The BBC’s new eight-part drama about family and fame, set within a fictionalised version of the UK’s rap and R&B scenes, comes with an epic soundtrack built in. Who are the stars of Champion, and which of Black British music’s biggest names feature in the show?
Champion v Champion
Bosco and Vita Champion are sparring siblings, living in South London. At the start of the series, Bosco is a high-profile star on the scene, with Vita firmly in his shadow, but the status quo is about to be dramatically overturned…
The show’s rivalry theme is there from its opening moments: shaky home video footage of a brother and sister rapping along to So Solid Crew’s ‘21 Seconds’ on the TV in their living room, and Bosco throwing a fit because his little sister Vita is effortlessly nailing it.
Cut to now, and grime star Bosco (Top Boy’s Malcolm Kamulete) is having a panic attack backstage, after two years away from the scene in prison. Who successfully talks him down and onto the stage? Vita (Déja J Bowens). She’s not only his assistant, but it turns out she’s also been writing Bosco’s hits for him.
Is it time for her to step out of her brother’s shadow and become a performer in her own right? Yes, very soon, head-to-head battle Champion v Champion is on. Plus there are tensions between Vita and her best friend (and erstwhile songwriting partner) Honey (Ray BLK), and the wider family fallout when Vita decides that she’s done toeing the line.
Today, the music industry is more fraught than ever before, with walls of camera phones on 24/7; a cacophony of social media comment permanently streaming; the pressures of touring; and the perils of dodgy contracts; plus managers and producers who may or may not have their artists’ best interests front of mind.
The show’s creator and writer, Candice Carty-Williams, wanted to ensure that social issues are as prominent as the music – Champion shows the music industry’s sexism and racism, together with issues such as mental health and heavy-handed policing in Black communities. It’s a show that’s driven as much by social purpose as gripping drama.
And, of course, at the heart of the show, there’s family. Carty-Williams told BBC online that, ‘When I watch most TV shows, especially concerning young people, I’m always thinking, where’s the family, where did they come from? I think where we come from says so much about us… I can see why when people don’t talk to each other you can have massive rifts that last lifetimes sometimes. Putting that into my work is really important because family is so foundational.’
Who’s the Team Behind Champion?
Loosely based on an initial idea by Skins co-creator Bryan Elsley, Champion has been written by award-winning, bestselling author Candice Carty-Williams. Her debut novel, Queenie, took the publishing world by storm in 2019, and is currently in production with Channel 4 (Carty-Williams is attached as Executive Producer).
Casting obviously presented its own challenges. Carty-Williams told the Guardian, ‘It’s not massively easy to find actors who can sing or rap and act to a high level.’ Malcolm Kamulete, who plays Bosco, has made music since he was about 12; Déja J Bowens, who plays Vita, grew up singing in church choirs. She confessed that, post-drama school she and Vita ‘had a similar journey in trying to find confidence, step out and become singers.’
Singer Ray BLK (Honey) is coming from the opposite angle – it’s her first time acting, having launched her music career with debut EP Havisham in 2015. She was approached by Carty-Williams to create music for the series, but after reading the script, Ray – who took acting lessons as a teenager – found herself drawn to the character of Honey, Vita’s best friend, and asked to audition.
The team reveal more in this BFI Q&A:
With the series billed as a ‘love letter to Black British music’, it’s obviously front and centre in Champion. So who wrote the tracks for Bosco, Vita and Honey? Each main character had a songwriter – Ghetts wrote most of Bosco’s tracks; Debbie wrote Vita’s and Ray BLK is herself a singer and rapper, so composed Honey’s music (for example the song ‘Shades of Blue’, which uses lyrics stolen by Honey from Vita – so Ray was channelling both Vita and Honey.)
Candice Carty-Williams emphasises how much work went into the music: ‘We’ve created two albums’ worth of music. It’s like 78 music moments across the series, around 25 actual songs.’ She brought grime expert Hattie Collins on board as a music consultant, who reached out to everyone from Toddla T and Stormzy’s producer PRGRSHN to Shola Ama. She worked with music supervisor Catherine Grieves, who’s put together soundtracks as varied as Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Killing Eve and Extraordinary.
The artists were briefed to create tracks that spoke to the story – they range from neo-soul ballads to soundclash bars, drill, rap, R&B, soul and there are also the reggae classics that Beres, Bosco’s father, plays on his radio show.
Carty-Williams is keen to stress that it’s a show about music, not a musical: ‘In most musicals, someone is talking and you feel a song coming up because they’re about to gear up to it, but in Champion, all the music is very specific, everything has a point and a place. I really like that we’re not breaking the wall of the drama. We’ve got all these amazing hybrid actor-musicians, which is incredible.’
Authentic, powerful and gripping, Champion has been made with passion both behind and in front of the camera – and it shows. One not to miss – you can binge the whole lot on BBC iPlayer now.
Want More Music?
Read about more trailblazing women in film, music and art and the best female artists of all time. Want to learn more about the history of women in music? Explore extraordinary female activists and the key women in hip hop.
Need Music for Your Project?
At Audio Network we create original music, of the highest quality, for broadcasters, brands, creators, agencies and music fans everywhere. Through clear and simple licensing, we can offer you a huge variety of the best quality music across every conceivable mood and genre. Find out how we can connect you with the perfect collaborator today by clicking the button below!