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Black pioneers explored in 'The Influence Project'

PICTURED: Alexis Chabala, George Clinton and producer Lorayne Crawford

WHO ARE some of your influences? For Alexis Chabala and Lorayne Crawford, their list of inspiring musical figures are vast. From funk masters and R&B influencers like George Clinton and Anderson .Paak to Afrobeat’s finest and Hip-Hop’s leading figures, the creative duo are celebrating the very artists inspiring a generation alongside their contemporaries, with a new photography exhibition.

‘The Influence Project’ joins the icons and the contemporaries and houses them in one epic exploration of black music as a part of Somerset House’s Summer Series.

Through captivating portraiture, film and sound, the project offers visitors a unique and important interpretation of musical history and acknowledging those influences, in an age where the lines of influence and cultural appropriation often gets blurred.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the roots of music,” says Lorayne, as we discuss the exhibition at Somerset Houses’ Brynn Williams restaurant. “I’m also telling my teenage daughter where her music comes from; breaking down tracks to show her where that catchy hook originated or where this sample is from. I kind of go through that with her so she’s more aware. This is something quite important to me being a music nerd…my daughter doesn’t always appreciate it though!”

The Scottish-born producer has an extensive knowledge of music, working previously as an Artist Liaison at Live Nation and currently as producer with Alexis Chabala - the man behind the lens of this exhibition.

Anderson .Paak (Photo credit: Alexis Chabala)

The twosome who’ve known each other for years, decided to team up on this project in part due to their shared love of music. “The majority of our free time is spent listening to music, going to festivals and live shows,” adds Alexis.

Congolese, London-based photographer Alexis Chabala was born in Zambia with a keen eye for photography which he honed in on at a young age. Since studying both Fine Art & Photography in Brussels, the talent has photographed everyone from Anthony Joshua and Femi Kuti to Christian Louboutin and George Clinton - the latter who features in The Influence Project and was one of Alexis’ favourite people to photograph.

“We spent the whole day and evening with him,” he recalls. “His brain is amazing! - He tells the best stories and has the most incredible memory..I don’t know how he remembers so much stuff!”

Clinton is one of the many iconic figures featured in the project alongside contemporary acts including Laura Mvula and Kojey Radical who are often connected to the pioneers who paved the way. “The process of picking the people to photograph has been quite organic,” says Lorayne. “But what was most important to us was that these contemporary artists were connected to our pioneers in some way.”

Establishing the connection between the emerging and established artists is key to The Influence Project and continues to be. Despite the project officially launching in June, the duo are still working on it to this day — an ongoing passion project which first begun four years ago.

“For this project we really started to dig deep and look at the connections between these artists and we found so many — it’s not as surprising as you may think,” notes Alexis.

The dichotomy between the new and the old, the legends and the rising stars is often a topic of discussion in our society. In a post-internet world where cultural appropriation is called out as quickly as it is to send out a tweet, acknowledging the influences and the originators has become more important than ever and Alexis and Lorayne are engaging in that conversation through their work.

“When shooting and talking to the more contemporary artists, most of them are very aware of their influences and make sure they pay tribute to those artists,” says Alexis. “I think the line can be blurred, but it’s blatant appropriation that is the issue and something we definitely wanted to explore with The Influence Project.”

Preserving the work of the originators and paying tribute to musical history is a passion for both self proclaimed “music nerds” — and they want visitors of the exhibition to come into their world and embrace it.

“We want visitors to understand how important these pioneers are and their significance in todays music. We hope they also take away a greater understanding of tools like “sampling’ which are the foundations of hip hop, and how music is continually evolving,” concludes Alexis.

“And of course I would love them to leave the exhibition thinking…'that photography is amazing!’”

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