This excerpt is taken from a feature published by Self Help News ('Giving Voice To The Voiceless') in a Q&A format in which BBM/BMC's Kwaku provides answers to questions relating to the state of British black music atwww.ubol.com/index_files/Page2319.htm.
Britain continues to produce world standard artists of African heritage, selling millions of records. But what is the state of Black Music today in the UK? To assist us answer that question, Self Help News (SHN) invites Kwaku, one of the founders of Britain's Black Music Congress (BMC) to comment.
SHN: What is British Black Music?
Kwaku/BBM/BMC: British black music is any form of black music expressed by British musicians and songwriters.
SHN: What are its origins?
Kwaku/BBM/BMC: Black music is any form of musical expression to have come out of the African experience, be it from the Continent or its Diaspora. Some believe that experience should be located within the context of struggle. But that is very limiting because it presupposes that all Africans have known struggle. Whereas Africans, like any other people, have a range of experiences ranging from riches and freedoms, monarchs and the privileged, to struggles of the poor and working classes.
The location of black music within the context of struggle seems to be influenced by the effects of enslavement to neo-colonialism, but we must be mindful that the African experience and history is wider and longer than the period of the Maafa. Black music serves, or should serve, a number of purposes apart from merely entertaining. Such as educating, retelling histories, and a source of empowerment and self-affirmation.
SHN: Who are its main stakeholders?
Kwaku/BBM/BMC: My understanding of a stakeholder is a person with an investment or interest in a particular activity or enterprise. Hence, the main stakeholders are the producers, such as the musicians, songwriters, DJs, promoters, record producers; and the consumers, be they those that pro-actively consume, by say, paying for a concert or download, or indirectly, by being in environments where they are exposed to black music. It needs to be pointed out that the stakeholders are not confined to those of African descent.
SHN: What are its strengths and successes?
Kwaku/BBM/BMC: The capacity to touch the heart, to elevate, empower, and transport one above ones circumstances. Its successes, particularly within the Western context, is its ability to routinely crossover into the mainstream and become a major driver of culture.
SHN: What are its weaknesses and failures?
Kwaku/BBM/BMC: Its prostitution because of an overwhelming drive for lucre and commercial dictates, which seems to focus on serving a base, common denominator. The failures include conscious music not having a high enough profile and access. This failure can be put at the door of the producers and consumers the former for not persevering enough to produce conscious music, and the latter for not making enough of an effort to find and pro-actively consume and support conscious artists.
SHN: What are its current opportunities?
Kwaku/BBM/BMC: The notion that independent is cool, accessible music-making technology, and the amazing access provided by the internet, provides huge opportunities for making and presenting music. However monetising those endeavours is another issue, which I think can be mitigated if our musicians develop their stage-craft and the live scene.
SHN: What are the threats?
Kwaku/BBM/BMC: Whilst I recognise stakeholders are not, and need not be, just of African descent, I believe the way that the mixture of technology and the popularity of black music has made it relatively easy for anyone to produce black music. We run the risk of non-Africans becoming the face of, and major earners from ‘musics’ that have come from an African experience.
SHN: Looking ahead: Predictions for British Black Music for the following five years
Kwaku/BBM/BMC: It’s a bit of a bind. If we continue to produce music that’s just serving the underground, the streets or on road, as some of the youths say, few people are going to put food on their tables from these activities. On the other hand, if some from the underground crossover into the mainstream, that style or movement is soon co-opted and ‘commodified’ by the mainstreams using people, particularly artists, who are not intrinsically linked to the source that birthed that particular music or scene.
That notwithstanding, I would hope that enough people from the British black music scene make enough of an impression that the mainstream infrastructure has no choice but to embrace, profile and sell them. Whilst there are those that advocate staying underground or keeping it real, and that is a choice I wont decry, its also important to realise that the demographics and industry reality of Britain means that engagement with the mainstream is almost the only option in which one can realise adequate recompense for ones endeavours. Engaging with the mainstream does not necessarily mean the music has to be crass or not conscious.