Now that we are seeing demonstrations across the world in support of Black culture and the Black Lives Matter movement, we all have a responsibility to recognise the spirit of black creativity that powers dance music. When social media floods our feeds with videos of protest and violence, we also see glimpses of joy and music coming through the chaos. Like Liverpool’s march on Saturday 13th June 2020, which saw Black Katumba drummers rousing the crowds.
Protest music is as old as protest itself; inspiring, informing, and giving people hope. But it’s not enough to simply bring the party to the protest, we have to make sure we don’t take the protest out of the party. In the US, initiatives like Make Techno Black Again and Rave Reparations are working to promote acts from marginalised backgrounds that more fully represent the genre’s underground origins. Dance music has always been a refuge for outsiders. With Techno emerging from the Black communities of Detroit, a city with its own long history of protest; and House from the warehouses and streets of Chicago, driven by the efforts of black visionaries like Frankie Knuckles. Even now, protesters in Detroit have been using the music of their city to rally the community around their cause.
It was in the nineties that House music gained popularity in the European scene before it truly became mainstream in the States, but that move stripped the sound of much of its social context. As protests continue to spread from America to the UK, we hear detractors claiming that this kind of racism is an American problem. But we can’t whitewash these issues and pretend they don’t impact us, especially those of us who work in an industry built on Black music. Radio 1’s Clara Amfo leant her voice to the debate by quoting US DJ Amanda Seales on the air last week, warning listeners that they cannot ‘have the Rhythm without the Blues’.
Rhythm and Blues, Disco, and Funk records were the sources of some of the most popular samples in early hip hop and dance music. In the UK, rave culture owes a debt to the British Caribbean legacy of Ska and Dancehall. Many of the Black artists behind those tracks were never properly compensated for their work, either through predatory contracts or uncredited use of their work. In a very literal way, this is an industry upon separating Black voices from Black bodies. As we work to build bridges between new creatives we have to stay aware of the mistakes of the past, giving artists agency over their work and always remembering the contributions of Black trailblazers.
In response to the continuing efforts of the Black Lives Matter protests to raise awareness of the racial divides in our culture, UK Music has launched the 2020 Workforce Diversity Survey. The survey aims to be the first step in bringing about major change in the industry nationwide by identifying the areas most in need of support. It’s an opportunity for everyone in the industry to have their voice heard and help shape a better future. On a local level, Liverpool Audio Network aims to continue to support emerging creatives from all backgrounds across the city, and we want to reassert our commitment to building connections with disenfranchised voices in Liverpool’s music community. We want to recognise the good work being done in the city by groups like Blackfest and as we move forwards as a Network we want to remember the voices that came before us, and avoid the whitewashing and mistakes of the past.
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