Referencing milestones in Black music on both sides of the Atlantic, Scottish/Nigerian soul singer Joseph Malik’s final instalment of his critically acclaimed album trilogy is a heartfelt, uncompromising take on the world in 2021.
Cultural icons from across the board have paid homage to the artist – including Irvine Welsh, who needs little introduction; the world renowned author has been inextricably linked to underground culture and significant music throughout his life; Stuart Cosgrove is the author of Detroit 67, Memphis 68 and Harlem 69 known collectively as the Soul Trilogy (his forthcoming book Hey. America: Black Music and the White House is an epic history of soul music and the presidents); and fellow Black music author and journalist, Kevin Le Gendre – and their tributes can be read below.
Words by Kevin Le Gendre (2021)
Joseph Malik’s Diverse Part 3 is the final instalment of a critically acclaimed trilogy he began in 2002. But this boldly uncompromising and musically accomplished album is also about the state of the world in 2021. The artist did not use any filters.
An emotional honesty lies at the centre of this deeply affecting audio-diary that references milestones in Black music on both sides of the Atlantic, from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, to Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy, to Young Disciple’s Road To Freedom. As is the case with these landmarks, Diverse Part 3, is unflinchingly personal and was born against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in Edinburgh, where Malik has lived since the early ‘90s.
“It’s a document of our times,” explains Joseph. “All I was really doing was looking at our times and saying this is happening right here and right now! I was writing down what was happening around me, and saying this is what I’m feeling.”
“When I was writing I was watching footage of the BLM event (where Joseph was the main speaker) at Holyrood Park on June 7th, 2020,” Joseph recalls. “You had 7,000 people, the biggest congregation of all races, creeds, colours, sexual orientations in recent times, and it was just incredible. I recorded footage for a video with the crowd chanting Black Lives Matter, and people who were there sent footage of a speech I made; I sampled that for the album.”
The singer, who was born in Glasgow, and is of Nigerian, Scottish and Irish heritage, is nothing if not revealing on songs that address identity as well as injustice. Mixed Race Combination sees Malik exercise the right to define himself on his own terms and work through the pain of childhood trauma. To a certain extent the piece resonates with previous musings on Mailk’s heartland such as 2002’s Ibotribe, from the first instalment of Diverse, issued by the prestigious German label Compost.
Diverse Part 3 is impactful for the way it blends the specific and the universal. For every thought on what it means to be called a ‘half-caste’, or to be denied a rightful place in Scotland, there are parallel reflections on the country’s slave-trading history, or on the outpouring of virulent racism against the victims of the Grenfell tragedy. “I’ve written things because I was really angry, just using that as best I can,” says Joseph, who sought to channel those strong feelings in the most constructive way.
In order to present his thoughts as clearly as possible Malik, whose magnificently soulful voice is by turns delicate and defiant, has made Diverse Part 3, a work of two distinct chapters, so to speak. The album is handsomely packaged as a book and there is a foreword by a distinguished author to put each side of the record into context. The songs on the first half convey hope and freedom, for which Stuart Cosgrove (the highly respected music journalist) has written a text, while the irrepressible maverick Irvine Welsh, who has been a friend of Malik’s for many years, and was at the Dundas Statue protest in St. Andrew’s Square last year, introduces the second half in inimitable fashion.
“It’s more kind of dark and dystopian,” explains Joseph.“It’s about emphasising just how far all this hate is going, and really revealing it as it is. The music… well… it’s more than just a record to me. Having the book and stuff to read takes me back to the graphic novels that inspired me as a kid. I thought it would be an exciting thing for me to combine literature and music.”
The backdrop for these songs ranges from achingly beautiful orchestral soul to gritty, bare-knuckle funk, full of hard beats to match Malik’s combative energy. The craftsmanship has been some thirty years in the making, during which time the singer-producer has been mentored by significant figures in British black music, from Femi Fem and Marco of Young Disciples to Rob Birch of Stereo MCs.
Malik reserves special praise for legendary African-Americans, though. He has shared the stage with Terry Callier, had long conversations with Marvin Gaye’s producer Leon Ware, and also been given very sound advice by the iconic Gil Scott-Heron. “He passed on a lot of knowledge to me, above all he said ‘choose your words well’.”
That message has been emphatically received and put to essential use on Diverse Part 3. The record is a work of resounding artistic maturity that confirms Joseph Malik’s immense talent both as a singer and songwriter, as well as his steadfast commitment to socio-political issues that can no longer be kicked into the long grass. If diversity is a central story of Britain today then Diverse Part 3 is its brave, uplifting soundtrack.
Words by Irvine Welsh (2021)
Listen to this beautiful music of righteous defiance. Let yourself be moved by its controlled and cool rage against a machine that’s grinding us all into the dust, and has been for centuries. This apparatus of oppression has now assumed a bizarre form. Though mundane, it’s slicker, sharper, more efficient and deadlier than ever. It doesn’t send us to wars to fight each other in order to maintain the privileges of its elites, but it poisons us slowly; our air, our food, and most of all, our minds, with its constant lies and propaganda that no other world is possible. That the lot of humans is to live in a factory of misery, where you just might be able to earn some kind of a wage for the destruction of your culture and loss of your soul.
This summer, I was with my friend, Joseph Malik, addressing a crowd demonstrating against the statue of slave trader Henry Dundas in Edinburgh’s St. Andrew’s Square. My overwhelming emotion was not even one of anger, but of sheer embarrassment. Here we were, living in a (self-defined by its current masters) progressive, modern city, which so casually and wearisomely celebrated the perpetrators of such an atrocity. That removing this imperious artifact was even considered a subject for debate. That being looked down on all our citizens; by someone who actively supported and profited from the violent kidnapping, rape, abuse, and slavery of men, women and children was somehow acceptable.
The day offered up what those events tend to: a cocktail of beauty, anger, despair, hope and resistance. And then Joseph went away with some friends and did what he always does; commit those experiences of life into amazing music. And he recognises that while the machine of oppression is in some ways stronger than ever, it’s simultaneously much weaker than before. It’s run out of room to manoeuver. All it can do is cut costs. The biggest cost is labour. Its quest to drive wages to zero is a long-established and continuing one. It now embarks on its most dangerous game ever: to attempt to control us without feeding us.
So my words are inadequate here. They’re only one strand of resistance to a propaganda system that sneers about the possibility of any positive change in the world. I’d even go as far as to say that the counter opinions of people like myself only legitimates and enhances the brainwashing of the private controlled and the de facto private controlled media, by pretending there is a parity in a ‘marketplace of ideas’ in what is in reality a systematic monolith of mind control.
So instead of dwelling on these words, I urge you again, to listen to this music. It’s the only way to understand our changing, disintegrating and emerging world. Feel it. That’s where the real truth lies. Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere, and the Director General of the BBC do not make music for a reason.
Words by Stuart Cosgrove (2021)
Joseph Malik is a remarkable artist whose music resonates with our times. He sings about the fragility of life, of a man who cries when left alone, and of the politics of street life outside our windows. The need to find an escape route recurs throughout.
Looking Right Back At You Pt.1 is a serenade for Black Lives Matter. It opens with a small child chattering about the big issues of our times, as the song floats out of the window on a gentle soulful breeze. It has the quiet confidence of some of the great 1970s soul singers Eddie Kendricks and Al Green.
Comparisons can be deceptive especially when you compare a man with a woman but there is in Joseph Malik’s songs an echo of Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, better known professionally as H.E.R., the multi award-winning American singer- songwriter. The drifting and gentle electronica sits beside a soothing soul voice, allied to clever lyrics and nagging familiarity.
Diverse Part 3 arrives like an unfolding story of real people in a real-world dilemma. Reason to Be chases stars and Hollywood dreams and yet is grounded in stories of methadone and an atmosphere that frames any sense of easy escape. I Quit My Nine to Five is an anthem for the aimless creative who wants to break out of the day job with no real sense of what to do other than refusing consent.
The funkier Claro Final brings horns and two-step dance music to the fore but does not let up on the themes of freedom, escape, and the right to love. The tracks end with Just to Be Free which aligns fatback sound and introspective lyrics with a confessional finale. Joseph Malik is an artist of our times precisely because he recognises the art in others from beyond our times.