Saturday, February 03, 2007

Soul Britannia

Yesterday night was the first episode of a new documentary series on the BBC entitled Soul Britannia, charting some of the influences in the development of both soul music in Britain and an audience for soul music. It proved to be a fascinating programme, covering far more than the usual praisie that starts and ends with vague references to American sailors bringing over rare r&b 45s on merchant ships and selling them on to a small crowd of eager Liverpudlian teenagers, and Londoners Mick and Keith, bored of drab old post-war Blighty. Instead, the programme set out to chart the social phenomenae driving this new cultural influence, and the profound cultural impact it had on British society. It was also detailed enought to hint at some of the different introductions and responses to r&b in particular parts of Britain, which each had their own different levels of access to and interaction with American, Caribbean and Black British culture.

I thought I would do a few posts on a Soul Britannia theme, and it would also give me the opportunity to give a quick summary of some of the things they researched in the programme to give it some context. Hopefully, it will be interesting to those of you reading from America, who have ever wondered why there are so many soul fans still today in the UK.

For an American, it might well appear strange to see part of your culture adopted, seemingly naively, by a reserved island race. In fact, there have been a number of Americans who have voiced criticisms of both British soul fans and of British soul artists, over their understanding, sincerity and even the ethicality.

It is probably important to state that British interaction with soul took place in many places in different ways, involving people of all colours, some with and some without any direct contact to African-American culture. Secondly, it is a story of different peoples' encounters with, identification with, and attempts to emulate and then adapt a sound to reflect something about themselves. The third point that should be made here is that the introduction of r&b music into Britain initiated a profound and wide-reaching cultural readjustment, and promoted changes in the social and moral conventions of British society and our opinions on race, that could not have been created by any existing influence in Britain alone.

The BBC website is channelling the curious towards the Soul Source Forum, where as we speak, there is no doubt a very detailed debate, as next week, the story reaches the origins of the Northern Soul phenomenon - where I hear there is some disagreement about the emphasis placed on Wigan Casino ...

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