Migration to Britain: inspirational musicians and their anthems
- Compare the musical contributions of migrants to Britain from the 1700s to the 2000s.
- Explore the way that portraits represent their influences and identities.
- Analyse the impact of the music of migrant communities on British culture.
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by Neal Preston
gelatin silver print, 1986
14 5/8 in. x 22 3/8 in. (372 mm x 568 mm) image size
Photo by Neal Preston © Queen Productions Ltd
From classical music to rock, pop and hip-hop, migration has enriched British musical culture over the centuries. Explore six musicians who migrated to Britain, or whose families migrated to Britain. Some have left us with memorable anthems, others have influenced new musical styles and genres. Explore their portraits, listen to their music and consider their impact on British culture.
Freddie Mercury and George Frideric Handel
Compare and contrast these two portraits of famous musicians who migrated to Britain – Freddie Mercury and George Fridric Handel.
- What are the differences in the way these two musicians are shown?
- Are there any similarities?
Look closer at Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of the band Queen. He is shown in a dramatic Pose A particular position in which somebody stands or sits to have their portrait made. on stage at the old Wembley Stadium, in 1986. His birth name was Farrokh Bolsara. He was born in Zanzibar (now part of modern-day Tanzania), East Africa and was of Parsi-Indian heritage. He migrated to England in 1964 with his parents.
The Wembley concert was part of a two-month-long tour of Britain and Europe. The last song of the concert was an Anthem A song that has a special importance for a country, an organisation or a particular group of people, and is played or sung on special occasions. that Mercury had written and the band released in 1977: ‘We are the Champions’. It is still often sung at sporting events to celebrate the winning team or player.
Look closer at George Frideric Handel
This portrait of George Frideric Handel was painted in 1756, when he was over seventy years old. He migrated to London in 1712 from Halle, in what is now central Germany.
Handel became England’s most celebrated composer of the early 1700s. In 1727 he composed anthems for the coronation of King George II. One of Handel’s anthems, Zadok the Priest, has been sung at every British coronation since. Perhaps the most famous of his compositions is a dramatic choral work called The Messiah, which includes another famous Anthem A song that has a special importance for a country, an organisation or a particular group of people, and is played or sung on special occasions. , The Hallelujah Chorus.
Listen to anthems by Queen and Handel
- Have you ever heard these tunes before? What was the occasion?
- Although the two anthems are from very different styles of music, they have some things in common. What do you notice about the way that the two anthems develop and affect you as a listener?
- How did both these migrants to London make a lasting contribution to British life and culture?
Stormzy and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Compare and contrast these two portraits of famous musicians whose families migrated to Britain – Stormzy and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
- What are your first impressions of Stormzy (shown here with his mother, Abigail Owuo)?
- What are your first impressions of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor?
- In what ways are the portraits of the two musicians similar?
- In what ways are they different?
Look closer at Stormzy
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- He is wearing a dark coloured, zipped top. The top is from the Swedish streetwear brand New Black.
- The brand was created by two friends who both love graffiti and hip-hop and the culture that surrounds it.
- This is Stormzy’s mother, Abigail. She was born in Ghana and brought up her four children as a lone parent in south London.
- Abigail is a private person. She and Stormzy have a close relationship.
- Stormzy is sitting down. His mother, Abigail, is standing close to him and resting her elbow on his shoulder. They both look relaxed and comfortable together.
- They are both looking directly at us, the viewer, holding our gaze in a way that invites us in.
- The photograph appears to show a close bond between mother and son. Stormzy has talked a lot about his ‘strong’ mother and how she was a source of inspiration to him.
- The artist may also be trying to show a different, more private side to Stormzy to the more public side we see of him as a performer.
- What do you think this portrait is saying about Stormzy?
Michael Omari Owuo Jr., publicly known as Stormzy, was born in 1993 in Croydon. His mother, Abigail Owuo, migrated to England from Ghana and raised her children alone. Stormzy grew up in a strongly religious home and still has close ties with the church.
Stormzy gained public attention as a Grime A style of British rap music that started in the early 2000s in east London within young, multicultural communities. rapper and songwriter in 2014. His first album, Gang Signs & Prayer became the first grime album to reach number one in the UK album charts, in 2017.
Stormzy is also known for his anti-racist activity, and for helping young Black people overcome the challenges of racism in society. In 2021, Stormzy ranked as the third most influential Black Briton in the Powerlist An annual list of the 100 most influential people of African or African Caribbean heritage in the United Kingdom. .
This Anthem A song that has a special importance for a country, an organisation or a particular group of people, and is played or sung on special occasions. track describes Stormzy’s feelings of gratitude towards a Christian God. Its chorus is influenced by Gospel A style of religious singing developed by African Americans. music. Stormzy brought together people from all walks of life, religions and communities to feature in the video. He wanted to show British people as ‘tall, proud and, most importantly, united’.
Look closer at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
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- He appears to be wearing a dark suit, white shirt and patterned tie.
- He is wearing smart, respectable and fashionable clothes.
- Although his clothes are smart, the patterned tie and loose cut of the jacket make them appear less formal for the time.
- Coleridge-Taylor is leaning slightly to the side, resting his head against his hand.
- It looks as though he’s sitting down.
- His expression appears calm, confident and relaxed.
- He’s looking straight at us, the viewer, almost as if he is inviting us to have a chat with him.
- This is a publicity photograph. What do you think it says about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor?
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in 1875 in London, to a local white woman called Alice Martin, and a Black student, Daniel Taylor. Coleridge-Taylor never knew his father, because he went back to his home in Sierra Leone, West Africa before Samuel was born. The young mixed-heritage boy was very musical and went to the Royal College of Music as a violinist and composer. He was praised by leading English musicians, including the composer, Edward Elgar. He enjoyed visiting the USA and was passionately interested in African American music.
Coleridge-Taylor recognised the struggles that Black people faced across the world and connected to these in his music. He wrote a series of arrangements for African American spirituals, these are hymns and other Christian songs that played a part in sustaining people through oppressive times.
Listen to anthems by Stormzy and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
- Have you ever heard these pieces of music before? What was the occasion?
- How might each of these anthems contribute to British identity?
- How far did Stormzy and Coleridge-Taylor come from similar circumstances?
- In what ways do you think their music might have been influenced by their roots?
Winfred Atwell and Janet Kay
Look at the portraits of two more inspirational musicians – Winfred Atwell and Janet Kay, who both have a Caribbean background.
Winifred Atwell was from Trinidad and came to Britain in the 1940s. She played piano and combined classical and popular music in her performances.
Janet Kay was born in London to Jamaican parents. She became an award-winning singer of reggae music and is known as the ‘queen of Lover’s rock A style of reggae music noted for its romantic sound and content. ’.
- What do you think these portraits are saying about Winifred Atwell and Janet Kay?
- What similarities can you see between these portraits and the others you have looked at so far?
- Research and listen to their music. How might they have influenced British culture?
- What is the significance of this music being composed by migrants or people whose families migrated to Britain?
- Are you aware of any other musicians who have migrated to Britain, or whose families have migrated?
- In what ways have these musicians impacted on British culture?