Sunday, November 17, 2002

Your music sounds black but your guitarist is white - can you fill me in?

The story about Craig David being told to dump his white friend and guitarist because it'd confuse his position in the US market looks set to join the Herbie Hancock video story as one of the standard tales of the nasty racist undertow of the music industry. Hats off to Mr D for making a stink about the 'suggestion' rather than just accepting the advice and ploughing on.

What we find odd, though, is this piece by Wilber Wilberforce (a name we're adding to a list headed by Magnus Magnusson and Edward Woodward), the bloke in charge programmes of 1xtra. At first, he seems to want to defend the instruction to David:

" In America though, the rules are different and if Craig wants to succeed over there he will have to play by them. [...] In England it might be seen as an issue of race, but as far as the Americans were concerned it's business. In fact, they probably thought they were being helpful when they suggested that Craig get rid of Fraser. They'll have said to him: "Do you realise that people will ask what kind of act you are? Are you pop? Are you urban? You need to make a decision."

Right, so it's not "race", then, it's business. So, erm, that's alright then, is it? So, presumably if a sandwich bar in Alabama decided to was going to market itself exclusively to a white audience, and as such instituted a policy whereby it wouldn't hire black staff, as that would confuse its clientèle, Mr. Wilberforce would be relaxed with that?

Or if he went for a job with a US news station and was told "sorry, we're aiming for a clearly defined market and your face doesn't fit", he'd accept that that was business rather than racism?

He then shoots himself in his foot about two or three times by trying to suggest there's the same sort of thing happening in the UK, only it's on music snobbery lines rather than race lines. Firstly, from a man who's just stated
"In the US, though, the whole system is far more refined. Be it country and western, rock, pop, or rap every act has its proper place and has to stay there"

to then complain that in the UK
"an "underground" artist always has to hit a fine balance to make sure they don't go "pop" and lose their audience, just as pop stars run the risk of losing their original audience if they try to get street cred"

makes no sense - but then, the claims that Americans can't have black and white artists in the same act makes no sense in article that then goes on to observe that in the US
"In America, though, rap artists record with big names all the time (the latest Tom Jones album has been produced by Wyclef)."

So, Wyclef can record with Tom Jones - who, fair enough, is more orange than white, but still Welsh - and still be urban, but Craig David can't have a white guitarist and be urban? Sorry, Wilber, this sounds like trying to explain away racism to me. It probably isn't the worst example of racism in the industry, and, sure, its a twist for a white guy to be the victim, but let's not try and find a way of understanding it. Let's just admit it stinks, shall we?

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