The recent revelations by supermodel Naomi Campbell and her former agent that the modelling business is racist, resulting in African models not being put forward for lucrative jobs or earning less than their European peers, is nothing new for many Africans in the music industry.
Four years ago at a Black Music Congress (BMC) debate, panellist Mykaell Riley, accused the music industry of “systematic, and endemic institutional racism.”
Except for Corinne Bailey Rae and Leona Lewis, no new African British act has achieved major success in the last two years. However, Britain’s best-selling black music acts are Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen.
If African British artists are not shifting units, is it because of lack of talent, or record company dis-interest or lack of experience in selling black music fronted by an African British face?
At the BMC’s recent forum, ‘Thinking Out Of The Box: What We’re Doing To Raise The Game Within The British Black Music Sector’, artist manager and publicist Jackie Davidson declared: “The major record companies are dropping black acts. They are not interested in signing and developing black acts.”
Davidson, who manages Wayne Hector, whose songs have been covered by the likes of Westlife, Michael Bolton, Ronan Keaton, Boyzone and Michelle McManus, later added that at a gathering of over one hundred EMI Music executives and artist managers, the number of African managers could be counted on one finger. “This level of participation shows that there are serious issues that need to be addressed.”
The forum’s workshops addressed keys issues, which included what to do to raise the game at radio and retail, and how best to deal with the music industry.
The ways forward included better training particularly for young radio presenters; sensitising consumers to the rationale for supporting home-grown talent; encouraging competing artists and labels to collaborate to help build a buzz or scene; the need for risk-taking by artists and record companies; and going the doing it for self and independent route.
Root Jackson, a 40 year music veteran, said the way to build careers was through regular live performances, echoing sentiments expressed earlier by Jazzie B, who said that after not performing enough during Soul II Soul’s heyday, he’d be marking the group’s twentieth anniversary with a massive tour.
“One white participant’s feedback was that too much was being made of racism,” noted BMC founder Kwaku. “Of course there are other issues to deal with other than racism. But when people working at different levels within the music industry all highlight racism as a career-retardant, one can simply not ignore it. Actually, most Africans take racism as a given, and just focus on working around it.”
By June, which is British Black Music Month, the BMC plans to have improved the knowledge and networking base of its participants through the creation of an online directory; music industry master-classes; two small grants for young, budding label owners; a records fair; and networking day.