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An Asian journalist's Riddims & Views
Friday, 25 June 2004
The UMF - Does Urban music = Black music? The great debate!
Where were the Asian artistes at `The Prince's Trust's' 1st Urban Music Festival?

By Ashanti OMkar

The term "Urban" - what does it mean? In short, it is: "city dwelling" or "Characteristic of the city or city life ". In my opinion, the genre of `Urban' music is one, which stems from all the minorities particularly in the UK, as it is such a place of immigrants and their cultures, blending with the local ones, mostly in harmony. The `Urban' genre of music, dance and art, in general also stems from the `ghetto' culture of the US, which is fast catching on around the world, giving a voice to those who are of such backgrounds. There are thoughts burning on the minds of many, with the occurrence of so many `Urban' events taking place and capitalizing on the connotations of this word and it's associated selling points One of those events was the `Urban music festival', which was televised on T4, Channel 4 for the youth.

Earls Court was the venue for the new venture by the Prince's Trust, who held the 1st Urban Music Festival (UMF) in London. Known for their famous, yearly `Party in the Park' and for helping youths from impoverished backgrounds, find direction, His Royal Highness, Prince Charles and the Trust got together to arrange the charity event of the season.

The floors of the huge arena were packed with young people of assorted nationalities, the stage was buzzing with various acts and the stalls were full of `urban' targeted marketing and workshops, to inspire the visitors. There were spectacular displays of `urban' art (some excellent, some looking like graffiti) and other things like street dancing. Similar in idea to the Urban Music Seminar (UMS), this venture brought in about 30,000 guests, only this time, unlike the UMS, which is a free event, pocket money had to be spent to attend. Where did the proceeds of the money go? Well, I would guess to fund the all-star American line-up and the spectacular venue, not to mention the charity.

The headlining acts were American, Jay Z, Beyonce, Mos Def and Alicia Keys. Sprinkled into this were Black UK acts like Lemar, Jamelia and Mercury Music Prize winner, rapper Dizzee Rascal. However, the disappointing thing about this was the lack of Asian representation in the line-up of acts - not just of Indian/Pakistani/Bengali origin, but also of Chinese origin. When going out to the clubs or sourcing out the record buying public, Asians are dishing out as much money for urban music as the Black and White people. Asian's have a huge amount of `Urban' talent, but it seems that no Asian acts were signed up to perform at this festival. Why? Is the question I ask!

For my initial questions to the PR Company, on this issue, asking why this `lack' of representation of urban artistes appeared, the reply was:

"Please be assured that Asian artists such as Panjabi MC and Panjabi Hit Squad were approached to perform at The Prince's Trust Urban Music Festival but could not be there due to other commitments. Plus the audience at the event went crazy when Jay Z performed his remix of Panjabi MC's Mundian To Bach Ke on both nights."

For which I replied with the following:

"As there are so many people, such as Raghav and The Rishi Rich Project, who have been in the charts and are very well known, not to mention various 'urban' acts who are not quite on the mainstream scene yet, it seems like the effort wasn't made to get at least 1 representation of Asian acts to cover the Indian or Chinese 'urban' musicians.

Fair enough, Punjabi MC and Punjabi Hit Squad were approached, but there are so very many acts that could have represented, as an 'Asian' act, as opposed to Jay Z performing a Remix track, which is a nice idea, but was the Asian vocalist of the track on stage with him - I think not? Was there not 1 Asian artiste who was willing to participate - this is highly unlikely - especially with so many having the backing of BBC 1Xtra/Channel 4/Kiss FM e.t.c.

To second this, my 1st question to the Prince's Trust representative who gave me my tour was about Taz, thinking it was Taz of Stereo Nation - the representative didn't even know that it was the 'Afro/Caribbean' Taz who performed and gave me a 'cock & bull' story about various 'Ethnic groups' being represented. Well, in this case, I would say that the Asian 'Ethnic' group is a very large one, consisting of Pakistani's/Indians/Bangladeshi's/Sri Lankans and many more and anyway, what about perhaps the Far Eastern Ethnic group, who also contribute to the rich culture of Britain in such a way that they even have China Town in their name!

My questions all stem from the fact that the Asian artistes not sharing the same stage or given any prominence, with the markets emerging as they are. Dr Dre/Timbaland/Jay Z, they have all capitalised on the Asian 'samples' and remixes, but when it comes to seeing someone as talented as Jay Sean or Raghav not classed as an 'Urban' act and not performing over 2 days and many many hours, it justifies the reason why we are asking. No doubt, our readers, as myself, like the music of Jay Z and Alicia Keys, the headlining acts, but I think the point here is that our Asian artistes have been shunned for even small 'black' acts who have not charted."

The reply I got back was form The Prince's Trust itself - in my opinion, not satisfactory, considering there was not one single Asian artiste on the bill this year, but it's up to the readers to make up their minds.

"The Prince's Trust is aware that Asian music and Asian artists are an integral part of urban music and culture in the UK. Artists such as Panjabi Hit Squad, Panjabi MC and Jin were approached to perform at The Prince's Trust Urban Music Festival. Unfortunately, on this occasion, they were unavailable to perform. However, we hope that if the event takes place next year, we will have more Asian artists on the bill, as this would greatly enrich the appeal and experience of The Prince's Trust Urban Music Festival".

On this vein, let me divulge into this subject further. Last year, at the Urban Music Seminar, Ms Dynamite (supposedly a role model for today's youth), made the statement "Black people have had everything stolen from them", when an Asian girl asked the panel about the emerging music of East and West, when Hip Hop and Urban music borrows heavily from Eastern, particularly Asian influences, these days. Ms Dynamite, being half white herself, immediately drew a divide between the Asian people at the seminar and the majority there, who were black. It seems that only `Black people' can claim Urban music for themselves, when in actual fact, the originators of `Urban' style music and living were also Hispanic, Latino & White, people like Rick Rubin, Arthur Baker or Tom Moulton. Is it right to say that there are no Asians from the streets, who are voicing themselves or is it that they remain pushed back and never brought into the surface? Is it fair for such figures to be promoting such segregation between minority groups? Is it not right to say that urban music, over the years has elements of so many types of cultural music mingling, merging, to make this particular sound?

With `White' acts like Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake taking `Black' music and making money out of it, not to mention winning MOBO (Music of Black Origin) awards; with record companies marketing the `White' artiste with more vigour than Black or Asian (e.g, the amount of publicity Jamie Cullum is getting, as opposed to so many of the wonderful `Black' jazz artistes), it is no wonder that `Black' people feel cheated, as so many thousands of talented `Black' artistes do exist. Lisa Maffia, one of the notorious `So Solid Crew', made the comment that "Urban Equals Black", but what she, herself of mixed race, like Ms Dynamite, forgot to mention is that Urban is not just `Black', but an amalgamation of music from the various ethnic groups which dwell within the `urban' culture! Certainly, it looks like The Princes trust followed her words, making the Urban Music Festival equal to "Black Music Festival", with a few exceptions, `White' acts like The Streets.

Much of the music nowadays is borrowed from Asian flavours of melody, beats and bass lines, infused into the Hip Hop, just like Dr Dre, when he sampled the Bollywood song, for Truth Hurts (and got sued for it). Beyonce is using the Middle Eastern/Asian flavours massively (listen to her "Baby Boy" or "Naughty Girl" songs) - so all the music markets are EMERGING together! The problem is the segregation of the races, we, as the BROWN people, should help each other out and integrate, so as a MINORITY, we are a strong race - in the end, the Asians/Hispanic/Black are all shades of Brown! Look at the Neptunes, they are Black and Chinese (or far Eastern) and look at the 2point9 crew - though the Rishi Rich project is Asian, the management team is White and Black! When we have artistes like Timbaland visiting Southall and buying over ?3000 worth of Indian CD's, we can safely say that the urban baton is now shared amongst the Asians and well as Black people, likewise, in the USA, the Hispanics and the such are included.

The Asian people in this country have been building up to the 3rd Generation, where many a talented artiste is out there, the likes of mainstream artistes like Raghav, Punjabi MC, Outlandish, Rishi Rich, Jay Sean, Juggy D, Apache Indian, Punjabi Hit Squad, Bally Sagoo, Nitin Sawhney and so many up-coming artistes, like Trickbaby, Metz and Trix, Pounds and Naira Inc, Deeyah and so forth, so many people who could have had the privilege of performing for this festival. I wonder why they were all left out and why there was not even a lone Asian flag holder.

In my opinion, Urban music is for all those expressing themselves, whether Black, White or Asian; these are people from persecuted backgrounds, who want a voice for themselves - one can't class all Asians as Doctors, Lawyers or Corner Shop owners, as we could say that neither Beyonce or Alicia Keys is from a persecuted/ghetto background, but both come from fairly well off families, who gave them an education as well as allowed them to cultivate their talents, like many an Asian family. The music that these people produce, however, stems form the sub-cultures they are from. I would urge people like the management of Prince's Trust to take this into consideration and make a serious effort to include more of the `other' minorities, not just Asian on the main stage for the future, which from their statement is what they plan on doing. With sponsors of the show, like Kiss FM dedicating a show to Asian music, with Rishi Rich and his movement and Radio One's acclaimed Bobby Friction and Nihal Presents, it is about time the many talented Asian artistes, not to mention UK artistes, are allowed to share the stage and prime timings with the likes of `big' American stars such as Jay Z and Beyonce!

This article was for The Asian Post - the debate goes on, but with emerging Asian talents like Jay Sean and Raghav, there is no doubt that the Asian Styles and Artistes will have more recognition, since they are all hitting the top 10 of UK music charts.

Posted by ygeetha at 4:17 PM BST
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