A new organisation has been set up to address racial inequality in the music industry and create opportunities for Black musicians and professionals, writes Peter Slavid
Peter Slavid writes: It may seem counter-intuitive to learn that Jazz, a music of black origins, has a lack of racial diversity, but any close examination shows that, in the UK at least, it does. Some things are clear. The funding bodies, the conservatoires, ensembles and the Arts Council-funded organisations have very few people from BAME backgrounds at management levels.
At the moment there is very little data about the experience and everyday reality for Black musicians in the UK. Black Lives in Music (BLiM)‘s first action is to put together a major survey to get some data for a report to be published in May which will help identify the next actions.
At launch BLiM has pulled together an impressive list of supporters and collaborators, for example: Shabaka Hutchings Xhosa Cole, Orphy Robinson OBE, James Joseph and Cleveland Watkiss. There’s a very strong task force made up of major league musicians and administrators. They have started by publishing a 10-pointwhich they are asking organisations to sign, including specific commitments to ensure more diversity amongst their management and staff.
Last week I spoke with Roger Wilson, co-founder of BliM, and we talked at length about organisations that wanted to change, some of whom don’t know how to go about it. This is where BliM can offer support to help instigate that change. We also talked about some organisations that didn’t recognize the need for change. Roger was reluctant to criticise individual funding bodies, but it’s clear to me that Arts Council England isn’t really willing to impose penalties on those that don’t comply.
One area clearly in need of reform is the whole field of education. The curriculum setters, the music hubs, colleges, conservatoires and youth orchestras need to take some positive action. Fortunately a few of them have started to do just that, but there’s clearly a lot more to do.
Some organisations have embraced this project with enthusiasm, and recently the Marsden Jazz Festival issued their own press release recognising that “they have further to go to ensure black representation amongst all of their stakeholders, be they board of trustees, staff, artists, volunteers and audience”.
A lot of other organisations have already signed up to the charter, which is targeting classical music as well as jazz – and these include City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Trinity Laban; Leeds Conservatoire; Musicians’ Union; Manchester Jazz Festival; Jazz North and Lichfield Jazz Festival. Most recently Serious signed up and added their powerful voice to the call for black musicians to complete the BliM survey (link below)
It’s hard not to believe that this is an overdue initiative whose time has finally come. The fact that it’s needed at all is an indictment of the whole industry.