If George Clinton puts the funk into Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul, then Roots Manuva emphasises the ‘Mostly’.
Born in Stockwell, London to Jamaican parents and now living in Sheffield, Roots is usually described as a rapper, but he has lent his warm, distinctly-British vocals to a wide variety of music on collaborations with Gorillaz, Ozomatli, Leftfield, previous Moseley Folk headliner Beth Orton, and last year’s Mostly Jazz headliners the Cinematic Orchestra. To call Roots Manuva’s style eclectic would be an under-statement and his music typifies what the Mostly festival is all about.
Roots Manuva’s 1999 full-length debut Brand New Second Hand was preceded by some singles which had been critically acclaimed but were relatively unsuccessful commercially. As such, Roots’ expectations for the album were pretty low, and he says that at the time he was thinking “I can do what I want. Only 1500 British hip hop fans are gonna hear it anyway”. However, lacking any pressure to conform to generic stereotypes allowed him to produce a uniquely beautiful album that Pitchfork Media described as “addictive, compelling, and, above all, heartfelt”. Of Brand New Second Hand, NME said “what makes it so rare… is both the dexterity of Roots’ rasping mic attacks, and the skewed sounds he sets them to.” He has carried the same sentiment into all of his records.
Roots Manuva’s second release Run Come Save Me (2001) was Mercury Prize-nominated and its lead single, Witness (1 Hope), was accompanied by Roots’ most memorable video to date, containing footage of him training for a return to his primary school in order to win its egg and spoon race. His third release in 2005, Awfully Deep, which featured elements of electro, dancehall, two-tone and soul, again showed off Roots’ humour, being described as “brilliantly witty” and “devilishly tuneful” within a five-star Guardian review.
The Times once described Roots Manuva as “the voice of urban Britain”, because his music encompasses dub, ragga, funk and hip hop. However, it’d probably be better to just say that Roots’ music sums up the diversity of Britain as a whole. Witness (1 Hope) refers to drinking ten pints of bitter and Top 40 Single Too Cold from Awfully Deep was compared by the Guardian, Stylus Magazine, and others to a West End musical.
The fourth album Slime & Reason was called another “work of genius” by Observer Music Monthly, and received Hip Hop Connection’s Album of the Year award. However, despite the hip-hop awards and the constant references to him as a rapper, Roots Manuva, born Rodney Smith, has himself said (on another Top 40 single Colossal Insight) “I don’t give a damn about UK rap, I’m a UK black, makin’ UK tracks”. Referring to the multiplicity of styles that his music contains, he goes on… “and I got love for everyone of them scenes, them pigeon-holes were never nothin’ to hold me”.
For someone who’s not willing to be pigeonholed, the Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival is just the right place to be.