Executives used as bait and trainees cast aside – UK music industry must do better on race | Music

Bthe lack of musical creativity bled like dye through the fabric of the UK, painting it in colors it had never known before. He rang out at jungle raves in the 90s, draped himself in designer prints and champagne at garage dances, partied to funky house in the mid-2000s, and wove English with Patois and Yoruba on Afrobeats. Colloquialisms and bits of black dialect come out of every British teenager’s mouth, often via music, with phrases like ‘wagwan’ and ‘peng’ dotting British slang, changing the sound of the country without a full understanding of the origins.

Our music told the story of the times, from Steel Pulse’s Handsworth Revolution to Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in Da Corner, and black music can convey the language of resistance, sadness and joy for others become fluid: Lethal B’s Pow! (Forward), released in 2004, became the unofficial anthem when young people took to the streets of Westminster in 2011 to protest rising tuition fees. Black people became adept at expressing themselves through a medium that could never be totally stolen from us, even as it was later appropriated and monetized by white musicians and businesses.

Digga D performing in 2021. Photography: Dave Burke/REX/Shutterstock

But despite the strength of black music in the social literature, as well as the dominance of the dancefloor, genres such as garage and drill are often reviled, and black artists see their songs and videos de-platform and live opportunities blocked by the authorities; our successes can be stifled, despite apparent commercial success. pow! has been banned from numerous clubs, and more recently rapper Digga D has been linked to an order of oppressive criminal behavior in an unprecedented way. It has been claimed that by limiting his lyrical content, as well as who he associates with and where he can go, the CBO would steer him away from the lure of a criminal lifestyle.

The larger backdrop is that for those of us in the black diaspora, although many of our cultures and dialects have remained remarkably intact after centuries of empire, what we have lost is immeasurable. The burning of books and scriptures and the decay of our civilizations – Britain is still full of artefacts which have yet to be repatriated to the countries from which they were taken – have meant that the true scale of our heritage is irreparably distorted. Being disconnected from your identity in this way allows self-doubt, low self-esteem and displacement to set in, and can restrict how big we dare to dream and what we believe is rightfully ours.

Black culture is also one of the most imitated, exploited and monetized in the world, and often masked by non-blackness – where the lines are blurred just enough to cling to the credibility of its creators without having to give them credit, as with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin draw inspiration from African-American blues artists. Lulu’s cover of The Isley Brothers Shout in 1964 is a great example of how white female artists were able to take advantage of the blue-eyed soul, and echoes of Motown and Stax can be heard in catalogs of other stories. British female hits such as Joss Stone, Duffy, Amy Winehouse and Adele, all more commercially successful than their black British soul peers.

For black music professionals behind the scenes as well, being able to achieve and maintain an upward career trajectory remains a real challenge compared to their white peers: are black despite the cultural dominance of diverse styles rooted in the culture who remain hugely popular,” UK Music’s 2020 Diversity Report revealed.

Komali Scott-Jones.
Komali Scott-Jones. Photography: Kee Visions Ltd

For those moving up the ranks, the Black Music Coalition, which I co-founded in 2020, has heard first-hand accounts of overt racism and microaggressions in the UK music industry, and these cases have led some black professionals to choose to find success outside the UK. Manager and publisher Tim Blacksmith, who received an MBE for his services to music in honor of the Queen’s Jubilee, recently spoke about the lack of UK investment in young black music entrepreneurs and described it as a “sad indictment” that because of this he could not have achieved the success he was able to achieve in the United States.

It is also not uncommon for black executives to report being used as bait by record labels to attract the most exciting black talent, only to be pushed aside when high-level decisions are made and fame rises. is claimed. This leaves black artists at the mercy of teams that have a limited understanding of their culture and identity, often imprinting them with a version of blackness deemed acceptable to the masses.

Despite this still hostile environment for creatives and executives, black music continues to thrive in the mainstream. Stormzy’s portrait hanging in the National Portrait Gallery denies the idea that there are spaces we are not meant to be in; Dave selling nights at the O2, seven years after his introduction to the scene, silences the cynical voices that said British rap was a fad. Inflo, who has helmed multi-genre albums from Adele to Little Simz, has inspiringly become the first black producer of the year to win the Brit Awards this year, and his commitment to creating positive change is evident in his recent plan to introduce a minimum royalty rate for young black producers within the major label system.

Black British songwriters write hits across all genres: Jin Jin for Jess Glynne and David Guetta; Camille Purcell writes Black Magic and Shout Out to My Ex for Little Mix. Talented producers such as Detonate churn out records for pop stars and indie bands, including Snuts’ Zuckerpunch and End of the Road (the latter featuring Rachel Chinouriri, an emerging black artist making her mark in the alternative world ). UK black-owned platforms such as No Signal are bringing our black music across the diaspora. In the wake of the seismic shift of 2020 and amplified global movements including Black Lives Matter and The Show Must Be Paused, the cries against anti-Black racism are loud and clear.

What needs to follow is proper training of talented black staff, identifying those who will be a future asset to these companies rather than leaving them behind after a year-long internship or a plateau as consultants. There also needs to be more recruitment and promotion to the next level for black professionals in the industry, and the industry needs to recognize that the skills of these professionals go beyond simply working with or understanding black artists. or black music.

Whether on social media or through traditional publications, we need to publicly celebrate black diversity of thought, black variety in career paths, and black self-determination. The cultural and commercial value that black music, artists and professionals bring to UK industry must be documented and recognized after black squares are posted on social media.

As the Black Music Coalition celebrates its second anniversary, we are more determined than ever to hold the industry accountable for delivering on the promises many made in June 2020. Our ongoing work will help measure the changes made so far and how far we have to go. to actualize the equality – and fairness – that black artists and executives seek and deserve.

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