THE INCREASING multi-culturalism of Britain's music scene was reflected in the shortlist for one of the year's most prestigious music prizes announced yesterday.
The Mercury Music Prize, which considers rock, folk, dance, jazz and contemporary classical albums, included in the 12-strong list acts from the Asian underground scene, Talvin Singh and Black Star Liner.
There was also an increased emphasis on dance music this year compared to previous lists, with Underworld, Faithless and Chemical Brothers shortlisted. More traditional guitar rock is represented by Blur, the Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics.
But there are some notable absentees on the list. Perhaps in an effort to distance themselves from the other big music prize, the Brits, the Mercury judges - who include composers and musicians with an academic in the chair - have failed to include the multi-Brit winner and chart topper Robbie Williams, even though he has had the most successful year of his career.
There is also no nod to the icons of the very young fans: so no place for Geri Halliwell or Billie. More surprisingly, there is no place for Catatonia, whose previous album made the 1998 Mercury shortlist, Jamiroquai and Fatboy Slim.
Chairman of the Mercury judges is Professor Simon Frith, who teaches English at Strathclyde University, and has lectured on rock music. He summed up the state of the last year in British music, saying: "These albums of the year reflect the wonderfully unfettered ambitions of British musicians.
"These records at once draw on the past and look to the future, display a love of craft, and a drive to experiment, and use music to depict both a multi-cultural metropolis and an emotional landscape."
Director of the Mercury Prize, David Wilkinson, said: "When we started the prize in 1992 dance music represented about five per cent of the entries with St Etienne and a few people like that. It's clearly grown since then. This year dance music made up about 25 per cent of the total entries."
Bookmaker William Hill ranked the Manics' This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours as the immediate favourite with odds of 3/1. However, the others on the shortlist should not be too disheartened as last year's winning band Gomez started as 14-1 outsiders.
This year's list delves into the worlds of classical and jazz. The young composer, Thomas Ades, is recognised for his acclaimed orchestral work Asyla, recorded by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
And the tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste makes the shortlist with his debut album Be Where You Are. The prize is worth pounds 20,000 to the winners but, more importantly, sales have tended to soar for both the nominees and the winners in past years. The shortlist was chosen from an entry of more than 140 albums.
Folk, Rock, Dance And Jazz - The Eclectic Line-Up For Prestigious Music Award
Beth Orton - Central Reservation.
The singer from Norfolk used to be known as the Comedown Queen, as her albums were essential post-rave listening.
Very cool if a little earnest
A poignant collection of ballads and keenly felt emotions. Beth Orton draws the listener into a distinctive English landscape.
Black Star Liner - Bengali Bantam Youth Experience!
The band is from Leeds, their leader, Choque Hosein, is half-Trinidadian and half-Indian, but their music is rooted in their own street experience.
The coolest band on the list by far. Hosein is insane and should be a TV performer. A mix of Asian and dance and kitsch. One of the best acts at Glastonbury.
Uninhibited, exuberant and effortlessly groovy. A joyous blend of east and west.
They've moved on from Britpop and mockney to an album Damon Albarn calls "the sound of a band becoming ... artistically liberated."
Excellent. Very good in concert and an increasingly impressive hardcore side. Damon's voice has also got lower.
A set of inventive songs that showcases Blur's brave and brilliant combination of musical power and lyrical wit.
The Chemical Brothers: Surrender
Formed in Manchester at the start of the Nineties, they initially made their name with remixes.
Very cool which is surprising considering how anoraky they actually are.
This is not only an exuberant summary of Nineties dance grooves, but also a great pop record full of delight.
Denys Baptiste: Be Where You Are
Former member of The Jazz Warriors, acclaimed by Courtney Pine as "one of the strongest tenor saxophonists this country has produced."
His mentor is saxophonist Courtney Pine who epitomised jazz cool. So he has a good role model.
He celebrates classic jazz rhythms with verve and confidence. This album marks the emergence of a new generation in British jazz.
Faithless: Sunday 8pm
Essential ingredient of British dance music, their debut album, Salva Mea, only dented the charts but 18 months later was a world-wide hit.
Not very cool... plinky plonky trashy euro techno
Uncompromising urban dance album of great songs. Engaging, chilled out and always rewarding.
Kate Rusby: Sleepless
From Barnsley, she is at the forefront of a vibrant new generation of young British folk singers.
Aged 25, will not leave her home town, co-owns her record label with her parents. The coolest thing in Barnsley.
A fine young singer has drawn on the passion and sensuality of English folk song to make an album of remarkable freshness.
Manic Street Preachers: This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
Welsh, football-mad guitar band. Ssurvived strange disappearance of their singer- songwriter but went from strength to strength.
Sanctimonious and uninspiring performers. Their preachy stance contradicts the subversiveness they once promised.
Accessible, powerful, subversive. The Manics are the last great rock utopians.
Stereophonics:Performance & Cocktails
The South Wales band has built up a reputation as a fine live act. They released their debut album two years ago.
Run of the mill indy. Overrated.
Straight ahead guitar rock brimming with raw energy and excitement.
Talvin Singh: OK
Asian artist from London's east end. Has worked with Bjork and David Sylvian. This is his first solo album.
Traditional Asian music plus drum and bass; somehow it doesn't quite take off.
A creator of electrifying rhythms and energy, Talvin Singh takes the listener on musical trip across a global landscape.
Thomas Ades: Asyla
Still in his 20s he has already gained a considerable reputation as one of Britain's most challenging and innovative composers.
This could just be the year for a classical album to win. Sir Simon Rattle conducting will certainly not harm.
Ades's music is disturbing, humorous and always surprising. A landmark in contemporary classical composition.
Underworld: Beaucoup Fish
Came to public attention in 1994 with album Dubnobasswithmyheadman. Had hit single "Born Slippy", from the Trainspotting soundtrack.
Rating: Everyone rates them. One of the leading bands in the dance music scene.
The toughest record on the block, it extends the vocabulary of techno with drive, intelligence and crystalline beats.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies