A LITTLE over a year ago, an idea was floated around the higher echelons of the music industry.
It had been only a few weeks since the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and a social justice uprising was imminent. Calls for equality would have to be aired and those industries showing no appreciation of the issues at stake could well face a huge blow to business.
Black communities all over the world were crying out in agony – only this time, it appeared that more people were listening. Perhaps now would be an opportunity to realise a change in the music industry. And, so, the idea was floated. It was time to amplify black voices, to prevent exploitation of black artists in the music industry, and to offer better avenues for black people working in the business side to progress.
The campaign, under the banner of #TheShowMustBePaused and, latterly, #BlackoutTuesday, rose to prominence on a wave of goodwill and solidarity. Network companies went off air for eight minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time George Floyd lay on the road with a policeman’s knee on his neck – and Spotify followed shortly thereafter by 8m46s of silence of certain podcasts. Many prominent artists joined the movement and said they would adopt a social media blackout so that black voices would be heard. The general public followed, with millions posting black squares on their social media accounts as a mark of unity. Business would not run as normal, essentially, until the mistreatment of black artists was corrected.
But some have argued the campaign was appropriated by record companies who were under pressure to act. They had to be seen to be doing something, the bottom line was at stake, and it was an expensive debate to have. While it is clear some simply wanted to pay lip service to the movement and then get back to work, some have continued their support, at least in some guise, whether by donating money to racial justice projects or by trying to promote diversity within their ranks.
However, record companies will not be among those best placed to assess whether things have changed for the better. In Scotland, there has been a greater awareness of issues relating to racism, but that does not necessarily mean there has been any real positive impact for black community. In some circles, drawing attention to the problem has sparked a backlash – without formal and consistent backing, this could make the situation worse.
There are dozens of black Scottish artists who, perhaps, do not receive the attention they deserve. The Weekender reached out over the last few weeks in a bid to see whether those musicians feel that Blackout Tuesday had any effect on the industry here.
Here, in their own words, are Nathan Somevi, Aiitee, DeeZy Doubles and LOTOS…
LOTOS was born and raised in Scotland and is of Nigerian heritage. She was the first unsigned Scottish urban artist to be recognise by MOBO (under a different alias) with her debut album consigned to the National Museum of Scotland. LOTOS (Last of the Old School) is said to merge grime, rap and afro-beats. Earlier this year, LOTOS released a four-track EP titled Check Mate.
Racism is endemic and systematic but that’s not in any way exclusive to Scotland. When I was starting out people used to vandalise our posters and leave hardcore racist abuse in comments on our YouTube uploads. The kindest things said were ‘go back to your own country. Although many of the originators of Scottish rap were from a mix of different racial backgrounds, the scene became dominated by a handful of white rappers, promoters and producers over the years. I used to promote concerts and brought acts from Busta Rhymes, Coolio, The Game, Will Tang and Mos Def to Scotland. I remember doing a show at around about age 19 – no small feat when you’re doing it alone. A group of about fifteen artists and their friends turned up just to chant racist abuse. After some time, it really affected my mental health, so I stopped working in Scotland completely other than with reggae sound systems such as Mungos Hi Fi. Touring the world with John Holt, Beannie Man, Yellowman, Sugar Minott, The Mighty Diamonds and The Skatellities. We were all about consciousness, political and social justice.
People did not take Scottish hip-hop seriously at all. Rappers like Revalations, one of the first ever rappers in Scottish history, changed that by touring the world and appearing on national British radio – smashing stereotypes. We played Glastonbury and were recognised by MOBO, which is another first in history of Scottish rap.
There has always been a consistent disproportionate representation of west coast artists, I assume because most events take place there. I love Glasgow… just the vibe and the city. More recently over the last 3-5 years there’s been a massive flurry of new talent from across Scotland that has been given the spotlight, support and opportunity. This is brilliant. The only issue with that is most of the new talent coming through don’t understand the pillars or history of hip-hop – that you have to give credit where credit’s due; that you should respect those who paved the way and who have created the blueprint that is now being followed. Hip-hop has rules and codes, the same way you can’t ‘bite’ or take inspiration from another rapper without crediting them, it’s like plagiarism. Its natural, it’s life. The fact is it’s usually always better for the next generation —and that’s what we work for.
It’s an honour to have contributed so significantly to Scotland’s scene and to the diversity. The only issue I can see at the moment is that when producers, journalists, etc., are looking for diverse acts rather than seeking out the people who genuinely sacrificed over the last two decades, awarding and memorialising them they tend to just select anyone at any level as long as they come from a diverse background. That can be more damaging as other talent and members of the public can question their authenticity and there’s nothing worse than people thinking you got something or a job for anything other than talent. It also means they don’t develop properly; they are not usually experienced enough to really offer advice or support to help others. Especially if they have never performed outside of Scotland. Being an artist is not just about making music online it’s about touring and making people ‘feel’. This happens more so in Scotland as most competitions, judges, people in positions of power don’t have backgrounds in hip-hop. So, when they listen to the music they don’t incorporate the other elements and pillars in the same way they might do with other genres like rock or electronica which they may understand better. The rush to be diverse sees us, rather than creating our own unique sound imitating the English style of delivery, but the good thing is we are keeping our accents at least.
On Blackout Tuesday, I do think it was amazing that the public’s consciousness increased so significantly just because previously it was almost like the nation was in denial. I’m not sure how much was genuine, but some progress is better than none at all.
Things are definitely 100 times better, but I think the biggest issue is although all of the original founding groups in Scottish hip-hop had black talent this has been ignored historically. Instead, the scene is dominated by white hip-hop artists. The new talent and generations coming through are great but hip-hop music and making music is like life, the more experience you have the more you can offer. When you put artists in positions of power in hip-hop who have never toured, never even left Scotland, it leaves them open to narcissism. That’s why it would be better if more respect, attention was given to those current living diverse artist who paved the way.
Nathan Somevi was born in Ghana and moved to London when he was six years old. By 12, he was living in Aberdeen before moving to Glasgow at 22. His music is mostly instrumental and is described as jazz with a strong African influence. His first release was only in September, and he currently has an EP available called Can’t Be Done.
Racism was not a factor I really considered throughout my life in Scotland. I have experienced racism, but not anything significant. Mostly comments about my colour, but the events were few and far between. My parents raised us to not allow the notion or the threat of racism affect our perception of what we can or cannot achieve.
In terms of the musical community, I feel like it welcomes novel and different things. So being black in Scotland in a way helps me stand out, especially since I am not rapping or making music that people would expect me to make.
In saying that, having a different appearance is only part of the equation. If I am black but speak in a Scottish accent and have mannerisms and temperament and habits of a Scottish person, having dark skin is less of a factor. If I have dark skin and just arrived from Ghana and spoke with a Ghanaian accent, it would be harder for me. It’s not just about colour, it’s also about culture. The onus is usually on the traveller to somewhat assimilate when the leave their culture and enter another. In terms of if there are restriction, I don’t think, or like to think about them, I just focus on the doors that are open for me.
I don’t think I was treated particularly differently, for my first release I got a lot more attention than I expected. I created my EP, not for any reward, but because it was something that was in me that needed to come out. The opportunities I received exceeded my expectation. I think lately it feels like people are making more of an effort to be inclusive. This is a complicated thing, because you want to be granted opportunity based on merit not because of being given a leg up because people perceive that my life is hard. In a way, it puts you in a universe where you are not sure whether your music is transcendent or you are there just to be there.
I think Blackout Tuesday was an interesting experiment; I think the long-term aim is to make everyone get along and accept each other’s culture. My time in London was such a privilege. Everyone takes from everyone, there is even a new form of English called MLE (multicultural London English) and I there a lot of people from London, no matter the colour speaking like this. I think that is the ideal scenario where everyone is accepted. I am not sure of the long-term implications of this experiment. I feel like on the one hand it exposes people to new idea, but on the other hand, it makes people annoyed. It can have the effect, of making people that didn’t really think about race either become more sympathetic to other cultures of reject other cultures more. I have been a witness to both. I don’t have an answer to what would be a solution to the culture clash problem, but I believe in mixing culture, not separating cultures because when that happen you create something new and special. If the long-term aim is to bring people together, then it’s a good thing.
Aiitee, or Emma Aikamhenze, is a 21-year-old singer-songwriter based in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, but originally from Nigeria. She would address herself as a Nigerian-Scot. She has been releasing music for more than a year and self-describes her sound as combination of RnB, Soul, Afrobeat and Gospel. She released an album called Love Don’t Fall last year, and most recently a single Let Go.
Before entering the music industry, even though I had the understanding of racism as being covertly present in Scotland, I knew that it was nowhere are bad as the likes of the USA. I’m not saying Scotland is innocent but the number of deaths in Scotland under police custody for example is nowhere near the USA or any other countries which experience blatant racism on a daily basis.
With regards to the music industry, I know the potential racial challenges I will face, being a black woman, especially on the darker (if not darkest) end of the spectrum. Rather than shying away from this, I see this as one of my strengths, often referring to myself as Scotland’s Dark Berry. Racism hasn’t been much of a barrier for me so far in the industry (this might be due to how new I am to it) but I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I’ve been shown in Scotland. I know this might not have been the case had I been in some other countries.
Being more or less a newbie to the scene, I’ve not seen much negativity in terms of treatment of black artists. I do remember, however, a Twitter campaign which was successfully started by Kohla, another very prominent artist in Scotland. This campaign was put together to try and get more black and ethnic minority artists on the Scotify playlist. This resulted in myself being featured on the playlist, which I was really chuffed with. Other than that, I haven’t noticed but that may be something that changes with time.
With Blackout Tuesday, personally, I think the solidarity was lovely to see. However, I didn’t like the fact it felt like a trend, almost as if everyone was peer-pressured into posting black squares on their Instagram. It was very contradictory seeing people deleting the black squares a couple of days after Blackout Tuesday.
Honestly, I would say keep listening to the music you love and support the musicians that make the music you love, regardless of skin colour. As an artist I believe there will always be people that love my music and, at the same time, people that can’t stand it. Both are very valid. Regardless, my thing is just to keep making music and improving my craft and the right people will hear it.
DeeZy Doubles is from Leith and is of African and Indian background, though he also grew up in Barcelona. He began to make music at 14 years old, progressing in his teens, before taking things a little more seriously at 19. His music is alternative, new age, rock/rap. He is the vocalist for Who Cried Wolf? who recently released the Disgusting! and Limbo.
Racism in Scotland definitely exists but it’s one that’s not so much in your face. There are the typical insults the fly, when having fights or shouting matches, but I’m on about the uncomfortable feeling some of us have experienced due to ignorance – I’d say that would be a better way to describe it. For instance, I wouldn’t bat an eye lid when my mate’s mum would ask us to get a “black man” from the ice cream van or even consider why my Asian colleagues would have a different telephone name. These are things that stand out to me now as it was seen as normal behaviour when it shouldn’t have been. Other than that, I wouldn’t say Scotland has much of an issue with it, unlike Spain or England, let’s say.
The music I wanted to make had to appeal to all types of audiences there for it enabled me to be a lot more versatile. Well, the genre I started with was hip-hop, so being from Scotland and considering the music and how niche the scene was back then, it was easy to get noticed but hard to stay engaged with an audience that I felt were not all on the same level. There was a battle between raw Scottish hip-hop and those trying to imitate what was in the charts. I found the more I wanted to be commercial the easier it was to get noticed but that was due to the lack of certain type of artists wanting to make similar music. I never experienced much hassle getting on radio or promo but now as the scene progresses it can be a lot harder. The problem would be fishing through the now many Black artists coming out of Scotland. I find when it comes to live music it’s all about the money and who’s going to fill a venue, promoters aren’t stupid and black music is very much the thing right now.
My view on blackout Tuesday would be the same as Black history month. There are not enough days to repair damages done to generations prior. I love learning about history every day, no matter whose it is, but I don’t know how much of an impact it had on the world as a whole. Is it a gimmick? Most things these days are and most companies and people will capitalise off misery. America has had the biggest impact on this situation and I can only hope it changed the views of how people of colour are treated.
Everything’s the same as far as the music goes. I see a lot of changes in adverts and whatnot but it can almost seemed forced to some. My music has actually more of a Scottish sound now, considering it’s more rocky, but there has been no change in what I would want to produce regardless.
I would love to see the Scottish urban scene grow in ways where it’s not as biased and aims to support people based on talent but I’m sure that could be said for the urban scene in a lot of countries. Regardless of colour, we still struggle to get attention let alone worrying about ticking boxes to meet the masses. Appealing to your surrounds and staying true to yourself should always be the motive.
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