FIVE MINUTES WITH: SKINNY PELEMBE - recognising the positive role of community choirs

Doncaster raised Skinny Pelembe’s new Song for South Yorkshire, Field Notes #2, will be premiered on asongforus.org on Tuesday, the first anniversary of lockdown 1.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 2:00 pm

A nationwide project, A Song for Us commissions leading music creators across genres to write new songs inspired by the people of their county.

A Song for South Yorkshire - Field Notes #2 by Skinny Pelembe is commissioned by Sound UK and Higher Rhythm and is available online for 12 months.

Skinny’s choral work without words was inspired by music from South Yorkshire and conversations with social workers and nurses from the county.

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Skinny Pelembe
Skinny Pelembe

A Song for Us recognises the positive role community choirs and ensembles play in keeping people connected.

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Skinny Pelembe is a multi-talented wonder, born in Johannesburg and raised in Doncaster.

He released debut album Dreaming Is Dead Now in May 2019, with support from BBC 6 Music’s, BBC Radio 1 and Worldwide FM.

A still from Skinny's video

In 2020 Blue Note asked some of the top British names in music to rework songs from their legendary back catalogue.

Skinny’s version of Andrew Hill’s cult classic Illusion was chosen as one of the singles from the Blue Note Reimagined album.

His varied approach to his influences started early on.

His two older brothers were heavily into hip-hop, while he would also absorb the West Coast folk and country music played by his dad.

Skinny Pelembe

The former influences the way he thinks about his lyrics.

The latter has continues to inform the way he writes songs.

Tell us about your connection to South Yorkshire and what it means to you.

South Yorkshire is home.

Skinny was raised in Doncaster

What was the inspiration behind your song for South Yorkshire?

In my ignorance I'd only recently found out about the Grimethorpe Colliery band, after hearing their recording of Holst's Moorside Suite.

It really blew me away.

I guess at a time like this, there are no words to describe the situations people across the county, country and world are going through, or the immeasurably hard work that nurses and healthcare professionals are doing.

The best way for me to try and sum up the moment would be to try and emulate the approach of the Grimethorpe band and put out some of the energy that I felt hearing their piece for the first time.

You’ve written the song for a local choir and swing band, tell us about them and how the collaboration came about.

Paul Davies who worked on the project and Paul Littlewood at Higher Rhythm hooked me up with Rainbow Connection and The Doncaster Youth Swing Orchestra.

I can't say I knew much about them before but this has been a great opportunity to get outside of my comfort zone and work with brilliant players and singers in a way that I don't usually do.

A Song for Us wants the public to help create a music map of the country. What track or piece of music would you share to mark your experience of this time and why?

The track I chose was Today by Paul Littlewood.

Paul is one my best friends and the engineer/producer on so many of my songs. On the whole, lockdown has been for me been, very fortunately, a relatively relaxed period of time but what I do really miss is being able to head down to Higher Rhythm recording studio to chat Neil Young for hours with Paul, then work on music together.

While I was recording mydebut album he also recorded this absolute gem of a song, and every time I hear it I'm filled with memories of that time, optimism for the day ahead, as well as heartache for all the social moments we're all missing out on right now.

Do you have any tips or words of encouragement for people wanting to create their own song for the music map?

Just that the more that people add to the map, the more great energy you're putting out there, and it's certainly needed right now. Could be five minutes of someone hitting a plant pot with a stick and shouting "********" at the top of your lungs - I'm sure someone out there will be able to derive some joy from it. Just go for it!

What do you hope A Song for Us will bring to the people of South Yorkshire at this time?

Hopefully a bit more exposure of the wonderful Doncaster Youth Swing Orchestra and Rainbow Connection Choir. At the very least it's something to listen to in the gap between Emmerdale and Corrie.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

*Visit https://asongforus.org/commissions/a-song-for-south-yorkshire/ to find out more about A Song For Us.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.