, Soweto was announced as the winner of the Peter Whittingham Award for Innovative Jazz Project, facilitating the recording of his popular Hip hHop/jJazz track, Jazz Planet.
In 2004, Soweto continued international touring and picked up BBC Radio Jazz Awards for Best Band, and Best Instrumentalist. The latter award, was presented to him by the great Wynton Marsalis, who showered glowing praise on the young star. He also invited Soweto to join him on stage to perform with the Marsalis Quartet, a major highlight of the awards event.
In September 2004, Soweto headed off to New York for a three-month sabbatical and to promote the release of his album in the US, which released on 7 September to great critical acclaim. In October, Conversations With The Unseen entered the College Music Journal (CMJ) Radio Top 40 Charts at Number 27, rising to Number 21 by 29 October 2004!
Yet another prestigious award came in November 2004, with Soweto winning the Urban Music Award for Best Jazz Act. All categories of these awards were nominated and voted for online by the public and Soweto received a record number of votes!
Soweto’s first ever single, Jazz Planet was released in November 2004. With tongue firmly in cheek, Soweto’s gives his take on what the world would be like if Jazz ruled the planet! The single release ironically began a rather strained relationship with high street retailers, as one major chain refused to stock the single. Since the episode, Kinch has developed staunch views about the corporate control of ‘urban’ music, and what is championed or marginalised by the mainstream. He wrote an online blog, called ‘The War in a Rack’ and has since rallied support from a number of kindred artists. This brief tangle, was to inform a lot of t he more political material on Kinch’s follow up album, B19.
Rounding off yet another successful and profile-raising year, Soweto performed an enormously successful showcase at The Jazz Gallery in New York’s Manhattan district – attracted a sold out house that included the presence of his peers (including Ravi Coltrane and veteran master bassist, Henry Grimes), radio and the press; an interview by John Schaefer for his WNYC daytime radio programme, Soundcheck; a major preview article in Time Out New York edition; a major review in JazzWeek, as well as a massive and glowing review by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times most artists can spend a lifetime dreaming about and never receive.
It was THE event on the New York City Jazz calendar that week and the opinion leaders and taste makers, as well as the general public, were overheard acclaiming the concert as one of the highlights of 2004. And this was backed up in the press with several respected jazz publications, plus The New York Times, The New Yorker, and the editors of amazon.com in the US, placing him in their Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2004.
In 2005, Soweto recorded his follow-up project: A Life In The Day of B19. This is a truly groundbreaking recording project from this great young artist who has created a major stir on both sides of the Atlantic. His debut album earned acclaim for successfully blending Jazz and Hip-Hop where so many others had failed. This album brings the two genres closer still and highlights Kinch’s incredible talents not only as a Jazz player but also as a leading narrative rap artist.
A Life In The Day Of B19 is tale in two-parts – Tales Of The Tower Block, and Basement Fables – that follows three fictional characters as they each come to terms with the pitfalls of celebrity; tempestuous, romantic entanglements; and the solitude of the musician’s quest. Traversing Jazz, Hip-Hop and poetry, it weaves a narrative and message of hope through a diverse range of musical worlds. ‘B19’ (the project’s abbreviated name) is an inspired duology that marks a massive upward shift in Soweto’s stature as a significant, major artist. The album features the award-winning BBC News presenter Moira Stuart, the inimitable and brilliant vocalist, Eska Mtungwazi amongst a cast of many, underpinned by his award-winning quartet.
Tales Of The Tower Block was released in Autumn 2006, and rapidly garnered critical praise,
“Whereas Conversations With The Unseen took Hip Hop to a Jazz audience, B19 takes Jazz to the Hip Hop audience” said one reviewer. The explosive Jazz and inspirational narrative Hip Hop, confirmed what the New York Times had to say about Soweto:
“Mr Kinch demonstrates what England has to teach [the USA] about narrative Hip-Hop. Don’t sleep on Mr Kinch” (The New York Times)
Soweto’s music and image have always stood side by side on the UK urban and jazz scenes and his profile in both continue to grow rapidly as gains more fans with each tour. In 2006 he has supported US Hip Hop legend KRS-ONE and performed alongside the cream of UK urban music – Sway, Blak Twang and Ty. He also continued to run his own night, The Live Box in Birmingham giving local jazz musicians and MCs a chance to hone their skills on the stage. Kinch also started the Battle in the Box, one of the countries only acoustic Hip-Hop freestyle sessions.
“Everybody Raps” from the B19 album earned Kinch Twin B’s ‘Record of the Weekend’, BBC 1-xtra. He also recorded one of the coveted Maida Vale performances for Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide show. In addition to the support of Jazz publications and broad sheets he began to attract attention from Urban music sectors: Hip Hop Connection, Echoes, The Big Smoke, Ras Kwame’s Radio 1 live session, and Rodney P & Skitz playing the record. He supported Hip Hop soul legend Dwele and UK rapper Ty. In Autumn 2006 he achieved two massive milestones in London performances, selling out both Cargo and the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
As for Soweto as MC, he continued to demonstrate that he is as adept on the microphone as he is blowing his horn. An exclusive show on the BBC’s urban music station, 1Xtra presented by Benji B had him rapping and playing sax in a musical ‘battle’ with saxophonist Jason Yarde, discussing the links between Hip Hop and Jazz and breaking down the stereotypes of Jazz music and musicians. He was also featured on a special BBC 1Xtra show presented by Ras Kwame that showcased the cream of British Urban talent.
In June 2006, an amazing opportunity came up for Soweto to travel to Sao Paulo to collaborate with local Drum’n’bass stars, Drumagick along with New Zealand producer Mark De Clive Lowe and singer Bembe Segue as part of the Trocabrahma series endorsed by Gilles Peterson. This hugely successful collaboration culminated in a series of major shows in London, Manchester and Edinburgh where Soweto played a freestyle set with Mark, Bembe, Sway, and Dynamite MC and Brazillian star, Seu Jorge.
In October 2006, Kinch took an almost crusading zeal to a series of school workshops during National Music Week’s My Music initiative. He was selected as one of ten artists to take part in the first ever schools chart, and in a move designed to get quality music back on the national agenda, Beginning with a performance in Pimlico school before Alan Johnson MP he delivered an amazing 25 workshops in 5 different cities from Manchester to Bristol, in just 6 days!
2007 was an important year in Kinch’s development as a writer, as well as a musician. He began working on The Midnight Hop, the culmination of his research into the lives and music of Britain’s black population in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Commissioned for the reopening of Birmingham Town Hall (October 2007), and the Bicentennial of the Abolition of Slavery, this large-scale music-theatre project features a newly formed Jazz nonet, a cast of 10 actors and a 20-piece chamber orchestra. It was also the first time Soweto had written a script, following even more directly in his father’s footsteps. This landmark piece of musical theatre debuted at the Birmingham Town Hall on October 13th, accompanied by a dynamic performance by a 25 strong youth group, mentored by Kinch throughout the summer. Soweto is very excited about taking the Midnight Hop forward into 2008, as its the first time it has allowed him the perfect meeting of his passions as a musician, writer and historian.
Soweto also continued to hone his compositional skills throughout 2007, working on a number of high profile projects. He composed the music for a flagship website, commemorating the Transatlantic slave trade (http://www.understandingslavery.com/citizen/timeline/). In March he composed the score for Absolute Beginners, which ran at the Hammersmith Lyric Theatre, and received a number of accolades from the Guardian and the Observer, “The music is wired into the show; the saxophone Jazz riffs by Soweto Kinch set the cool, bluish mood of the play.” In November he wrote a series of pieces for Kwame Kwei-Armah’s play at the National Theatre, The Statement of Regret, and he plans to extend his compositional skills further into film scores in 2008.
Birmingham Town Hall have made Soweto an Associate Artist in Residence throughout 2008, signifying both his importance to the newly restored venue, but also acknowledging his increasing importance in the artistic life of his city.
Throughout 2007 he continued to tour his B19 shows, extending the style and range of audiences. Augmenting the sound and the technical daring of his performances; adding visuals; and freestyling in response to digital snaps sent from the audience to his laptop – as the Guardian’s John L Walters described it ‘Kind of Bluetooth.’ His performance at the Glastonbury festival, received national BBC coverage, and further widening his audience, and he continued to bring his uncompromising Jazz, and hard hitting Hip Hop to new crowds (at the Big Chill, Greenbelt Festival and Marxism, Cultures of Resistance).
The ambitiousness and appeal of the B19 project was rewarded at the end of 2007. Soweto Kinch picked up a gong at the British Jazz Awards 2007 on 18 September. In a ceremony held at The Sands in Gainsborough, Soweto was recognised as the Best Saxophonist. One day later, Soweto was at the MOBO Awards 2007 at the O2 Arena, London where he was announced as the winner in the Best Jazz Act category- fending off stiff competition from the likes of Wynton Marsalis.
In the same year Soweto was nominated for the Urban Music Award in the Best Jazz Act Category for his album, A Life In The Day Of B19: Tales Of The Tower Block. This is the third time he has been nominated for this award – having won the award on both previous occasions in 2004 and 2006! It capped a year of hard work for Soweto in support of his critically-lauded second album, and saw his career turn an important corner. He split with Dune his former record label, and has since started his own production company, allowing him even greater freedom to take on ambitious projects.
Basement Fables, the second part of the B19 duology, sees Kinch, driving in a clear direction towards his own blend of Hip Hop and Jazz influences. And with a unique amount of kudos with both audiences, Soweto is placed to boldly go places no jazz musician has gone before!