A leading grime artist and presenter has condemned the lack of meaningful change in the music industry since last summer’s anti-racist protests, and criticised record labels for benefiting from black stars but still failing to invest in and retain black talent behind the scenes.
There was a surge of anger in response to the death of George Floyd across a wide section of British society, especially within the music industry. Many artists and labels took part in #BlackoutTuesday, a social media campaign led by two black music executives in which people posted black squares to stand in solidarity with black people.
A year later, Saskilla investigates what significant changes have been made in the music industry as part of the BBC’s documentary Do Black Lives Still Matter? in the series’ third episode on Monday 28 June at 10.35pm on BBC One.
“Everybody was promising black people, we’re going to do this, we were going to do that too, but was it this talk? What change is actually happening for the next generation?” Saskilla said.
“Meaningful change hasn’t actually happened. What has happened is a lot of conversation in trying to change things.”
The documentary spoke to black staff in the industry, some anonymously, and music acts such as the Nova Twins and Kid Bookie. Saskilla repeatedly heard that black people were not being given opportunities to progress or were being pigeon holed.
The documentary cites data from the Music Diversity Report Survey 2020, which found that ethnic representation within companies increased from 15.6% to 22.3% between 2016 to 2020. The survey showed, however, that black and minority ethnic staff make up 42% of entry-level jobs and just 21% of mid-level jobs. The show suggests the failure to retain and promote staff is down to structural racism.
“You’re using people’s youth, you’re using people’s resources, you’re using people’s real connection to the streets, because it’s black youth that are bringing you black music that is the number one music in Britain right now,” Saskilla said.
“They’re bringing you all of these things for free in the music industry, then you’re flipping chucking them out within the first two years.”
He believes the lack of black people in key positions in record labels is intentional. “They don’t want to give black people power. Unfortunately, as black people, we are the show, we’re not the business,” Saskilla said. “You’re seeing all these black people, all this representation, but then, at the end of the day, that guy that is booking them in for these shows isn’t black, the guy that is doing marketing isn’t black, none of these people that understand the scope of what a black artist is are actually black behind the scenes.”
The three-part series also explores what change has occurred in football and within household brands. “I was hearing from the England under-21 assistant coach [Michael Johnson] saying: ‘I have applied for 40 to 50 jobs. I’ve got every qualification under the sun. There are men on the television less qualified than me. I have gone to university and got everything I need to get.’”
He added: “I never thought I was gonna start to uncover all of this dirty laundry of Britain. Dirty laundry that no one actually talked about last night. It’s the most uncomfortable conversation, because we all love football in our nation. But are we ready to say that we’re racist?”
Several labels within the music industry committed funds to improving diversity, but Saskilla warned it is unclear where this money is going and whether it is making any difference.
“There has to be more transparency because what always happens is the music industry hands out large sums of money and says: ‘Yeah, we’re gonna fix the problem’. But they are the problem and they’re not taking responsibility for where the money’s going.”
He gives an example. “If I’m going to invest 50 million to fix up this area, but I’m giving 50 million to the dustbin man. But he doesn’t look after the electricity of the area, and has got nothing to do with the sanitisation of the area, and has got nothing to do with the roads of the area. If 50 million goes to the dustbin man, and they’ve got brand new dustbins, drivers, and cars, what the hell is that doing for the community? This is what the music industry and all these people are doing and why transparency is needed.”
Still, he is hopeful there will be change. “The conversation in trying to change things has actually begun, we can’t say nothing’s happened. Because at certain places, especially in this documentary, it has forced change on a lot of these major corporations that we spoke about because something’s been highlighted.”
• Join a Guardian Live discussion looking at the global impact one year on from the murder of George Floyd. With Oliver Laughland and a panel of global activists including Rokhaya Diallo, Gacheke Gachihi and Rina Odula. On Wednesday 30 June, 7pm BST | 8pm CEST | 11am PDT | 2pm EDT. Book tickets here