The Beatles and the Spice Girls weren’t the only groups to come out of Britain and change the face of music.
This year marks 30 years since the release of the Soul II Soul Grammy Award winning hit, “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)”.
On May 29th, 1989, British group Soul II Soul released their follow up to the successful debut single, “Keep on Movin’” off their acclaimed debut album Club Classics Vol One. The song topped both the US and UK charts and became one of the bestselling songs of 1990, even being used in the pilot episode of the hit tv show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
According to a 2012 The Guardian article, producer and rapper Jazzie B says, “We weren't trying to follow any trend or fit into any category. We were just doing our own thing… we often look to America for our influences, but this was a moment that put British music back on the map.”
The group was a part of the British music invasion of the 1980’s that saw the debut of a sophisticated pop style with R&B and Jazz sensibilities that helped usher in the likes of artists such as Sade, Jamiroquai, and Lisa Stansfield. Comprised of severallineups, the song was distinguished by the lead vocals of R&B singer Caron Wheeler. The song was something different compared to musical trends at the time.
Filled with tribal-like beats with instrumentation ranging from violins to piano, the 3 minute and 52 second song earned the group a Grammy Award for “Best R&B Performance by Duo or Group with Vocal” in 1990.
The legacy of Soul II Soul goes beyond accolades and impressionable beats. The group casted an Afrocentric flavor against the largely white British music scene. According to a 2013 Daily Red Bull Music Academy article, “on a purely artistic level, Soul II Soul had given black British music a voice… their vocals were proudly North London and didn’t sound out of place because the music was tailored to them.”
Their style also gave way to the rising alternative hip hop scene that ushered in groups like Arrested Development and the Fugees. This mixture of afrocentric music styling equipped with powerful, often female, voice-layering vocals became the soundtrack backdrop of the early 1990’s.
The group found success throughout most of the 1990s, released several more albums and singles, as well as contributing to the soundtrack to the 1998 film How Stella Got Her Groove Back. “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me),” even made its way into the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Thirty years after its release, the song has become recognizable for both its acapella opening and philosophical lyrical content.
In retrospect, the group feels proud to have been part of a musical change. “ It also came out at a special time in the industry's history,” Jazzie B continued, “I felt proud to have been part of something that has become timeless.”