Music

Soweto Kinch on ripping up the jazz rulebook and how his new BBC show is building community

’Round Midnight is a new jazz-centric BBC Radio 3 show that looks to explore the full breadth of the genre

Soweto Kinch

Soweto Kinch. mage: PR

I first wrote about Soweto Kinch for this column around the release of his 2021 project White Juju, a concert recording commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra which reflected on the global impact of Covid lockdown, blending jazz, hip-hop and classical music with shades of European folklore and influences from the African diaspora. It was a remarkable achievement and an ambitious endeavour by any estimation, but just one page in the broader spectrum of Kinch’s vast repertoire. Not only a celebrated composer and saxophonist, Kinch is an MC, author, actor and broadcaster who has recently begun hosting a new programme on BBC Radio 3 as part of their latest schedule shakeup. 

’Round Midnight is a jazz show at heart but Kinch is keen to explore the full breadth of that classification. “Thankfully we’re not too beholden to the ‘jazz police’, but we want to reflect jazz’s inheritance as well as its future,” he tells me. “There’s no single artists we ‘have’ to play – with the possible exception of Thelonious Monk, as he’s bequeathed the show its name. We really want to profile new British artists on the scene.” 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Soweto Kinch is himself a well-established face on that scene, having appeared on stage with the likes of Courtney Pine, Gary Crosby and Denys Baptiste. He is an alumnus of Tomorrow’s Warriors, the talent development charity which has indisputably played a large role in the ongoing rise of UK jazz, kickstarting the careers of Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings and members of Ezra Collective, to name just a few. Given his status as a musician, not to mention his sprawling portfolio of creative interests, I tell him I imagine it must be difficult to commit to just one thing. “It’s really hard to pick one,” he responds. “I’ve tried to make all these apparently disparate things part of my same practice. But I think it all emanates from composition – whether music or lyrics it underpins most of what I do. 

“I live for the experience of seeing and playing music live – so a lot of my writing, hosting and curation is done with that in mind. There’s a unique energy created in the room when live musicians improvise together, reaffirmed after lockdown. My radio hosting tries to convey that feeling.”

Since its launch at the beginning of April, ’Round Midnight has seen Kinch segue seamlessly between off-kilter spoken word pieces by Alabaster DePlume, electropop-tinged soul from Stevie Toddler and piano-led Scottish folk-jazz from Mercury Prize nominee Fergus McCreadie via well-thumbed classics from Wayne Shorter, Max Roach and Ella and Louis. Guests and session performers have included young homegrown talent like Cassie Kinoshi and Zara McFarlane, along with established luminaries like Jacqui Dankworth. Kinch’s tastes are clearly varied and his enthusiasm and laid-back delivery make for an enlightening, accessible listen. His self-assured presence as a live performer informs his congenial broadcasting style too.

“They require different parts of my brain in a practical sense. However, the same curatorial muscle is exercised: a good radio show, much like a good set has peaks and dips, and really draws an audience into our world,” he explains. “There are artists who enjoy the esoteric and inscrutable, but I’ve always been a more audience-facing performer. There’s a sort of unspoken bond between crowd and performer, not dissimilar from radio audience and presenter.” 

Despite the programme’s weeknight time slot of 11.30pm, Kinch is keen to break conventional notions of ‘late night jazz’. “Thankfully we haven’t felt too restricted by the time slot. Our audience has already been accepting of some danceable, electrified, loud music. So whilst we want to create a cohesive story with each show, we’re thankfully not confined to smoky, midnight ballads.” 

Soweto Kinch is great audio company, and manages to straddle that difficult line between enthusiastic and feverish, informed and supercilious; an especially tricky task when it comes to jazz. His goal is simply to communicate and enlighten, in his typical insightful way. “I hope they gain a love of the music, and are intrigued to see and hear more jazz, live. 

“Most importantly,” he adds, “I hope they get a sense of the community, UK and beyond – all gleaning inspiration from each other, whilst forging unique and personal perspectives. In a time when so much of what is recommended to us is generated by an algorithm, I hope listeners fall in love with such a deeply personal alternative.” 

’Round Midnight is a Folded Wing production for BBC Radio 3, airing Monday-Friday from 11.30pm and on BBC Sounds.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Bob Vylan: 'Is it OK for me to cry? As a man you can feel there's not space to be vulnerable'
Bob Vylan
Music

Bob Vylan: 'Is it OK for me to cry? As a man you can feel there's not space to be vulnerable'

Iron Maiden legend Bruce Dickinson: 'You don’t need some rock star saying war is a bad thing'
Bruce Dickinson
Letter To My Younger Self

Iron Maiden legend Bruce Dickinson: 'You don’t need some rock star saying war is a bad thing'

How a band formed in an asylum hotel is giving refugees hope: 'Each note comes from the heart'
Ardavan of The Unknowns
Music

How a band formed in an asylum hotel is giving refugees hope: 'Each note comes from the heart'

Grassroots music venues need your help to survive now more than ever. Here's why
The Nefarious Picaroons play at Fiery Bird in Woking
Venue Watch

Grassroots music venues need your help to survive now more than ever. Here's why

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know