Benjamin Clementine dedicates Mercury Prize to Paris

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Benjamin Clementine wins the UK’s Mercury Prize.

Benjamin Clementine, the experimental singer and poet with deep roots in Paris, on Friday won Britain’s Mercury Prize and dedicated the award to the attack-stricken city. Pick a winner who is already commercially successful and they stand charged with telling the public what they already know; pick a winner who is too obscure and they face accusations of irrelevance. The 26-year-old, who was born in London but spent years in the French capital as a street musician, beat out veteran artists with his debut album At Least For Now.

The Mercury prize has the ability to boost an artist’s sales, but history provides us ample evidence it cannot turn a relatively unknown figure into a household name. Clementine offered his award to Paris, which was hit by coordinated attacks that killed 130 people on November 13, but broke down in tears as he spoke. “I know this is about music, but I dedicate it to what happened about four or five days ago in Paris,” he said in a quiet voice as he expressed surprise at winning. The predominance of artists of relatively obscure stature on this year’s shortlist had already attracted criticism from people keen to invoke the famously watertight argument that the best music is invariably the most commercially successful; among them heavyweight musical theorist Dan Wooton, of the Sun’s Bizarre column, who decried the list of nominees as “another snobfest from arrogant music industry luvvies who do not give a damn what the majority of the country listen to”.

Clementine won over 11 other nominees who included Florence and the Machine, the theatrical but introspective rockers who have become coveted festival headliners, and the innovative electronic composer Aphex Twin. Clementine is known for his powerful, high-pitched voice and highly poetic lyrics, with a crowd-rousing delivery that has brought comparisons to Nina Simone. The singer moved at age 19 to Paris, where he would play, and often sleep, on the streets and gradually developed a performance style that defies traditional song structure. “Sometimes when someone passes away, and they’re not part of your family, you send your condolences.

Then again, you could have said the same thing about last year’s winner, Young Fathers’ idiosyncratic hip hop album Dead, which the public decided to pass on, despite the extra publicity afforded it by their Mercury triumph.

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