UK Music diversity chief: Brits have improved in recognising black artists

The increase in diverse nominees at the Brit Awards is cause for cautious optimism, the chair of a music diversity taskforce has said.

Wednesday night’s ceremony could see just the fourth black winner of the British male solo artist prize in the awards 40-year history, with four of the five nominees from a non-white background.

Grime artists Skepta and Kano, singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka and comeback star Craig David are all up for the prize.

Michael Kiwanuka (Matt Crossick/PA)

They will compete with bookies’ favourite and two-time winner David Bowie.

The last black, Asian or ethnic minority background artist to win the award was Dizzee Rascal who was victorious seven years ago.

Before his win it had been 12 years since Scottish musician Finley Quaye had taken the trophy and another six before that when Seal became the first non-white winner in 1992.

David Bowie (Yui Mok/PA)

In the female solo artist category, Emeli Sande’s 2013 win is the only one from a non-white musician in the past 13 years.

Organisers faced fierce pressure to increase diversity at the 2017 awards after last year’s “Brits So White” protests, which saw a number of high-profile, successful musicians left off shortlists.

The chair of UK Music’s diversity taskforce, Keith Harris, who helped to produce the inaugural survey into diversity across the industry in January, praised the move but said he feared it may be a “short-term reaction”.

Emeli Sande (John Phillips/PA)

Lauding the work of Brits chairman Ged Doherty in reforming the voting academy, Harris told the Press Association: “I’m not going to say it’s down to one person, but it’s certainly down to one person at the top, and that’s Ged.”

He said this year’s line-up of nominees was “really good”, adding: “The black music community are pleased to be involved.

“There is some genuine involvement rather than looking nose pressed against the glass knowing you’re not going to win anything.

“People feel there might actually be a breakthrough. The question is whether this is going to be long-term or short-term. That’s my concern.”

Skepta (Matt Crossick/PA)

“As long as it’s not just a reaction to the publicity given last year, as long as it’s genuine.

“I don’t think people actually want to be hearing in five years the same embarrassing questions being asked.”

Harris said there needed to be a “higher level of consciousness across the business”, adding: “Until that happens, I’m not sure how sustainable it is.”

Craig David (Matt Crossick/PA)

After last year’s criticism, organisers increased diversity among the 1,000 people from across the music industry that helped to select the nominees following a review.

The issue had earlier been highlighted at the 2015 ceremony when Kanye West invited on stage a group of British grime MCs including Skepta and Stormzy – who are both up for this year’s breakthrough artist award.

Skepta completes a hat-trick of nominations with a nod for best album for his Mercury Prize-winning Konnichiwa, alongside Kano’s Made In The Manor, The 1975′s I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, David Bowie’s Blackstar and Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate.

The Brit Awards take place on Wednesday at the O2 Arena and will be broadcast on ITV.

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