The Influence Project: New exhibition premieres portraits of R&B, Funk and Hip Hop pioneers

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Anderson Paak © Alexis Chabala

Launching at Somerset House this week is 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 us a unique and important interpretation of musical history. Featuring photographs shot since 2014, The Influence Project will investigate the connections between these established and emerging pioneers, reaching across time to shape the sound that we hear today.

The show, which starts on 27 June, 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.

Aloe Blac © Alexis Chabala

Aloe Blac © Alexis Chabala

Lalah Hathaway © Alexis Chabala

Lalah Hathaway © Alexis Chabala

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.

George Clinton © Alexis Chabala

George Clinton © Alexis Chabala

Sister Sledge © Alexis Chabala

Sister Sledge © Alexis Chabala

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.

 Laura Mvula © Alexis Chabala

Laura Mvula © Alexis Chabala

Bill Withers © Alexis Chabala

Bill Withers © Alexis Chabala

Portraits will be 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 will explore 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 will also include a new film featuring artists talking candidly on camera about their inspirations and the ongoing challenges of appropriation, whilst a unique soundtrack will fill the gallery floor.

Kojey Radical © Alexis Chabala

Kojey Radical © Alexis Chabala

The Influence Project at the East Wing Galleries at Somerset House, London will run from 27 June until 22 August 2018. Admission is free.

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