Estelle Lets It Rip On Adele and Duffy: “Is There Not a Single Black Person Singing Soul?”

Estelle may have the No. 1 song in the UK right now, but she still has some issues with the British music industry. The London-born, New York-based singer-songwriter recently did an interview with The Guardian, and she gets heated about white-girl “soul” divas Adele and Duffy:

“It’s hilarious,” she says, speaking at the height of Duffy/Adele media mania a few weeks back. “I’m not mad at ‘em – but I’m just wondering, how the hell is there not a single black person in the press singing soul? Adele ain’t soul. She sounds like she heard some Aretha records once and she’s got a deeper voice – that don’t mean she’s soul. That don’t mean nothing to me in the grand scheme of my life as a black person. As a songwriter, I get what they do. As a black person, I’m like: you’re telling ME this is MY music? F*** that! They keep trying to tell me in the media what soul music is and I’m like, we KNOW what soul music is, stop f***ing around with us! You’re taking the piss out of every black person in the country! And then they say, ‘Oh, don’t bring race into it.’ We’re not stupid, stop it.” Having begun sarcastically and dismissively, Estelle’s eyes are now blazing, and she smacks her fist into her palm to emphasise her point. “We. Ain’t. Blind.”

Estelle has an intimate understanding of the ups-and-downs of the UK music scene: her first album came out in 2004, and while her work was acclaimed, she quickly faded off the airwaves. It was only after she moved to the U.S. – when she hooked up with the likes of Kanye West and John Legend – that she’s had any success in her home country. It had to have been difficult to watch lesser singers like Adele, Duffy, and Gabriella Cilmi blow up before they even had records out. And she’s right: Adele ain’t soul. Duffy is about as soulful as Miley Cyrus.

Black artists in Britain have it tough. Britain’s soul heritage is largely blue-eyed. White Brits like Mick Jagger, Paul Weller, and Rod Stewart absorbed the blues, Motown, and Philly soul and made them their own, applying the forms to their own experiences. Coming from the creative fountain of African-American culture, black music in the States is viewed as hipper and more authentic. And the biggest African-American artists – the Beyoncés, the Kanyes, the Ushers, the Mary J. Bliges – are backed by the massive U.S. record company machines. They bring their buzz and pop-culture cachet with them when they come to the British shores. Black Brits can’t compete. It’s sad and ironic, but black British artists may have to leap the pond like Estelle did if they want to be stars in their native country. Kind of goes in the face of the idea that Brits are more tolerant, doesn’t it?

In other news:

  • A man claiming to be a childhood acquaintance of Samantha Morton has been cleared of harassing the Oscar-nominated star.(BBC)
  • Leona Lewis reacts to her Billboard No. 1: “I am so overwhelmed. Going to No. 1 in America is beyond my wildest dreams. I called my family to tell them I had got to No. 1 and my mum started crying down the phone.”(Mirror)
  • Corinne Bailey Rae has made a “pilgrimage” to the Yorkshire countryside in honor of her husband. (Telegraph)
  • The BBC has already picked up a second season of the Life On Mars spinoff Ashes To Ashes. Filming will begin in the summer, and the second season will air next year in the UK.(The Stage)
  • The Guardian‘s Jim Shelley tells you, step-by-step, how to make a Jeremy Paxman interview. Step 3: “When politician begins to broil in their own oily unctuousness, cut through waffle, pour with scorn, and remove backbone. Drain color from interviewee’s face and begin to grill, playfully lobbing rotten vegetables in their direction.”
  • Meet Steven Spielberg‘s new Tintin: 17-year-old Love Actually star Thomas Sangster.(Daily Mail)
  • Graham Norton doesn’t seem to shock easily, but Sharon Osbourne stunned the host with her foul-mouthed rant about X Factor co-judge Dannii Minogue. “I was just amazed. I called Sharon up afterwards and said, ‘Are you alright?’ Believe it or not, we actually had to edit quite a bit out!”(The Sun)
  • A new Led Zeppelin album could be forthcoming.(NME)
  • Radiohead is going back into the studio with Nigel Godrich.(NME)
  • The Daily Telegraph continues their Carla Bruni lovefest: “In heavily accented tones that dwindled into breathy whispers, Carla mesmerised the room…If Carla is the new Diana, it’s the princess in her later years, at her most self-aware and dangerously charming. Modeling long ago taught Mme. Sarkozy the ruses it took Di a decade to master: the power of chaste, downcast eyes. Yet I can’t help but imagine Carla as a long-limbed 10-year-old, acting out parts in front of the mirror. Now, she has landed the role of a lifetime.”

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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