Looking back at the words I wrote to introduce the last instalment of the Two Syllables series it seems that little has changed in the intervening twelve months. The world continues to throw up countless new ways to challenge us, and the future seems no more certain than it did a year ago.
In hard times such as these many of us retreat into the world of music, which has been a source of comfort, healing and optimism. Last year Soul was the foundation, whereas this year Jazz has come to the fore, particularly in the UK. Artists like Nubiya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings, Vels Trio, Tenderlonious, Henry Wu and Yazmin Lacey are part of a new vanguard of UK jazz music that shows no sign of slowing down. In the face of venue closures across London, hope is blossoming with vital spaces such as Total Refreshment Centre, Corsica Studios, Rye Wax and the newly opened Five Miles and Ghost Notes rising against the tide.
For us at First Word it’s been without doubt our most exciting year yet, with albums from Eric Lau, Bastien Keb, Profusion, Don Leisure, Ross McHenry and Darkhouse Family as well as EPs from Souleance, Kaidi Tatham, Children of Zeus and Selectors Assemble. I’ve always maintained that it’s an honour to be trusted with someone’s art, and it’s been a genuine privilege to work with these amazing artists; hopefully we’ve repaid that trust in some small measure.
This compilation brings together a few highlights from 2017, with one track from every artist we’ve released this year across both First Word and our sister label Excursions. We’ve mixed up favourites from the year such as Profusion’s ‘Flying’ and Bastien Keb’s ‘Fit Rare’ with new tracks from Children Of Zeus (their take on Donny Hathaway’s ‘This Christmas’), Tall Black Guy (the Zhane-sampling 'Gentle Side') as well as a track from FW extended family member Mo Fingaz with the addictive soulful hip hop of ‘ShyManCrew’.
Looking back maybe it’s the case that world events have informed the tracks I chose for the album - a glance at titles such as ‘Can I Get A Witness’, ‘Fear Not’ and ‘I’m Thankful’ maybe provide a glimpse at the complicated times and feelings that we inhabit. Or maybe this is just a collection of tracks that I genuinely love. I’ll leave the choice as to how you interpret that up to you. Either way, I feel that hope must be our guiding light, no matter how dark the world might seem. I’m choosing to be optimistic. To quote EB White:
'As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.’
Peace and love to you and yours
DJ Gilla, London, 21st December 2017
*H/T to the excellent Letters of Note for the EB White quote. Check the full letter at www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/wind-clock-for-tomorrow-is-another-day.html