That image above is one of my favourite childhood photos. Not just because I’m sporting that mischievous smile, but because it represents the role music has played in my life from a young age. From falling asleep on the sofa to the vibrations of reggae bass lines, at parties thrown by my parents, to writing my own rock/pop songs in the wake of teenage heartbreak (the less said about this phase, the better!). Music is ever present in my life, helping to provide a soundtrack to my memories, good and bad, and giving me a sense of connectivity with the world.
My parents were both musicians, well before I was born and early into my growing up. My Dad was a bassist in a reggae band before being signed to Warp Records. He later worked as a sound engineer at a recording studio which, although it seemed very boring to me then, I now appreciate helped mould my musical consciousness. My mum was a vocalist, which helped solidify my own love of singing. We would often sing together in the kitchen when making a meal or washing the dishes, working on our harmonies and playing a game I lovingly called ‘word beginning with song’, where we would each take it in turns to sing a song containing a word chosen by the other person.
My Dad is black Caribbean, though he was born in England, and my Mum is white. Their combined musical influences, informed by their backgrounds, awarded me a rich variety of sounds from which to establish my own style.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to all kinds of musical artists as a kid. Not least because I’m of mixed heritage. My Dad is black Caribbean, though he was born in England, and my Mum is white. Their combined musical influences, informed by their backgrounds, awarded me a rich variety of sounds from which to establish my own style. I listened to songs from almost every genre, hip hop – I particularly remember bouncing off the walls as a child listening to Jump Around by House of Pain – to rock. I’ll never forget going to a friends house when I was little and her telling me that she had been listening to her Mum’s Elvis Presley albums, and me replying ‘I prefer Skunk Anansie’. If you’re not aware, they’re a Britrock band whose lead singer’s stage name is ‘Skin’. Needless to say, my friend didn’t get it. I didn’t mind though, because I knew that my parents were pretty cool. In fact, they introduced me to some of the artists that remain favourites of mine today, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
Performing music is at once private and public, which I think is why I’ve experienced such anxiety when singing in front of others in the past. As you’ve read, music has helped me to connect with my family, but it can also be a very solitary activity. For me, so far at least, there is no way of reconciling the two. Stage fright continues to prevent me from performing but I still sing, privately, and have found this to be a valuable act of self-care. It sounds like such a simple thing, but making time to sing, not to sing-along with the radio, but to sing into the silence – making sound where there was none – has a huge impact on my wellbeing. Do you sing? If not, give it a try and see how it makes you feel.
Over the years, I’ve encountered people who, in response to the question, ‘What genres of music do you listen to’, have said, ‘I don’t really listen to music’. This has always saddened me as I believe music can be a source of joy for everyone.
The same is true for listening to music. When you actively listen to music, be it live or recorded, you’re afforded the opportunity to mindfully absorb the sounds or engage in meaningful introspection. Over the years, I’ve encountered people who, in response to the question, ‘What genres of music do you listen to’, have said, ‘I don’t really listen to music’. This has always saddened me as I believe music can be a source of joy for everyone. I have a song for every occasion, every mood. I particularly love my record player. It’s not an expensive thing and my vinyl collection is still very much in its infancy, but still, I’ve found that the action of playing a record, as opposed to streaming music, is a uniquely therapeutic one. There’s a connection between the artist and the listener that is often lost with other formats. Even the act of getting up to flip the record prompts you to reflect a little on what you’ve just heard and savour the sounds you hear next. Even if you don’t have a record player though, I would wager that listening to music will have a profound impact on your life for the better. Why not try setting the scene next time you play an album? Lighting some candles and settling down with a cup of something warm helps to prepare you for the listening experience, so you can better engage with the thoughts and feelings the music evokes.
My relationship with music is complex. It is a culmination of almost 30 years of lived experience and it has been formed by countless individuals, chiefly my parents, whether I like it or not! Songs punctuate my memory as if a phrase, marking endings, beginnings and exclamation-worthy moments. Can’t Help Falling In Love by Elvis Presley marks my wedding day, as it was the song our friend played on the violin as I walked down the aisle. These Streets by Paolo Nutini marks my short-lived career at the University of Central Lancashire and, unfortunately, The Sound Of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel, played on the panpipes in this case (ironic?), marks my decision to drop out of said university in order to embark on a life-changing trip to South America, with my then boyfriend (now husband).
As I’ve grown up, I’ve discovered the music that I connect most with and added new genres to my repertoire. I’ve learned how to use music as a tool for personal growth and found artists who speak to me and challenge my perceptions. I credit Solange’s 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, with being the catalyst for my recent (re)connection with my black heritage. Likewise, Beyonce’s self-titled 2013 album prompted me to consider feminism in a way I hadn’t done previously. (Aside: Can we agree it’s outrageous how much talent the Knowles family have?!)
Music can be the ideal medium for ruminating on important issues like this, as well as making sense of difficult events, something that I think is particularly important now, as the world feels more divided than ever.
The Spotify playlist below includes some of my favourite songs and roughly charts my musical journey from childhood to the present day.
I encourage you to make your own lists and reflect on what music means to you.