Whilst Black History Month normally leads us to the likes of seminal figures such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Barney Rattle may not be a name you have heard of, but the London born producer should certainly not be overlooked for his contribution to Black music.
Rattle’s African Storybook of Songs encapsulates a twenty-year journey towards equality through music, spanning a number of genres and culminating in an epic seventy track, six album masterpiece. His collaborations with several talented South African DJs and singer-songwriters have helped him form an eclectic, wide-reaching chef-d’oeuvre that touches on everything from jazz to electronica, and reggae to funk. ‘Find a Friend’ is a real get-up-and-dance tune that oozes rhythm and stunning vocal harmonies, yet ‘Creation’ sounds more at home on a lazy, chillout, Sunday afternoon.
Whilst Barney’s music caters for all occasions (he even frequented Ibiza’s nightclubs during the 90s), he has quickly become a central figure in the culture of South African music and his own story is creating a legacy for the nation’s music scene in years to come. Despite the long awaited end of apartheid in 1994, inequality of wealth in South Africa was still rife, and this sparked Barney’s musical odyssey towards abolishing the imbalance through his work. Along with fellow collaborator, Lennox Tom, Rattle founded a music school for young people, providing them with a vital education that would be indispensible in their later years. In addition, one of his groups even performed for the great Nelson Mandela on his birthday.
Another colleague of Barney, Don Laka, who also appears on African Storybook, was instrumental in overturning the airplay quota for South African radio which had previously pushed South African music aside; the focus was stuck on popular western music. Consequently, the national broadcaster, SABC, is now required to play 90% home-grown, South African music on all of its stations.
‘Every small step is important in the fight towards equality’ as Barney argues, and it is clear to see how he has expanded his brand of South African fusion for the better of the nation and established himself as pioneer of musical activism.