Jazz represents freedom of expression and yet historically, women, people of colour, the LGBTQ community and many more have not been given equal opportunities in the Jazz industry. We, at Women in Jazz Media explore a wide variety of initiatives to help increase the gender and diversity balance to ensure everyone has a voice, looking for platforms and where no platforms exist, we create ones to ensure everyone can be represented. Working with our partner publications and organisations, we explore the diversity of the content and platforms given and offer support and actions to increase representation where needed – and it is needed. Although we are thrilled to help new female identifying writers find platforms to publish, we were equally saddened that for one publication it was their first ever black writer. There is much work to be done.
Black Lives in Music is a ground-breaking and vital organisation that addresses the current inequality of opportunity for black people aspiring to be artists or professionals in the Jazz and Classical music industry. Working towards real equality for Black people to learn musical instruments at grassroots level and to allow them to pursue and realise their musical ambitions. They work with a number of partners who are all working towards the same goal: to dismantle structural racism in our industry. We at Women in Jazz Media are proud to be a partner.
I spoke to Roger Wilson, Director of Operations of Black Lives in Music to discuss and highlight some of the incredible work they are doing – and the work that must be done.
You have a truly incredible team and have achieved so much in such a short time. How did the organisation come into being?
So, forming Black Lives in Music is really our response to growing up in a society and working in a profession that highlighted our colour as being a reason to discriminate against us as individuals. Racism has been with me since my earliest memories. It was quite normal for racist remarks and micro aggressions to be experienced in almost all aspects of my life. It has not been unusual to be ‘the only one’ or one of the few in my working career. Co-founder, Charisse Beaumont and I have many years’ experience of working on both sides of the stage. Our experiences of discrimination and prejudice are not dissimilar. We wanted to become part of the narrative of change and help organisations in their efforts to level the playing field and build an inclusive community that everyone can be proud of.
You have recently published the results from your ground-breaking survey ‘Being Black in the UK Music Industry’. Could you tell us a little bit about the work that went into this and its importance?
We are really proud of the BLiM report on lived experience of Black music creators and industry professionals. It’s a significant document in that it has recorded some very important information that has not otherwise been recorded – it’s the first of its kind and tells the real story of being Black in the music industry. It was a year in the making and every second of effort has been worthwhile. We spent much time crafting the questions, trying to ensure that we included as many aspects of the industry as possible. We wanted to produce a genuine snapshot of our experience as Black people in the music sector. This was so the wider community could understand why change is important and to give them all of the reasons they need to show courage, examine their own corporate mechanisms and processes and bring about change on their own watch and not leave it for someone else to lead on. Our task force, an advisory group of leading musicians and industry professionals were amazing in the support and time they gave to help us. We urge people to check out the report if they haven’t already done so.
The results have produced some deeply disturbing statistics. Did any of this surprise you?
No surprises for me, it’s been my life, it’s been my experience – it still is! Being the only one or one of the few, regardless of your identity is never easy. This status always generates curiosity and fear amongst the dominant group in any community and often catalyses prejudice and discrimination. Swap the word racism for prejudice at your leisure but the experience of the one – of the other is always the same. It’s been my life and is that of many other Black music creators and industry professionals. Issues of pay disparity, conditions of work, mental wellbeing, barriers to progression, the experience of Black women in the industry – we live these issues. The surprise, the knowledge is for those who don’t look like us – those who are not the one or the ‘other’. It’s for them to read the report, be surprised, learn and take action – not pity, on the oppressed – those who have been discriminated against and often taken advantage of.
An obvious question, but one of importance. What actions can people take to support change?
Change starts with the individual, it’s about honesty. How many of us have been in a space when someone has said something irreverent about someone from a protected group? And what have we done in those situations. We need to call out racism, not stand by quietly and be proud that we are in some way doing something by not being racist. Elie Wiesel, a holocaust Survivor said ‘’What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander”. We need to understand that there is a problem, acknowledge it and stand together. We need to understand our own power, privilege and position in society and help be part of change making. None of those three Ps are always as obvious as they seem. You don’t have to be the head of an organisation to have them. Power, privilege and position can be defined in a range of contexts – please take a moment to think about this as it relates to you – we are all change makers.
You are working in partnership with Women in Jazz Media for an event as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. How important are events like this in platforming black talent?
We are proud to be working in partnership with Women in Jazz Media, they are an awesome organisation doing amazing work to bring awareness for and empower women in this area of the industry. Events like this are immeasurable in their reach and influence on the wider community. We need to show the wider community that excellence comes in all colours. We also need to reinforce values and thoughts. For too long, the rich creativity of Black music creators has been taken advantage of. It’s time to redress the balance and remind everyone of the very impressive cultural heritage of this artform.
Carol Leeming, Jay Phelps, Daniel Higham and recent Jazz FM breakthrough artist of the year winner, Jas Kayser are all taking part in the event. What do you hope people will take away from that night? How do you hope people will feel?
These are all amazing talents; we are so lucky to have them with us for this show. It’s a truly impressive line-up with each individual providing something very unique in terms of their own creativity and contribution to music – that is very special. It’s important that all attending come away knowing that jazz is alive, well and super relevant to the lives we are living right now. Music connects, engages and inspires. I hope the music of this event will connect with each individual member of the audience in its own special way. People should come away feeling happy, inspired and excited for tomorrow, the future.
For further information and to support Black Lives in Music: BLIM website
To download the Being Black in the UK Music Industry report: Being Black in the UK Music Industry Report
For further information and tickets for the Black Lives in Music event with Women in Jazz Media: WIJM and BLIM at the EFG London Jazz Festival
Last modified: November 6, 2021