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Lack of Black British Music on UK Radio Raises Concerns

Lack of Black British Music on UK Radio Raises Concerns

Five years have passed since Stormzy’s historic Glastonbury headline performance, a landmark in Black British music. Yet, UK radio stations continue to predominantly feature American hip-hop and R&B, much of it from the early 2000s, including artists like 50 Cent, Ja Rule, and Chris Brown. This trend is particularly noticeable on BBC Radio 1Xtra, which, despite its tagline “Amplifying Black music and culture,” still does not give priority to Black British artists, relegating their music to less popular night-time slots.

The limited radio exposure of Black British artists significantly hinders their ability to make a mark on the charts. Although streaming plays a vital role in sales, radio remains crucial for growing an artist’s listener base. Alarmingly, last week’s official singles and albums chart Top 40 did not feature any Black British artists.

This issue extends to club settings as well. Over the past 30 years, Black British DJ culture has produced genres like jungle, UK garage, grime, UK funky, and Afroswing. Yet, club DJs often rely on new remixes of the same early 2000s US hip-hop and R&B tracks heard on 1Xtra. The “edits” culture, popular on social media and platforms like Boiler Room, involves DJs playing a familiar vocal over a different yet recognizable instrumental track, or vice versa.

Streaming services have further complicated the landscape. There is now a generation that might never have actively listened to the radio. Introducing them to current Black British music, rather than a narrow selection of old US hits, is essential for engaging them with the vibrant sounds of their own country.

Despite having a robust support infrastructure for musicians in the UK, including pirate and community radio, youth groups, grant funding, and subsidized professional development, financial support for this fragile ecosystem has been dwindling for the past 15 years. This decline shows no signs of improvement, even with the potential election of a Labour government. Reprezent Radio, a Brixton community station known for nurturing broadcasting and production talent for the BBC and commercial stations, has had to launch a crowdfunding campaign to survive. This situation forces presenters who help discover new talent on smaller platforms to move to commercial roles, where they end up playing American music.

Failing to support the current and next generation of Black musical talent threatens to erode a significant aspect of what makes British music unique. This effort cannot rely on 1Xtra alone; it requires a collective commitment from the entire ecosystem. A 1Xtra that centers Black British artists in its programming would showcase commercial hits and overlooked classics from the past 30-plus years, highlighting underrepresented areas. Embracing a full dedication to Black British music in an era dominated by US pop culture could transform the landscape and enrich the UK’s musical heritage.

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