Has the genre shift of British festivals made them more appealing to Black People?

If someone invited you to go camping on a farm for a couple of days, to see some rock/pop/indie bands performing, would you go? I certainly wouldn’t. Attending an event where you are advised to bring your own toilet roll to use in the portaloos has to be one of my worst nightmares. At just over £200 for a weekend camping festival ticket, it compares to a short break away. The difference being the lack of a comfortable bed and a bathroom. Asking a few friends and family, not one person warmed to the idea of attending a traditional festival. The common response was questioning where to bathe in the morning. A one-day event is doable, but overnight camping can’t be entertained.

If I was to go to a festival in a field and took part in the full camping experience, I would have to have one of the state of the art tents that came fully equipped with toilet, sink, and shower. Getting covered in mud and having toglastonbury-mud-gi_1929477i worry about how to get clean, whilst far away from any permanent structures, and probably with heavy rain forecast, is not my idea of an enjoyable time. But then I’ve not been, so maybe my perception is wrong, and things aren’t as bad as I imagine them to be. But I’m not alone, and up until this point, it’s been a major reason why African Caribbean’s don’t attend festivals as much as our English counterparts.

I would love to experience the atmosphere and see the incredible amount of acts, but would it be a true festival experience if I didn’t stay overnight in a tent? Festivals traditionally take place in the countryside, for example, Somerset and Staffordshire, or off mainland on the Isle of Wight, in areas not commonly known for their significant population of Black Brits.

Wireless changed location this year, moving from Hyde Park to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which makes it more appealing to me as I won’t have to worry about having a pair of (apparently compulsory) Hunter boots to protect me from the mud but I doubt other festivals will move from grass to concrete, as the locations are part of the package. Glastonbury wouldn’t be Glastonbury if it took place anywhere else, would it?

Even if you haven’t been, you probably all know the mainstream names: Wireless, Bestival, V Festival, and of course Glastonbury, to name a few. Yet, despite being a lover of live music, I’m not attending any of them. Apart from not liking the idea of being outside for a whole day, grass, mud, and rain there’s the decision of which day to go on or all of them. When browsing the line-ups I find myself approving of about 40% of the acts, shaking my head disapprovingly at another 30%, and not having a clue who the others are. I’m a fan of most of the well-known Indie bands, but don’t know if I would go as far as attending a festival to see them live. Festivals are meant to be a melting pot of musical genres giving people the opportunity to experience new artists. There should be something to please everyone…

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Reggae seems to always have a place at festivals as it is a musical genre embraced by everyone thanks to the global reach of Bob Marley, but Hip-Hop? Never. Quoting the words of Noel Gallagher “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. If you start to break it then people aren’t going to go. I’m sorry, but Jay-Z? F***ing no chance. Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music and even when they throw the odd curve ball in on a Sunday night you go ‘Kylie Minogue?’ I don’t know about it. But I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury, no way man. It’s wrong.

The closest thing to a festival that I have attended was Party in the Park in 2001 when Destiny’s Child were top bill. I only went because I was seated in an area I could sit comfortably with a great view of the stage (not part of the massive standing crowd).  In the late 1990’s early 2000’s, Black British artists who performed at the Hyde Park, Party in the Park event included –  Jamelia, Lemar, Sugababes, Craig David, Mis-Teeq, Beverley Knight, Gabrielle, Honeyz and The Brand New Heavies. There were also appearances from Black American artists with Lionel Richie, Usher, Ashanti, and Sisqó who shared the stage alongside artists such as Avril Lavigne, Atomic Kitten, Will Young, Meat Loaf and Shania Twain. But even with top British Black acts performing it still didn’t draw much attention from the Black community.

That being said, things are changing. If you talk about festivals and black people, you have to talk about Jay Z and Glastonbury. My interest and awareness of major festivals changed since 2008 when he headlined Wireless and made history with his controversial headline performance at Glastonbury. It was the first time a Hip-Hop artist headlined the event and for many, it went against what the festival stood for.

As a milder take on the typical British festival, with no camping option and being based in London, over the past few years, everyone I know seemed to be talking about Wireless. No matter what their colour or creed. With a good representation of the current UK music scene, Live Nation seems to have found the right balance between the traditional festival and arena concert. Black British artists have played a major part at Wireless Festivals and this year Wretch 32 and Rizzle Kicks were on the main stage, with performances from Roses Gabor, Jacob Banks, Misha B, Bluey Robinson and more. This year SBTV hosted a stage which is a major achievement and provides another attraction for the black audience.

Dizzie-Rascal-006Glastonbury goes back to 1970 when no doubt it would have had a predominantly white audience, as an event born in the age of free love and hippies. In 1972 Curtis Mayfield was the first black headliner at Glastonbury. It could be that the political purpose of his music made it seem like a relevant choice for an event probably attended by those with radical or nontraditionalist views. The 1990’s saw Youssou N’Dour and Lenny Kravitz headlining with music fitting into the rock/pop genre. Since then, Beyonce and Stevie Wonder have been the leading artists on the bill.

Until 2008  Noel Gallagher’s statement was correct based on how things had been. On paper, Jay Z is atypical to what people expect from Glastonbury. Despite his global presence and appreciation, it was hard to link the two. Glastonbury featured the occasional cross-over artist, but generally, the audience expected to see Rock, Pop and Indie bands and the audience was reflected by this. Yet in true Jay-Z style, he knocked it out of the park. For the first time, black people were buzzing about Glastonbury. Whether they attended or not. The audience embraced him and everyone celebrated Hip-Hop music together in a place where it had never been done before. The organisers of Glastonbury credited Jay-Z’s performance as a “Triumph over adversity”. Even Wikipedia now has Hip-hop added as a genre for the festival.

The fact in the same year Jay-Z headlined both Glastonbury and Wireless marked the start of a bigger change and suddenly festivals were becoming more appealing. It now seems to have become standard procedure to include more ‘urban’ acts in the line-up. Festivals are no longer exclusively targeted to people with Rock albums in their music collection. This year Glastonbury had more traditional headliners with Arctic Monkeys, Mumford & Sons, The Rolling Stones, but alongside Black British acts such as Dizzee Rascal, Laura Mvula, Lianne La Havas, Wiley, and David Rodigan.

Despite being far afield, I know of more black people who attend V Festival where artists such as Ms. Dynamite, Tinie Tempah, Jah Shaka and The Noisettes have performed. Beyonce is turning another hand to headlining this year, but how long will it be before we see a Black UK artist as the headline act? The lineups are getting bigger and the genres are getting wider so hopefully, it won’t be too far off.

I’m gutted not to have gone to any festivals this year. But I can take comfort in knowing that I will hopefully be represented in the audience and on stage.

Article written for the british blacklist by @CarleneTBBL