I’m so happy to be taking part in the listening party and blog tour for Jeffrey Boakye’s new book, Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs. Musical Truth is a history book that takes the form of a playlist charting key moments in modern British history.
It feels like an informative, and rather fun, tour of black British history, and the first stop on that tour is calypso star Lord Kitchener’s 1948 hit ‘London Is The Place For Me’. I loved that the author used this song as the starting point for Musical Truth, and explores how the Windrush generation transformed British culture forever. Many of the songs featured in the book, as Boakye points out himself, are Caribbean in origin.
Although British in its overall focus, Musical Truth takes us on a global journey as we delve into the influential and often, groundbreaking, sounds of black Britain. The playlist spans 72 years (1948–2020) and covers a range of genres including calypso, reggae, soul, rap, UK garage, Afrobeats and grime.
Musical Truth is targeted towards younger readers, but it’s a book that everyone should read. I enjoy Boakye’s writing style. It’s friendly and witty at times, and he explains complex topics succinctly and engagingly. The book opens with a thorough explanation of colonialism and the legacy of the British Empire and why it matters when we discuss the history of black Britain. I like the parts in the book where the author shares his own story and memories from his youth. Reading about his experience growing up as a young Ghanaian person in the UK, as well as his relationship with music and black culture(s) was fascinating. Musical Truth evoked strong feelings of nostalgia in me and reminded me of fond memories from my childhood.
“A big way that any culture gets passed on from one generation to the next is through music. We can learn a lot about the world our parents grew up in from the music they listened to when they were young. Because of this, young people are incredibly important when it comes to any culture’s survival over time. If you don’t teach children about culture, that culture will die, like a plant that isn’t given water and sunlight.” – quote from Musical Truth
A major theme that pops up throughout the book, unsurprisingly, is institutional racism. Unfortunately, it is a significant aspect of black British history and remains a bleak reality for black people in Britain today. Boakye addresses topics like culture, politics, violence and crime, identity, race and more in a thoughtful and straightforward way, without ever sugarcoating how horrific anti-black racism can truly be. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a silent ‘interlude’ dedicated to Stephen Lawrence midway through.
The inclusion of black female musicians was another thing I appreciated about this book. From artists like Ms. Dynamite and Estelle, who I grew up listening to, to iconic songstresses Sade and Neneh Cherry, Musical Truth honours black women’s contributions to British music and gives them the props they deserve, which doesn’t happen often enough in my opinion.
The song I chose from the playlist for this listening party is a classic and the first UK garage tune I ever listened to: ‘Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)’ by Artful Dodger feat. Craig David.
Musical Truth is a brilliant book that everyone interested in history, music and culture should read. I read this book cover to cover in less than four hours. Once I started, I didn’t want to stop. I was familiar with most of the songs on this playlist before reading and learnt new things about some of the genres, tracks and artists featured in the book. Musical Truths would be a great book to read with kids because it’s accessible and would facilitate many important discussions around inequality, blackness and British history. It’s the sort of book I’ll be giving to my younger siblings and regularly revisit myself. Musical Truth isn’t just a fascinating read but a gorgeous book to look at too. Illustrator Ngadi Smart makes this excellent book even better with her stunning artwork.
I love Boakye’s previous book Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime. It’s one of the best music books I’ve ever read. If you enjoyed that then you should pick up Musical Truth next. And if you haven’t read Hold Tight, I highly recommend you do so.
Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs is out now and published by Faber Children’s. Many thanks to Bethany Carter from Faber for sending me a review copy of Musical Truth.
You can listen to the entire playlist over at http://musicaltruthplaylist.co.uk/.