You can be easily forgiven for thinking that SOAS is only home to the next generation of diplomats, lawyers and linguists – after all, the clue is in the name. But our alumni Georgia, Poppy Ajudha and Nick Mulvey won’t be found in the House of Commons – nor are they likely to be the BBC’s Middle Eastern correspondent. Georgia, Poppy and Nick are more at home on Spotify or even on a Mercury Prize shortlist, and as alumni of SOAS’s Department of Music– which is now ranked 13th in the UK according to the Times Higher Education 2021 guide – are showcasing the talent and skills they have developed at our unique institution.
Georgia Barnes, aka Georgia
The 2020 Mercury Prize nominees were announced earlier this year and last night Michael Kiwanuka took the coveted prize for the best album by a UK/Irish act. Nonetheless, Georgia was nominated outright for her second album, ‘Seeking Thrills’, which features the tracks ‘Started Out’ and ‘About Work The Dancefloor’.
Georgia is a graduate of the Music department here at the university – inspired to attend by a five-hour live performance of Damon Albarn’s Africa Express at Glastonbury 2007. Georgia’s connection to African music extends to her ability to play the West-African instrument, the Kora – as revealed by Professor Lucy Durán of SOAS’s music department, who taught her. Georgia’s self-titled, debut album has a range of pan-global sounds and exemplifies the diverse approach SOAS has to music study.
The 2020 Mercury Prize connections don’t end just there. Poppy Ajudha – BA Social Anthropology and Music alumna – features on Moses Boyd’s nominated album ‘Dark Matter’ and even sat down with us for a chat way back in 2017 to discuss her music career. Poppy is certainly going places, demonstrated by winning Jazz FM’s ‘Best Soul Act’ in 2019.
In an interview with the ‘Evening Standard’, Poppy thanked SOAS for changing the way she thinks about the world. This has been reflected in her songwriting, such as her reference to mixed-race identity in her song ‘Tepid Soul’. Further influences on Poppy’s music can be traced back to studying music from all over Africa, leading her to visit Senegal and The Gambia during her studies at SOAS. Watch this space – we’re waiting for Poppy to be nominated – in her own right – for the Mercury Prize.
Someone who does know something about Mercury Prize nominations is Nick Mulvey, who graduated from BA Music Studies in 2007. Whilst part of Portico Quartet – formed at SOAS – they were nominated in 2008, in addition to receiving a nomination in 2014 as a solo artist for the album ‘First Mind’, featuring ‘Fever To The Form’. Mulvey has previously mentioned how he loved his time at SOAS, broadening his horizons to even play the Congolese guitar at his final performance before graduating! Nick has gone on to have a successful music career going on to release a second album, ‘Wake Up Now’, in 2017.
So don’t be fooled into thinking that SOAS is all politics and languages – it’s much more than that. The Music department has a range of expertise and is dedicated to music outside the Western canon. Duran said “We need to celebrate the unique and diverse nature of this department, now more than ever” – so we can continue to see SOAS alumni nominated for the Mercury Prize.
Thank you to Professor Lucy Durán for taking the time to speak with us.
Take a look at the range of undergraduate and postgraduate Music programmes offered at SOAS.