Black Music in Europe: A Hidden History (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
A History of the World In 100 Objects (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Prison Bag (Resonance FM)
Several Radio 4 fans, including Kathy Burke, have rightly been raving about Clarke Peterss series Black Music in Europe: A Hidden History. Last week, in the third and last episode of the third series, we got up to the 1970s.
The three series have been riveting, so check out the earlier shows. Peters presents beautifully, and I forgive him for being the standard reads out whats in front of you actor host, because he has a long connection with UK music (through Five Guys Named Moe), because he was Lester Freamon in The Wire and because, well, he does his job so well.
But, as ever, the true credit should go to the producer; this time, Tom Woolfenden from Loftus Media. It was Woolfenden who found the relevant archives, whether that be Neneh Cherry talking in 2011 about her father, the jazz musician Don Cherry; Martin Simpson, in 2005, explaining the Moroccan way of tuning a guitar; John Craven doing a Newsround round-up of the 1975 decolonisation of Suriname. And it was Woolfenden who did the interviews: with Johny Pitts, the British writer of Afropean; Surinamese flute player Ronald Snijders in the Netherlands; Patrick Bebey, son of Cameroonian guitarist and composer Francis Bebey; Janet Kay, of Silly Games fame So many excellent interviews: informative and detailed, well edited, revelatory. They underpin these shows.
The story, this series, is of post-colonialism, and how the people of former British, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and Belgian colonies used their newly given freedom (after the second world war, many colonial countries waived restrictions on visitors from colonies) to come to Europe. Many stayed. And over and over again, those that did stay explain how its this consequent mix of cultures that results in their brilliant music. They make us understand that its not just the bumping up of different musical techniques, but how the new arrivals optimism and hope were muddied and muddled with the racism that they encountered, and how they eventually reclaimed their musical heritage to show it off to Europe. Its this musical melange that creates the gorgeous soundtrack that we hear throughout the shows. And, in the background, the political culture is creaking. General Franco and Eric Clapton make passing appearances, as baddies.
A lot of work has gone into this series and it shows. When a flamenco dancer walks into a Spanish studio, we hear her footsteps; her voice is beautifully recorded. The levels of music and speech are impeccable, the sound moving from ear to ear in your headphones, but remaining clear at all times. Its all lovely stuff. Theres a list of the tracks played on the shows website: the BBC should make it into a playlist and put it up on Sounds.
For a different angle on colonialism, Neil MacGregors classic series The History of the World In 100 Objects is being repeated, reassuringly, on Radio 4. Were just in the early stages last week we had objects 6 through to 10 so a nice long way to go. Colonialism is relevant throughout the series, of course, with MacGregors none-more-educated, mellifluous voice telling the stories of far-flung objects that somehow, through Britains immensely mixed history, have ended up in London.
An interesting new documentary series on Resonance FM: Prison Bag. Josie Bevan, who writes a blog with the same name, is our host: shes telling the story of what its like to be a prison wife. Middle-class and a bit naive, Bevan confesses that, after her husband Rob was sentenced to nine years (for tax fraud), she expected a phone call from someone social services? The police? The prison system? asking her if she was OK. There was no phone call. There is not much help for anyone wanting to support their partner in prison. I spend my life trying to get into prison, she says, early on in the programme.
Bevan talks to Lisa, a university lecturer who has experience of addiction and prison. They are different, but connected. I talk about this stuff in front of a lot of people, says Lisa, but I feel overwhelmed and tearful. I think its because you understand.
Understanding people who come from a different place, being kind when theyre in a new alien environment. Its how great art comes about; more importantly, its how we all survive.
5 Live DriveDrive presenters Anna Foster and Tony Livesey have the unlovable job of broadcasting the daily 5pm government shamblathon slap in the middle of their regular three-hour show. They manage this by bringing on experts and politicians, then getting on with the more important job of making lockdown bearable. Theyve tackled at-home dentistry, small business loan applications, online haircuts. They have a daily homework quiz, Learner Drivers, and, on Thursdays, a whole hour of listener-generated positivity, The Extra Mile. A great mix of spiky current affairs and silly home life, just whats needed at the moment.
Fun Kids Fun Kids, the UKs best audio offering made especially for children, has seen an 80% increase in its streaming hours since the lockdown started. Fun Kids has a live radio station and loads of podcasts, and its specially made pandemic show, Stuck @ Home, is the first ever non-BBC podcast that the Beeb has listed on BBC Sounds. The website has a great selection of shows for younger children: from drama to the human body to the inevitable space exploration. And everything springs from a dedication to making audio programmes that children actually like.
LBC Radio has, broadly, benefited from people not going to work, as were listening for longer to the shows we like; and commercial radio is no different (advertising is another matter). All commercial broadcasters are reporting big jumps in reach and hours of listening, mostly around the 10% to 15% mark. But LBCs daily reach has gone up 43%, and its listening hours 17%. As with Brexit, the news-based station has gone big on coronavirus, with presenters taking politicians to task. And listeners are responding, whether by tuning in for longer, or by phoning in and asking silly, obvious, unexpected or intelligent questions.
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