Press Release :
‘Are white artists like Eminem, Justin Timberlake and Christiana Aguilera appropriating black music?’ Debate Report
The music industry was charged with institutional racism at the Black Music Congress’ debate entitled ‘Are white artists like Eminem, Justin Timberlake and Christiana Aguilera appropriating black music?’ held at City University London on January 31.
The perception was that the industry was keen to promote white artists performing black music, but reluctant to invest commensurate resources in black artists performing black music or specific types of black music. Although participants felt that white artists could participate within black music genres, so long as they acknowledged their sources and influences, there was however a view that there was a deliberate “political” and “racist” policy to sell black music styles with proven commercial potential using “safe” white faces.
Jazz musician Jamie Callum and soul singer Joss Stone were pointed out as examples – the former, a recipient of a reputed £1m record deal and huge marketing by the same company that didn’t offer the same opportunities to the more innovative black jazz musician Courtney Pine, and the latter is currently receiving a major push performing a style that most black artists would not be allowed to perform because the gate-keepers of the industry view it as non-commercial and old-fashioned.
Secondly, it was acknowledged that appropriation has been happening for decades – well before the likes of Elvis Presley, Pat Boone and Bill Haley. However, participants highlighted that an insidious aspect was the process by which copycat white artists over time came to be regarded as the kings and inventors of black music genres. Today’s faces of rock n roll, and the fact that American ska/pop band No Doubt thought ska was invented by the 2-Tone movement in Britain, were cases in point.
Whilst accepting that white artists appropriate black music, panellist Dave Woolf, co-manager of Beverley Knight and head of the DWL promotions company, he felt the debate question would only tie us up in knots, and a more relevant question to address ‘How can we improve the odds that the industry will give black artists the same chances as white artists?”
Fellow panellist Lisa Lindahl, an urban music publicist, put forward the symbiotic advantages of white participation by pointing to the pop, mainstream doors that were open to rapper Redman through his collaboration with Christiana Aguilera in the hit record ‘Dirrty’.
Athough panellist Mykaell Riley, a senior lecturer at Westminster University and founder of the Black Music Education Trust, highlighted the fact that black music participation in Britain has historically been inclusive, he nevertheless added that the industry continues to demonstrate “systematic, and endemic institutional racism.”
Also, whether to define the music as urban music or black music, was another issue which was repeatedly touched upon (it will be the subject of the May 22 debate entitled ‘Is it black music or urban music?’). The general consensus was that the all-embracing ‘urban music’ was another tactic used to appropriate black music without acknowledging its black roots. As one participant, Dean Okai, put it: “Urban is the new jazz, the new rock n roll.” It’s another way in which “ownership is taken away from us.”
The Black Music Congress offers a forum for debating issues around black music. Its programmes take place at City University London as part of the Cultural Industries Unit;s outreach programme. Entry is free, and is open to the University students and the general public. The participants are predominantly black, but not exclusively. They are a mixture of people interested, and those actually working, in the music business as artists or industry practitioners.
BMC was founded by Kwaku, a music business lecturer and journalist.
THE BMC PROGRAMME FOR 2004
Are the sisters really doing it for themselves? March 13 . 3-6pm. Oliver Thompson Theatre, City University, Northampton Sq, London EC1. £Free, but it’s advisable to pre-book by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org subject: gender.
Is it black music or urban music? May 27. 3-6pm. Oliver Thompson Theatre, City University, Northampton Sq, London EC1. £Free, but it’s advisable to pre-book by emailing email@example.com subject: genre