There are many second-generation Barbadians who are successful in their chosen fields of endeavour in the UK. They operate below the radar in terms of publicity and so are not as well known as Barbadians to Bajans.
Soweto Kinch, a leading musician and saxophonist is a name that readily springs to mind. Born in 1978 in West London, the son of Don Kinch of Silver Sands, Christ Church and Mrs Kinch, a London born of Jamaican parents, Soweto spent his early childhood in West London before the family moved to Handsworth, Birmingham, a town which was heavily populated with immigrant Caribbean people in those days.
Soweto had an early liking for the arts and music and took to the saxophone at the tender age of nine. After attending primary school he continued his education at the prestigious Bromsgrove private school in Birmingham before going on to Oxford University to study History at Hertford College. He obtained an upper second class honours degree, and the world appeared to be his oyster.
In those days, a black undergraduate at Oxford University was as rare as a snowflake in June. I, therefore, asked Soweto if his experiences, first as an ethnic minority student at a private school and then University helped to define his character.
The affable musician was quick to state that: “Growing up in Handsworth with a strong West Indian community surrounded by family, church and friends of all manner and means kept me firmly grounded. This, in turn, helped me to navigate more easily, the middle-and upper-middle-class circles that surrounded me. The basic principles of our people enabled me to confront all that was placed before me and I saw them as challenges rather than hurdles. Experiences at Oxford taught that I should not be intimidated by the high-brow society that existed around me.”
Deep in thought, the self-effacing musician added: “Indeed, I met people from all over the world. They were bright and ambitious and provided the stimulation for me to become as successful as I could be in whatever I chose to do.”
The choice of a career in music seemed strange given that Soweto had obtained a good degree from one of the top universities in the world. So let Soweto take up his story: “After university, I thought deeply about my future. I had an undying passion for the arts and having started at age nine at the Cultural Centre in Handsworth, I decided to go with my instincts.”
Kinch joined the black jazz band, Tomorrow’s Warriors. The band was formed by Gary Crosby, a bass player/Jazz educator of national renown and the band helped young black musicians ply their craft. The excellence and talent of the young West Londoner soon came to the fore and Soweto made his mark on the scene. He said he was blessed to be involved with a band that portrayed a very high brand of black jazz. National exposure brought recognition in his own right and he went from strength to strength.
Soweto has won many awards. Foremost amongst them are two MOBOs (Music of Black Origin) and a Mercury and he is naturally proud to be recognized by his peers in the business. He has given credit to the teachings and examples of some great black artists, namely Wynton Marsalis, Courtney Pine and Barbadian Arturo Tappin.
Soweto is also known to have given back to his community and has taught extensively at workshops and public festivals such as the Flyover Shop in Birmingham. His work has also been recognized by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). They have, on occasion, produced programmes which have featured his performances and over the last three years, he has presented the Jazz Show on BBC Radio 3.
The six-foot-plus giant has completed five albums and is currently working on his sixth. The new album examines 100 years of a black presence in Britain. It is titled Black Peril and true to his studies at Oxford, he looks at a major historical event which is largely unknown to black people in the diaspora. Soweto is deeply conscious of his race’s history through all ages and gives great thought to the paths travelled by our people.
As he reflected, he was emotionally moved to recount the race riots of 1919 which occurred after the end of the First World War. These riots, perpetrated by white people, spread across the country in towns such as London, Liverpool, Cardiff and Glasgow. The rioters had protested against the importation of black workers to the UK in the belief that they (immigrants) would take the jobs and be happy to work for less than the local people. It seems that nothing much has changed.
The deep concern of Soweto for matters outside his musical ambit truly defines a personality that goes further than that which appears when he is at his most demonstrative on stage with his sax.
All Caribbean folk should be proud of his achievements.
Vincent ‘Boo’ Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired Land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and the disapora.