African arts in Europe

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There was a time when the energy of the music and performing arts created by folks of African descent seemed to be coming from mainland Europe. I remember going to Brussels in the festive season to perform with a pop group. There was something exotic, elusive and even glamorous about the music I heard in the club that we played in.

Similar stirrings wafted over from France. The gatekeepers of the African music related record business in London would tell tales of a sort of musical paradise where the artistic standards were supposedly higher than those in London and the UK in general.

A senior practitioner often expressed his distaste about the term that was given to describe UK based artists who created African influenced music. Critics and gatekeepers often spoke of “home grown” artists. Comparisons were made to the attractiveness and potency of home grown weed – useful if you couldn’t find anything else, but ultimately inferior.

Hardly any resources were invested in the development of the skills and talents of UK based artists in the genre. The artists themselves always seemed to be looking beyond this country’s shores for inspiration.

The collapse of the old record business has shaken things up. Some of us who were present in those days are still around, creating and presenting work that is as engaging, creative and valid as the sounds heard from anywhere else. Did the turning point come when we stopped waiting for the gatekeepers to pick us, choosing to pick ourselves instead?

Originally published on on the 15th of November 2019