BHH: You are a self taught musician, how hard was it to stay focused when you were learning your trade?
Soweto Kinch: Thankfully with jazz there’s such a body of great work already made. Listening to Coltrane or Sonny Rollins really humbled me. And seeing artists like Wynton Marsalis, Denys Baptiste and Jason Yarde inspired me and kept my feet firmly on the ground.
BHH: Did you ever think that your hard work and dedication would pay off as you refer to the job centre in some of your tracks?
Soweto Kinch: Being heard and understood is still a problem in a lot of places. But even when I was signing on I felt like I was pursuing what I was meant to do.
BHH: You have a degree in History, what would you be doing if you were not making music? Why History?
Soweto Kinch: I’m not sure, writing, probably journalism (maybe the tables would be turned, I’d be interviewing you). I really enjoyed History at school and Uni as I enjoyed debating different perspectives. Plus you only have to look at the coverage of the whole slavery, Wilberfarce thing to see how influential different versions of history can be.
BHH: Ok changing direction a little bit, where does the name Soweto Kinch originate from?
Soweto Kinch: I was born 2 years after the riots in Soweto (a Johannesburg township). My parents were both influenced by Pan-Africanism, so my name had political, spiritual significance (thanks Mum).
BHH: Your style is very unique, where does your inspiration come from?
Soweto Kinch: My environment inspires me the most. In my tower block alone, there’s a hip hop head, and another jazz saxophonist – I was trying to create a framework to express a variety of moods and social themes, and tell a story.
BHH: Do you see yourself as the modern day Ornette Coleman?
Soweto Kinch: Yes and no. Joe Harriot, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Dewey Redman all made music that’s still really relevant today – so they all speak for themselves. But in a sense being driven by ‘art’ and moving completely outside of harmonic, commercial conventions is a legacy I want to continue.
BHH: Who is your favourite artist of time?
Soweto Kinch: Hmmmm (that’s a tricky one) I can never just pick a single artist… a John Coltrane / KRS One / Bob Marley / Duke Ellington all for different reasons.
BHH: You are an innovator of music fusion, what else can you bring to jazz and hip-hop?
Soweto Kinch: Hopefully, more hip hop artists in particular won’t be afraid to tell the truth about their surroundings. Spitting about thug fantasies doesn’t interest me, so I think in the subject matter (job centres, getting into a battle with a train managers etc.) we Brits can find some fresh ground.
BHH: How hard is it to fuse together the two genres of music?
Soweto Kinch: Not that difficult at all. The Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron, Charles Mingus, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock, DJ Premier all did it before me. What’s harder at the minute is marketing it – the industry has a fixed notion of what a hip hop act / urban act is supposed to act like. And an instrument playing thought provoking dude doesn’t fit the stereotype.
BHH: Have some of the things you rap about happened to you?
Soweto Kinch: A lot of the things are based on personal experience, or comical versions of what’s actually happened. The whole reason for three different characters is that they based on people I know, or I’ve felt exactly like them at different times.
BHH: Do issues faced by young black men lie close to your heart?
Soweto Kinch: Yes. I also think they are issues faced by all poor young people on council estates. A feeling of powerlessness, being stigmatised and excluded from the prosperity party everyone else appears to be having. It’s fine for us to make Britain seem ‘edgy’ and cool, but we can’t get decent access to jobs and education unless we pay for it.
BHH: You have won several prestigious Jazz awards, are you hoping for the same success within Hip-Hop?
Soweto Kinch: At the moment I’m just fighting the retailers to even put my album in the hip hop section. It’s become such a problem that I can’t release the second part of the double album until we get out of the jazz basement. Check www.myspace.com/sowetokinch and the blog The War in a Rack. Awards are way down the agenda; I’m just trying to reach my audience.
BHH: With British Hip- Hop artists such as Sway holding you in high esteem, how does that make you feel about what you do in such a critical industry?
Soweto Kinch: Firstly, props to Sway. He’s one of the hardest working people in British music, and doesn’t get any love on Radio 1 play list. Whagwaan? The fact that TY, Sway, Yun Gun are all speaking about similar experiences of being choked in the industry, says that people who know nothing about the culture are getting to critique and say what’s in or out. The thing I love about real hip hop is that it’s democratic: if your mic technique is weak, you’ve got no stage presence, can’t freestyle or don’t write your own lyrics you get voted out.
BHH: What’s in store for 2007/8?
Soweto Kinch: I’m getting ready to release the second part of B19. The sequel! More jazz, beats and rhymes. I’m also writing a big Classical / Jazz theatre piece called The Midnight Hop – looking at black musicians in Britain in the 18th century.
BHH: What act are you feeling right now?
Soweto Kinch: Ty, Phi-Life Cypher, Sonny Jim, Kosyne, Sway, Eska Mtungwazi, Georgia Anne Muldrow…
BHH: Finally what will ultimately make you happy?
Soweto Kinch: That’s a continual quest. In fact that’s one of main subjects of the album. Happiness / success for me is doing show 150+ shows a year to a 3,000 plus crowds, making music that lasts, continuing to write music for theatre, film and making a lasting impact on British ‘urban’ music.
By: Jemma Capleton