Few record company executives (predominantly white middle-class men) understand the current black British underground scene. Even though they might see the financial potential of a new signing, they don't necessarily know what to do with them. "Black artists are the first to go if there is a problem," says Kwaku, of the Black Music Congress, a non-profit organisation which is holding a debate next Saturday at London's City University entitled Should British Black Music Shut Up Shop?, "so many of them are dropped after the first album, the first single even. There is no development, and it is not because there is no talent. There is a lot of talent, but there needs to be sustainability."The whole article is worth reading, both for the light it sheds on the current music scene, and for the insight it gives into some of the less encouraging directions in which British society is currently developing.
Yes, there has been the relative success of Dizzee Rascal, Estelle and, more recently, Kano and Sway, but even they haven't truly hit the big time.
"Kids are doing music on estates, on the street, in their bedrooms, but they are not being taken seriously," says Estelle. "There is not enough faith in black music at a high level. Record company executives, labels and artists are not taking the time to go and see what kids are producing. They don't go to the estates, they don't have that much of a clue."
And when the major labels do sign black British artists, they don't always get it right, or they end up signing acts that either aren't good enough or aren't ready. Or they sign underground white acts such as the Streets or Lady Sovereign, which would be fine if they signed plenty of black artists, too. "They get excited and complacent at the same time, so they think we are all the same," says Estelle. "They lump us all together. I am a black British female artist, so I must be like Ms Dynamite, I must be like Shystie, I must be like Jamelia, but we're all different."
The last boom for black British music was when the UK garage scene exploded at the turn of the millennium. But it didn't make enough money quickly enough, so the A&R men went elsewhere. They went back to what was familiar to them, to the music that reminded them of their youth, the stuff they knew how to sell, their spiritual home: indie music. So, too, have the hordes of white, male, middle-class music journalists, the radio station bosses and, well, pretty much everyone else. You can practically hear their relief to be back on home turf with every breathless Doherty feature.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Skinny White Guys
In the Guardian, Hannah Pool wonders if the UK's black music scene is dead?