A group of Black artists and industry professionals discuss what barriers they have faced throughout their careers, the issues found within the industry and what needs to be done in order to make positive and effective change. ‘A Celebration of Black Music’ event was hosted by the University of Gloucestershire and The Music Works.
The event was divided into two halves, the first a panel of Black Artists and other members of the Music Industry discussing the barriers they face and how they can be overcome. The panel consisted of Jamz Supernova, Hannah Shogbola, Vincent Darby, Rider Shafique and Dread MC as the host.
The first question posed to the panel was “How did you get your start in the music industry?”, Jamz and Hannah both explained how much work and “hussle” both had to put into their work in order to be in the position they are currently in. Part of this is due to how competitive the industry is. However, the barriers they have faced throughout their careers resulted in both women being forced to work considerably harder than a lot of their colleagues to reach the same position. Even once they had reached senior positions in the industry, they still faced challenges as a result of often being the only women or the only black person in a team. Jamz in particular spoke about how a lot of her colleagues would interrupt her and leave her feeling uncomfortable in situations where she should feel free to express her opinion.
The next question asked was “Did you experience any barriers during this time?”. Hannah answered, “I would be lying if I didn’t”, she then explained how difficult it was to get job interviews simply because her surname is not typically English. Therefore, she had to use her mother’s maiden name when applying for different jobs. Without doing this she may not be in the position she is.
When Rider answered this question, he said that he had not experienced explicit barriers however he found that he could not further his career unless he fit a certain stereotype. Throughout his career, Rider felt obliged to fit the stereotype of a Jamaican MC. He then applied this to mainstream music as most black artists that are successful and in the charts are generally those who fit this stereotype of being a rapper or grime artist. Those artists that do not fit the stereotype are often not accepted
A statement that all panellists agreed with massively was “If you’re too black, certain doors won’t open for you”. This type of racism was spoken about massively throughout the discussion.
Rider spoke about how “those labelled as black, are the most diverse on the planet”. He then described the huge range of cultures there are under the label and how this frustrated him even further as the industry seems to think that black people can only create certain types music.
Dread also asked about the use of the term ‘Urban’ in the music industry. All panellists agreed that the phrase was inappropriately used to group black music together. They spoke about how it prevents their audiences from understanding the routes and differences in their music and prevents artists from truly expressing themselves.
As the CEO of a large music agency, Hannah gave the audience a thorough insight into what music corporations attitude towards increasing diversity in the industry is. The other panellists agreed with her when she said that the smaller agencies and companies have a huge amount of diversity however, the large companies such as the BBC lack this diversity hugely and how this ‘pisses her off’.
Vincent explained how a lot of up and coming artists are generally treated differently depending on their race. He found that white artists would be granted money towards projects and would be given full freedom over the project with little care for financial return however black artists are thoroughly monitored and restricted in what they can and can’t do.
Tokenism in the industry was explored in depth during the discussion. The panellists spoke about how they have witnessed this recently especially as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. Hannah explained how a lot of people in the industry approached her for advice on how to become more diverse. However she felt that a lot of these attempts to diversify are simply in order to “tick a box”. Vincent then stated that those agencies and companies are “not putting the right people in the right places”. Meaning that a lot of the diversity was for show and not actually because those people suited the role effectively.
The panel came to the consensus that in order for companies to actually become more diverse they need to have honest conversations and transparency needs to be implemented more thoroughly. Jamz also said that the industry needs to stop seeing “Black music through a white lens”, referring back to the stereotypes of artists in the industry.
When asked if change is actually happening, the panel replied by saying that there is some change, a lot more work is needed however, things are starting to improve. They also pointed out how black artists have always fought for people to hear their work. No barrier is able to hold them back and the popularity of black artists, especially in the US, is huge.
Rider said that being a black person in a heavily white dominated industry often means you “see things and sometimes you bite your tongue”. He said that you regret it but sometimes it’s not worth the consequences of speaking against these people.
The panel also spoke about how they each experience subtle forms of racism in their day to day life. Vincent told the story of how he was forced to cut his afro because people would always run their hands through his hair, even without asking.
Jamz told the audience the story of how one of her friends asked her if black people were ready to for a larger position in the industry. She said that “we’ve always been ready to take over the reigns, we’ve just never been given the opportunity”.
This panel gave the audience a deeper insight into the barriers that black people and black artists face in the music industry and what can and should be done to change the lack of diversity within it.