LONDON (AFP) - Grime hip-hop artist Skepta was awarded Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize on Thursday (Sept 15) for his album Konnichiwa in recognition of a resurgent home-grown genre, muscling out late rock legend David Bowie.
As he presented the prize, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker paid tribute to David Bowie who had been tipped to win the award posthumously for Blackstar, released just days before his death in January.
“We as a jury decided that if David Bowie was looking down on the Hammersmith Apollo tonight he would want the 2016 Hyundai Mercury Prize to go to Skepta,” Cocker said in a ceremony at the London venue.
“Skepta brilliantly demonstrates the energising impact of British grime while retaining his unique defiant edge – completely engaging,” the jury said.
Skepta, real name Joseph Junior Adenuga, is a singer and record producer from Tottenham in north London of Nigerian origin.
The 33-year-old performed the single Shutdown at the awards and collected the prize with his mother by his side.
“It’s a good time for grime. It’s the revolution of freedom,” he told reporters.
“Now I can carry myself as I need to on the London streets,” he said.
The Mercury Prize was established in 1992 to recognise the top album by a British or Irish artist and has raised the profile of bands such as Elbow as well as individual artists including Badly Drawn Boy.
Bowie never won the music prize in his lifetime and would have been the first artist to win it after his death.
Actor Michael C. Hall, star of TV series Dexter and of Bowie-created stage show Lazarus, performed a haunting tribute to the pioneering musical icon at the ceremony combined with videos of Bowie.
Radiohead, who hold the Mercury record for most nominations but have never won the prize, were shortlisted for A Moon Shaped Pool, in which the experimental rockers inch back to their guitar-rock origins.
Anohni was nominated for Hopelessness, a searing political indictment of US foreign policy and the world’s environmental failures that shifts sharply from the artist’s earlier work with its synthpop sound.
She performed the track Drone Bomb Me in full body paint with blood-like red strokes coming from her head, signing the lyrics: “Blow my head off/ Explode my crystal guts/ Lay my purple on the grass”.
Anohni, born in Britain but raised in the United States, saw her career rise after her band Antony and the Johnsons won the Mercury Prize in 2005 for the bleak and deeply personal I Am A Bird Now.
Other nominees this year included pop singer Bat for Lashes with The Bride, a concept album about a woman’s fiance dying on the way to the wedding, and the latest works by punk revivalists Savages and danceable alternative rockers The 1975.
Also in the running for the Mercury Prize were albums by soul singers Laura Mvula and Michael Kiwanuka and by two artists from Britain’s grime music scene, Kano and Skepta.
Lesser-known artists whose albums were nominated were The Comet Is Coming, which incorporates jazz and electronica, and trippy R&B singer Jamie Woon.
“This is music to make sense of our unsettling times – heartfelt, angry, thoughtful and thrilling,” the Mercury jury said in a statement announcing the 12 shortlisted albums.
In one notable snub, singer-songwriter PJ Harvey was not nominated for The Hope Six Demolition Project, which merged her alternative rock style with reflections on displacement from Afghanistan to inner-city Washington, DC.
Her last album, Let England Shake, won in 2011, making her the only artist to have taken home the Mercury Prize twice.
The award was established as an alternative to the more commercial Brit awards and is credited with bringing attention to lesser-known acts.
Scottish rockers Primal Scream were the first winners, with subsequent victors including Portishead, Arctic Monkeys, Dizzee Rascal, Suede and Franz Ferdinand.
Pulp’s Cocker, spoken word poet Kate Tempest and Shahid Khan, also known as Naughty Boy, were among the jury and actor Benedict Cumberbatch was in the audience.