Canongate signs Sanneh's Major Labels pop music history

Canongate signs Sanneh's Major Labels pop music history

Canongate has signed Major Labels by Kelefa Sanneh, a non-fiction work exploring the evolution of pop music over the past 50 years.

Sanneh has been a New Yorker staff writer since 2008 and a former pop music critic for the New York Times. Previously, he was the deputy editor of Transition, a journal of race and culture based at the W E B Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University. His writing has also appeared in a number of magazines and books.

Major Labels details the genres that have dominated the music scene, and is described as "a book to shock and awe the deepest music nerd, and at the same time to work as a heady gateway drug for the uninitiated".

The synopsis explains: "A bold reckoning with music's evolution as a popular art form, Major Labels sees the entire history of popular music over the past 50 years refracted through the big genres that have defined and dominated it. Sanneh celebrates rock, country, punk, R&B, dance and hip-hop as huge cultural and economic forces, and as essential components of our identities, from Black Sabbath to Black Flag to Beyoncé, and beyond.

"Distilling a career’s worth of knowledge, Sanneh explores the music forms, and how its genres, shape shifting across the years, give us a way to track larger forces and concerns. He debunks cherished myths, reappraises beloved heroes, and upends familiar ideas of musical greatness, arguing that sometimes, the best popular music isn't transcendent: it expresses our grudges as well as our hopes, and is motivated by greed as well as inspiration. Throughout, race is a powerful touchstone: just as there's always been a ‘Black’ audience and a ‘white’ audience (with some overlap) there is Black music and white music and a whole lot of expropriation."
Hannah Knowles, editorial director, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights from Gordon Wise at Curtis Brown. She said: "Major Labels is the definitive music book I’ve been waiting for: not elitist or knowingly ironic, but celebratory, warm, incisive and completely riveting. I can’t think of a better description of Sanneh’s writing than the one Scott Moyers at Penguin Press has used – polyamorous – and it feels destined to start many heated conversations."

Sanneh said: "I wrote Major Labels because I was a teenager obsessed with punk rock who became a record-store clerk obsessed with hip-hop who became a New York Times music critic obsessed with just about everything. The book is an affectionate history of the past 50 years, and it's also the answer to a question: How did popular music get so confusing, and so contentious? I can't wait for people to read it, and I couldn't be happier to have, in Canongate, a UK publisher as obsessive as I am."

The book will publish October 2021 in hardback.