Saturday, January 28, 2006

White noise

Interesting piece by Hannah Pool in today's Graun. She's at a loss as to the commercial failure of contemporary British black music, and the success of skinny, pasty-faced white boys with cheap guitars and expensive habits.

The usual reasons (all of which have a degree of justification); lack of long-term investment by record companies at the top of the list. But Hannah (who is black) rather shoots herself in the foot when she mentions why she never got into indie when she was growing up. "Indie bands didn't look like me," she writes.

Well, if we're going to be selecting our musical preferences on such a dimwitted basis, it's no wonder British black music is fecked. 91% of the population is white, and thus by definition "doesn't look like" Javine or Estelle or Dizzee Rascal. If this is the criterion, we should be more astonished that British Asian artists don't get a crack of the A&R whip.

There's another reason, though. Since 1964, white British bands have been staging periodic guerilla attacks on the US charts. Sometimes they crash and burn; sometimes they clean up. Dylan and Springsteen and the Beach Boys vs the Beatles and the Clash and Led Zep is a fairly even match in muso-crit terms. But there's been no equivalent black British attempt to storm the septic barricades. Unless you count Junior "Mama Used To Say" Giscombe. What black British artists are there who have a right to be in the same zip code as Public Enemy, Run DMC, Prince, Luther Vandross, Funkadelic, Sly Stone, Aretha, Otis, Marvin, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong..?

White British people love black music, probably far more than white American people do. Think of trad jazz, the blues boom, the Mods and the (original) skinheads, Northern Soul, the ska revival, rare groove... but it's all American (and sometimes Jamaican). I love black music. I don't love mumbling retards like So Solid Crew.

The reason that black British artists often can't hack it is that lots of them are shite.

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