“Freak storm comes.” This refrain, layered on top of the track’s sense of loss, powerlessness and restriction in Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids’ When Will I See You Again? – which concludes the exclusive Meet Bernard mix of my Boat Floaters Best of 2020 – works neatly as a three-word summary of the most complex and chaotic year in history.
Some 1,783,100 million deaths have been attributed to coronavirus, at the time of writing. And while that’s a tiny fraction of the 7.8 billion humans alive today, the pandemic has touched every element of our lives, and choked many of them. Paradoxically, the coronavirus outbreak has set us free and opened minds. It has exposed and exploded outdated systems and antiquated mores, and triggered meaningful transformation across the globe.
Selecting just 20 songs for 2020 was always going to be challenging (and here is the 46-track, 226-minute longlist on a Spotify playlist). But having scrolled through my monthly Spotify playlists for Meet Bernard it has been fascinating to see what tunes were floating my boat at a given month, and how the sonic salve I sought to soothe my soul shifted with global events.
Music truly has been my sanctuary in the last nine months. I’ve listened to – and discovered – more music, both ancient and new, than in any other year. I’ve unearthed countless decades-old gems. And with artists locked down and not gigging it has enabled the time, space and emotion to produce a trove of fresh, enriching tracks.
This 20-track mix features artists from Africa, the Caribbean, North and South America, Scandinavia, as well as elsewhere in Europe, and much closer to home, in London. To me, all the tracks are standalone delights, and I could pen detailed blurbs on every one. But highlights of these highlights are as follows …
I simply had to begin the set with Cándido’s 1979 classic Thousand Finger Man. Yes, it is an awesome set-starter. But the unparalleled, innovative Cuban percussionist died, aged 99, in November, so this is a homage to him and his unique talent.
The secretive SAULT, supposedly fronted by London vocalist Cleo Sol, has seasoned 2020 with two incredible, tone-perfect albums, UNTITLED (Black Is) – which you can download on Bandcamp at any price – and UNTITLED (Rise). From the latter comes Free, a brilliant track about shorn independence and the need for connection and collaboration.
I love French “Afropean” duo DjeuhDjoah & Lieutenant Nicholson, and in the April-released Caipirinha, a nod to Brazil, it’s coolness served in a cocktail glass.
The return of hip-hop collective Quakers, later in the year, was welcome, too. With South African legend Sampa The Great on rapping duty, Approach With Caution captures how many of us have felt at the tensest times this year.
Danish singer-songwriter Astrid Engberg’s jazzy soul track Daylight, which speaks of a brighter tomorrow after a heavy night, has been an earworm ever since it was released in September.
Elsewhere, there is succour to be found in Hamburg-based ensemble Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band’s new version of Erykah Badu’s The Healer, and more steelpan goodness in Steel Band de la Trinidad’s much-older arrangement of Coming Home.
I had to include the original and best version of Money’s Too Tight (To Mention), released in 1982 by the Valentine Brothers, for all the musicians struggling to make ends meet in 2020. It’s also a superb funk track.
The aforementioned When Will I See You Again? ends the 87-minute mix. I am not alone in wishing to see Ackamoor and his nonpareil group live again, and sooner rather than later.
Finally, thanks to Ryan and Dani for offering an opportunity to make sense of and showcase my monthly musical mystery touring. If we learn only one thing from 2020 it is that collaboration and supporting others is critical. Together we are stronger.
Here’s hoping for fewer freak storms in 2021. Good luck to you and your nearest and dearest.
Yours in music,
Ollie (Boat Floaters)