Poet, singer and songwriter
‘My songs are love songs, but love songs for my fellow man’. Labi Siffre
Claudius Afolabi “Labi” Siffre is a British poet, songwriter, musician and singer. He was the fourth of five children born to a British mother of Barbadian-Belgian descent and a Nigerian father. He was educated at a Catholic independent day school. Jazz and blues records provided his musical education: his brother Kole had an excellent record collection.
In the early 1970s he released six albums and had three UK hits with “It Must Be Love,” “Crying Laughing Loving Lying” and “Watch Me.” He toured Britain and Europe supporting other singers. He moved to Los Angeles in 1977 and wrote with Tom Shapiro, a famous American song writer. When he returned to the UK in 1978 he was disappointed by the limited success of his albums. He was also fed up with the treatment of Black artists by the British music industry. He quit performing to move to the countryside and concentrate on song writing.
Siffre wrote the song ‘(Something Inside) So Strong’ in 1984. He wanted to write the song when he saw a television report from South Africa. The report showed a white soldier shooting at black children. It is one of the most famous protest songs of all time. The song is an example of the political and sociological thread running through much of Siffre’s lyrics and poetry. It was adopted by the anti-apartheid movement as an anthem.
Siffre did not intend to record the song himself but was persuaded. It was released in February 1987 and won an Ivor Novello Award for ‘Best Song Musically and Lyrically’. It has been covered many times and sampled by Dr Dre and Kanye West.
As he was writing the song he realised he was also writing about growing up gay in England. It reflected the challenges and abuse he had faced. It has become an anthem for the LGBT+ community. It is also used by women’s groups, disability groups, sexual abuse recovery groups and many other organisations.
Amnesty International has used the song in numerous campaigns on human rights issues. The song was used in Pratibha Parmar and Alice Walker’s film about female genital mutilation – Warrior Marks. During a remembrance ceremony for the Grenfell Tower tragedy the crowd sang the song.
In July 1964, when he was 19, Siffre met Peter Lloyd. They formed a civil partnership in 2005. In an interview he said, ‘I will never, as a gay man and a black man, ever feel comfortable in the land of my birth. I feel a little more comfortable – I got married, and that’s great.’ Peter died in 2013.
Siffre remains active in political and social justice issues, and is an outspoken atheist. He is a Patron of LGBT History Month. He says, ’In terms of sexuality, the challenge has always been for heterosexuals to display more backbone.’