Written by Martin Horsfield, published in The Guardian, 18-24 September 2010

Redundancy, resourcefulness and the sound of sneezing have made
Aloe Blacc the recession’s soul voice of reason. Martin Horsfield buys in.

Soul music thrives in
hard times. After the
murder of Martin Luther
King in 1968 and the riots that led
to a decade ofinner-city blues,
black businesses daubed Soul
Power on their shutters to save
their shops. It was a slogan picked
up on by Brit kids dancing in the
dark of the three-day week in our
own soul revival, while the 80s
downturn saw the seemingly shiny
Blow Monkeys borrow some cred
from Curtis Mayfield to stick it to
Thatcher. This depression, too,
has seen the UK reach for soul’s
rejuvenating cocktail of wise vocal,
churchy uplift, and a fly look.
Stevie Wonder took Living In The
City to Glasto, Soul Boy made a
romcom out of love on the uppers
in Stoke, and somehow Plan B has
claimed residence in the top 10.

But the recession-soul anthem
has come from lefifield. “I Need A
Dollar” – whose jobless protagonist
ends up seeking solace in “whiskey
and wine” – was written when
former Emanon MC Aloe Blacc,
was working at consultants Ernst &
Young idly pondering worksongs.
Unsurprisingly, he saw plenty of
dollars spunked away in his day
job but it wasn’t something he
could dwell on; when the crash hit,
he was himself laid off. “It wasn’t
a big deal,” he says. “I figured
I’m smart enough to find food
somewhere. Years ago we lost the
house. My dad said, ‘Gimme a tent;
I’ll survive’, That’s what it comes
dowm to: food, clothes and shelter.
Everything else is entertainment.
And fortunately I can sing a hit!”

That’s an understatement, as the snatch of Dollar – swiftly
picked up as the theme to HBO’s
How To Make It In America – he
croons to illustrate his next point
proves, “It shouldn’t be on record
the way it is,” he says. “My stylist’s
kids asked me to sing it today so
I said, ‘C’mon, church-style: get in a Circle, clap your hands! And
after me it should be someone else
singing what their problem is,'”
While we’re lost in imagining how
Jools Holland could incorporate
some boogie-woogie piano into
that. he continues: “On my first
album I did a song called Busking;
there was no music, just car horns,
a high-pressure hose, and someone
sneezing, In slave communities,
the voice was all they had. You’ve
got to package it for people to
consume, though I don’t know of any station that played Busking.”

Ah, that’ll be our old pal The
Man. “In Europe, your media
hasn’t yet been fully infiltrated by
capitalism,” he says. “In the US if a
DJ has a cousin they’ll get played.”
The internet is equally frustrating.
“Bruce Swedien, who worked with
Quincy Jones, heard my version of
Billie Jean online and said Michael
would’ve loved it,” he says. “But
somebody had to direct him to it.
I want his generation – who were
there at soul’s nascent beginnings – to
know there are people who care
about music, society and politics
and wanna put it all together.”

When the winter of discontent
starts to bite, Britain could do
worse than get into the Blacc.

Aloe Blacc’s Good Things is now shipping from Stones Throw’s online shop.  Available everywhere September 28.

related artists Aloe Blacc