Festival Preview: RnB Season 2007



The weather may have taken a backward step but as we head forward into the summer a rich variety of music festivals lies before us.

One of the more distinctive is the RnB Season, in which London plays host to various RnB-flavoured events in a number of venues throughout June, including gigs by the likes of Beyoncé, Smokey Robinson and Al Green.

This Arts Council of England-organised project celebrates, if not 60 years of rhythm and blues music, then at least when the term itself was coined by the legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler in 1947. Back then ‘rhythm and blues’ referred to 12-bar blues and boogie woogie music, a more dynamic, electric version of traditional blues as pioneered by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker.

But as this kind of music spread its influence and diversified – spawning rock ‘n’ roll in the process – the abbreviated term RnB (or R&B) was used to describe soul in the ’60s, funk and disco in the ’70s, and hip-hop in the ’80s and ’90s. Now it seems to be a blanket term for any kind of black, urban-style music, though of course there are plenty of white artists who perform it – its appeal is universal.

Although the RnB Season pays respect to the heritage of the music, with great names from the past, as well as featuring contemporary musicians and up-and-coming talent, it’s a shame that there are no representatives of the blues itself here, after all, that’s where it all started. And unfortunately, two concerts from Bo Diddley – the key figure in the transition of blues into rock’n’roll – have had to be cancelled as the great man suffered a stroke recently while performing.

“Now it seems to be a blanket term for any kind of black, urban-style music, though of course there are plenty of white artists who perform it – its appeal is universal..”

Nevertheless there is much to look forward to. The season opens with two Beyoncé shows at the refurbished Wembley Arena on 2 and 3 June. She may be at the glitzier end of the RnB spectrum, but there aren’t many bigger stars in popular music today.

At the Jazz Café there is a Nina Simone tribute featuring transatlantic diva Jhelisa, known for mixing it up with neo-soul, acid jazz and hip hop. Also playing at the same venue, the award-winning New York singer-songwriter Gordon Chambers, who has written songs for Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Angie Stone and the Isley Brothers, launches his solo album.

The Jazz Café will later become a funk stronghold with The Sound Stylistics, a collective made up of the likes of James Taylor and members of bands such as Galliano, Jamiroquai and the Brand New Heavies who are performing their first live show as they relaunch their 2002 album Deep Funk. Brooklyn Funk Essentials, born out of New York’s buzzing hip-hop/jazz and slam poetry scenes of the early ’90s also perform there.

Another highlight is British soul singer Mica Paris performing at Ronnie Scott’s. One of Motown’s greats, Smokey Robinson graces the Royal Albert Hall on 27 June, while the following night the same venue plays host to Memphis soul king Al Green, supported by disco queen Candi Staton, who may just sing Young Hearts Run Free.

As well as these established names, young talent gets the chance to shine in two showcases: one at Ronnie Scott’s, featuring London soul, jazz and RnB artists, and the other, called R&B Discoveries at the Play Room, promoting unsigned young singer-songwriters.

In addition to the live gigs, there are also a couple of DJ nights: Soul II Soul Sound System at Herbal, and, on 30 June, the final night of the RnB Season, at the Jazz Caf, DJ Spinna, famed for his remixes of the likes of Michael Jackson, De La Soul and Mary J Blige, rounds things off with a late-night party. Bring it on.

• RnB Season takes place at various London venues in June.

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