All-white Brit winners spark fury over lack of diversity
By Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent
Published : 11 February 2005
With a roll-call of winners as varied as The Streets, Robbie Williams and Franz Ferdinand, the diversity of this year's Brits, the biggest night in British rock and pop, looked beyond dispute.
But the diversity celebrated at Wednesday night's awards ceremony stopped at the array of musical styles on show.
Best male solo artist, The Streets (real name Mike Skinner) may have taken his inspiration from the rap music pioneered by black musicians, but Skinner is white. Soul diva Joss Stone, who took away twin Brits for best female artist and best urban act, may be acclaimed as the new Aretha Franklin, but she is a blonde-haired teenager from Devon.
With Stone pipping the hotly-tipped R&B star Jamelia in the urban category, the 25th anniversary of the Brits was not black music's night. All the winners were white.
The only question yesterday was whether this amounts to a genuine problem for an industry that, from the earliest days of rock 'n' roll, has not always treated its black stars well.
Gennaro Castaldo, of the retain chain HMV, thought the absence of black winners was a one-off this year and not a trend which was likely to be repeated in subsequent awards.
"There have been other years when R&B has been well-represented. I think it clearly reflected the prominence this year of guitar-based indie rock bands which, culturally, tend to be white artists."
However, it had been an "injustice" that Jamelia had lost out in the British urban act award, he said. "I think she deserved it. Joss Stone deserved the British female solo artist award but [winning urban act] does make you question what an award for urban music means. If it's a general term for a metropolitan lifestyle then you can include everything in there."
Mark Ellen, of Word magazine, said the real problem was that there were too many awards. "You should have best singer, best band, best single, best album - the general things that anybody could win," he said. "Once you decide to create lots of categories it's crass and reductive as a way of trying to evaluate things.
"But if they're going to have an urban category, it's extraordinary they have given it to a white teenager from Devon. It's like saying, 'We have a category for black music but we're not even going to allow a black music act to win it'."
He is not alone in being perplexed by what "urban" means these days. The Turner Prize-winning artist Chris Ofili, objects to the term and has launched his own music nights, under the title Freeness, where people can submit their unreleased songs, tracks and remixes.
"Now is an exciting time to open up and look beyond the margins of what the music industry terms as 'urban music' - a collective term for hip-hop, soul, garage and R&B where the musicians have to fit into categories. To be creative may mean to fall outside these categories and Freeness is aimed at these artists," he said.
The organisers of Mobo, the Music of Black Origin Awards, said it showed their own ceremony was "as relevant today" as when founded 10 years ago because the impact of black music on the music industry was not being recognised.
But a Brits spokesman said the awards had promoted and honoured black music for years - and the duet between Jamelia and Lemar had been one of the highlights of Wednesday evening, even if neither artist won an award. Previous ceremonies have featured performances from Dizzee Rascal and Beyoncé.
Neither was Joss Stone's winning of best urban act the choice of white male music industry executives, he added. The Brits asked appropriate people to vote in key categories so MTV Base viewers chose best urban act just as Kerrang! readers were asked to vote for best rock act.
So if Jamelia was robbed, it is the MTV generation which should take the blame.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd