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New exhibition premieres photographic portraits of R&B, Funk, Soul, Afrobeat and Hip Hop pioneers
Sister Sledge © Alexis Chabala.

LONDON.- This summer, Somerset House presents The Influence Project, a new photography exhibition celebrating the impact that leading black musicians have had on contemporary sound and culture.

Congolese, London-based photographer Alexis Chabala and producer Lorayne Crawford have captured the characters of both icons and contemporary artists through captivating portraiture, film and sound, to offer visitors a unique and important interpretation of musical history. Featuring photographs shot since 2014, The Influence Project investigates the connections between these established and emerging pioneers, reaching across time to shape the sound that we hear today.

The exhibition chronicles pioneering voices of the mid to late 20th century music scene including revolutionary R&B influencer and the force behind the Parliament/Funkadelic machine, George Clinton; international stars of disco, Sister Sledge; legendary soul singer and four-time Grammy Award nominee, Candi Staton; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bill Withers; and Shuggie Otis, the ‘Heir to Hendrix’ whose hit record Strawberry Letter 23, famously covered by The Brothers Johnson, was used by Quentin Tarantino for the Jackie Brown soundtrack and sampled in 2003 by Beyoncé.

Contemporary artists include Dr Dre protégé, Anderson .Paak, alongside previous Somerset House Summer Series headline performers such as British singer-songwriter and winner of two MOBO awards, Laura Mvula; the free-thinking pianist, Robert Glasper, who has dominated the Jazz charts, won two Grammy Awards, and recorded with the likes of Mos Def, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar; and Aloe Blacc, the chart-topping musician known for his singles ‘I Need a Dollar’ and ‘The Man’. The legendary hip hop collective and one of this year’s Summer Series highlights, The Roots, have also been photographed for the exhibition.

Celebrating artists through the ages addressing social issues using their music, the exhibition also includes Kojey Radical, hailed as ‘One to Watch’ by The Guardian for the young British poet’s drive to create socially conscious rap music, and Rapsody, the only woman nominated for Best Rap Album at this year’s Grammy awards – an album tackling war, drug abuse, gender dynamics and police violence.

Portraits are accompanied by quotes and details, highlighting the history and the significance of their music throughout the generations. From literal and direct forms of sampling, to the role of mentors and role models, the exhibition explores the range of ways musical innovators have influenced today’s artists, and how they in turn might inspire the next generation – creatively, socially and politically. The show also includes a new film featuring artists talking candidly on camera about their inspirations and the ongoing challenges of appropriation, whilst a unique soundtrack fills the gallery floor.

The Influence Project forms part of the East Wing Edit, a summer of exhibitions, talks, pop-ups, events and workshops, delving deeper into the stories showcased in Somerset House’s season of music, film, independent print and contemporary circus performances. All taking place in Somerset House’s East Wing, the East Wing Edit includes discussions and performances from key musicians involved in the exhibition, including a performance from American R&B legend, Lalah Hathaway and a week-long pop up from #RealMusicRebels, a collective of socially conscious artists, co-founded by Hathaway, spearheading the movement for musical integrity and activism. Ambassadors include Robert Glasper, Christian Scott and Shabaka Hutchings.

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