Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Licence To Sing: Afrodeutsche’s Favourite Albums

From a childhood spent dancing to Top Of The Pops, a complicated relationship with Michael Jackson and the tragic loss of her tape collection, Afrodeutsche takes Manu Ekanayake through the thirteen albums that changed her life

Photo by Kasia Zacharko

Afrodeutsche, aka British-born Ghanaian / Russian / German artist Henrietta Smith-Rolla, is many things all at once. She’s a radio broadcaster, first on NTS since 2016 and then since 2021 on her own Friday evening BBC Radio 6 Music show, ‘The People’s Party’, a sonically diverse but still welcoming mix of genres and tempos; a skilled club DJ to the likes of Berghain and Dimensions festival ( but more on those formative early years later); a largely self-taught musician, who learned to play piano in the houses where her mother worked as a cleaner when she was at primary school; a composer of film scores, for 2019’s BAFTA and Oscar-nominated documentary Kamali, and a section of Ron Fricke’s 1992 documentary Baraka for The Royal Northern College Of Music in 2016. No small thing, especially for someone not classically trained.

But bullying and racism – a word she barely uses as we talk, despite it being an undercurrent we both acknowledge as people of colour who grew up in the same era in very white places – played a part in her not pursuing a violin scholarship she won at an early age. “Maybe that was a mistake,” she says of her decision to give it up. But there’s meaning and hurt behind that sentence that I know all too well. This is the understatement of those who’ve faced racism but have drawn a line so they can move on.

And move on she has, with the early backing of 808 State’s Graham Massey, who’s been in her corner since she joined his vintage organ group Sisters Of Transistors in 2006, again not an invitation often extended to someone who at that point couldn’t read music (she taught herself that too, not long afterwards). She’s moved on so far, in fact, that she’s recently been commissioned to compose a new string ensemble work for Manchester’s Camerata Orchestra (premiering at the Manchester International Festival on 5 July).

We also talk about her family’s roots in London and how much they affected her when she’d spend summers with her aunt “being taught my culture” for six summer weeks at a time. Those summers were necessary as Afrodeutsche’s diverse creative skills, those that have since made her such a crucial artist, were in short supply when she was growing up in rural Devon in the 1980s and 90s. But they’re fully present in her choices for tQ, which mostly showcase the variety and depth of Black music. There’s some Radiohead too, because she’s nothing if not experimental. These albums were, we discuss, especially needed by a young woman growing up in the only Black family – a single family at that, and in less enlightened times – for miles around. That diversity is present in her artist name too, of course. It comes from when she was looking for her birth father in 2016, which is where she discovered that as well as being Ghanaian he also had German and Russian roots.

2016 was also when the Afrodeutsche project started. It’s become the name she’s known by all over the world, and under which she released her debut album in 2018, Break Before Make, which showcases her love of Detroit techno and electro in moodily atmospheric ways that might surprise her 6 Music listeners. But those who know her better will know that’s just how she rolls: full-pelt into every opportunity including those that would scare others off. She takes her work seriously, but never herself, as regular listeners will know from her charmingly goofy aides and love of a Dad joke, all couched in a genuine curiosity and care for others. I find this out first hand when I Zoom with her and say that my phone has just suffered a catastrophic incident involving the kitchen counter. “It’s OK. You’re here now and we’ll get through it together”. From someone else that could be snide but from her it’s pure kindness and good humour. Because Afrodeutsche is many things but she’s a mensch too. Don’t forget that.

Afrodeutsche premieres a new composition at the Manchester International Festival on 5 July, featuring Manchester Camerata conducted by Robert Ames. For more information, click here, and for the full lineup at this year’s MIF, taking place from 29 June to 16 July, click here

To begin reading Afrodeutsche’s Baker’s Dozen, click the image of her below.

First Record

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today