Q: Tell us about Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs. Why did you want to write it?
A: On one level, I wanted to write a book that celebrated black British history in a way that I haven’t seen in the books I came across at school. I also wanted to write a book that spoke across generations, enabling conversations about the black British experience that have been sidelined for too long. That’s why the word Truth is in the title; this is my attempt to present the reality of the situation to a broad readership.
Q: Which of the songs featured in Musical Truth has most influenced you in your life?
A: Difficult question! ‘Sweet Mother’ is such an integral part of my childhood – one of those songs that everyone in my family and extended family would love equally. It has a lot of warm, fuzzy memories for me and, like I say, reminds me of the enduring strength of the black African diaspora.
Q: Do you have a favourite fact from the book?
A: There are a few, definitely, but the fact that Winifred Atwell’s hands were insured to the point of her not being allowed to wash dishes is just brilliant. It speaks volumes as to just how successful and popular she was, as a time when black women were not prominent in popular music, at all.
Q: What are you doing to celebrate the launch of Musical Truth?
A: I keep myself busy and I’m always working on various things, meaning that a bit of writing will be on the menu somewhere. That said, I’m on half-term with my kids, so I’m having fun hanging out with them. We just bought a set of roller skates so teaching my two boys to skate will be a highlight. And I’ll be seeing some family too.
Q: How has your job as a teacher influenced your writing?
A: Profoundly. As a teacher, you deal in interaction, engagement and conversation, in the truest sense of the word. I’m sensitive to the ebb and flow of learning and this makes me conscious of how my writing is being received by readers I can’t see. Reading is a solo activity but it’s not passive. Teaching has trained me to listen out for what I can’t hear, and push/ pull accordingly.
Q: In true ‘Desert Island Discs’ style, which track (from Musical Truth) and which luxury item would you take to a desert island?
A: One track? ‘Buffalo Stance’ by Neneh Cherry. Luxury item? A fully stocked MP3 player.
Find out more about Musical Truth, here.