It’s a really weird time for everyone right now and I’m sure no one would have predicted 2020 to end up anything like this. As we’re closing out week eight of lockdown, self-isolation has started to feel somewhat normal. In a way entertainment has been a coping mechanism for many of us and a great time to find a new medium to explore. For music lovers this period has seen a range of innovative ways for people to listen to old and new music. From Swizz Beats and Timberland's Verzuz series on Instagram Live which has seen the likes of Teddy Riley take on Babyface, to the sultry sounds of Erykah Badu and JIll Scott. Overall it’s been exciting to see how music has been adaptable during this time.
For Black Brits in particular, a new radio station has been a newfound joy; No Signal Radio. No Signal Radio was launched in March by brothers Jojo and David Sonubi. Jojo is known for the monthly party space ‘Recess’ which is authentically for us, by us and No signal proves to be no different in that respect.
The internet radio station started gaining traction with their 10 round sound clashes. Sound clashes may be new to some but they’ve been synonymous with British West-Indian communities since the arrival of the Windrush Generation. Historically, sound clashes originated in Jamaica in the 1950s but when the Windrush Generation came over to Britain, sound clashing became a staple in Black British culture. In Jamaica, clashes were quite competitive and large speakers were used to drown out your competitor. When the clashes moved to England they eventually started to take place indoors. This meant that different DJs would play after one another with the crowd choosing the winner. The premise is similar to NS10v10, as each round is voted by the public. The clashes have so far featured battles with artists such as Mariah Carey V Beyonce, Giggs V Skepta and J Hus V Kojo Funds. (My personal favourite was N-Dubz V WSTRN).
The show that was by far the most popular and controversial was the Vybz Kartel V Wizkid clash. The lead up to the clash alone was electric and as a lover of both bashment and Afrobeats I was torn. When the time came for the infamous battle, the live stream started to crash only a few minutes in as 80,000 people from over 90 counties were locked in. Both Vybz and Wizkid have gained international success and their music has had an impact on Black communities worldwide but I don’t think anyone had predicted that. The clash did receive some critique as people said that bashment and Afrobeats genres shouldn’t be pitted against each other. Regardless of the critique, overall 1.2 million listeners tuned in that evening creating a significant moment in Black British culture. Something that had been created for the Black British diaspora ended up connecting the Black community worldwide. And considering Black Brits are three more times likely to die from Covid-19, lifting the community spirit has been more important than ever.
In a way NS has prompted us to look back at the history of Black British music. Similar to sound clashes, the Black British community and radio have always had a unique relationship. It’s safe to say, Grime wouldn’t be where it is, without the help of pirate radio stations. Stations such as Rinse FM (which started out as a pirate radio station) were places where artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and D Double E made their musical debut. Historically, Black artists in the U.K have always struggled to find places where their music can be played. During the time when Grime was on the rise, various radio stations didn’t see Grime as good enough for them. This led Grime artists to find their own ways for their music to be heard. Pirate radio allowed these upcoming artists to be themselves without fear of judgement or shame.