Yaw Owusu is a Liverpool-based creative consultant who has worked with the likes of Google, Universal Records, and MTV. Owusu is a board member of the Liverpool City Region Music Board, which, via its Black Music Action Group, has just shared results from the first survey on the Black music scene in Liverpool at the the Modern Music Cities conference.
In this guest post, he writes about the frustration and disillusionment felt by Black British music industry professionals, how this is exacerbated for those based outside of the London music epicentre – and what can be done to make a positive change.
The commercial viability and the cultural influence of Black British music and culture are at an all-time high. Whether you look towards the charts, the high street or high fashion, the influence and impact are clear. However, the support, treatment and elevation of talented and deserving Black British music creators and industry professionals aren’t as fitting. This was highlighted by Black Lives in Music’s report in 2021, which showed many disturbing results, including 86% of all Black music creators and 88% of all Black music professionals agreeing that there are barriers to progression.
Understandably, many Black people working within the UK music industry have feelings of intense frustration, disillusionment and isolation. As we know, the majority of this data and related experiences are reflective of Black people based in the heart of the UK music industry, which is London. For Black people based outside of the capital but working within the industry, they are reflected even less but have experiences that are often much more extreme.
Now, if you are a talented music creator or industry professional of any race and you are based outside of London, then in many ways, you are in an uphill slog to get investment, opportunities, tastemaker support, and so on. If you are a Black person based outside of London and working in the music industry, with certainty, I can say it’s at another level.
On top of the usual barriers, you will have additional progression challenges as you will experience Anti-Black racism frequently. You will likely have to do more things for less remuneration, and you will be invested in less than your non-Black contemporaries. You see fewer examples of successful people that look like you, around you, succeeding at what you want to do. And imagine then, as a reality, you see Black British music culture being commodified and commercialised, and you are siloed on a scale many in London may be horrified by!
So, just move to London where it’s better, right?
Well maybe. But then you will see top-tier regional music creators and professional talent leave and essentially take their skills and expertise away with them, sending their scenes back a number of decades. And let’s not even factor in the impact on them leaving families and support networks behind.
Alternative approaches should be prioritised to avoid this, which may lead to more Black-led, nationally leading, but regionally based businesses like Michael Adex’s NQ in Manchester and Despa Robinson’s Be83 in Birmingham.
So, what would need to be done?
Intervention initiatives that look deep into the problem, then focus on change by implementing tried and tested solutions for those Black music creators and professionals. These initiatives should be focused on sustainable growth and development of the individuals involved and the Black music ecology around them.
Focused and strategic support. Any action should be woven into wider strategies to ensure it is not just for the moment but has real pathways to create true equality and equity.
Investment. No more low-level internships or meagre and hoop-jumping project grants. Invest money and resources by forming partnerships with the self-starters, owners and entrepreneurs who are doing it.
Governed from within. It is important that groups are set up on the ground to steer the action, support and investment strategically. This is a more sustained way to ensure considered and continuous progression.
This is what we are trying to do right now via the Liverpool City Region’s Black Music Action Group (LCR BMAG), which has been set up to drive change for Black people based in the city and working within music. The first deep-mapping of the region’s Black music community has been conducted with their ReMap survey, in partnership with the University of Liverpool, which will inform the implementation of a LCR BMAG manifesto and the spending of nearly £200K of dedicated investment. These are just the first steps, but it looks promising. And no question about it, this is urgent.