Lee Pinkerton

Is Ed Sheeran the most important British man in black music?

The biggest reason for musical success isn't talent, it's skin colour

Share

So a white 23 year old singing guitar player from Suffolk is the most important man in UK urban music? That’s according to the BBC’s black music radio station 1Xtra and its Power List of the top movers and shakers of the UK’s urban music scene.

It’s no surprise that the list – headed by Ed Sheeran - has caused so much controversy. Critics say it overlooks the pioneering black architects of British urban music, in favour of the admittedly more commercially successful, but Johnny-come-lately white artists. 

Defenders of the list, including those from the station itself, predictably argued that it’s about the music, and the stature of the artists, and that skin colour shouldn’t come into it. After all, music has no colour, right?

Read more: Ed Sheeran named ‘most important act in black and urban music’

If only that were true; the sad fact is that skin colour always comes into it.  Although those music lovers who sat around the boardroom table in Broadcasting House to construct the list may not have had race in their minds when they argued the case for one artist over another, the fact that some artists are more successful than others is influenced more by race (or looks) than by any genuine musical talent.  And it has always been so.

There are cultural critics who argue that mainstream audiences have an audible preference for black music, but have a visual preference for white faces.  Hence the long standing tradition where white artists have greater success covering the songs of Black artists than the originals enjoyed.  See Cilla Black versus Dionne Warwick (Anyone Who Had a Heart), The Rolling Stones versus Bobby Womack (It's All Over Now) and so on.

This process explains why 80’s British band UB40 enjoyed more success with their cover versions of reggae hits than the Jamaican originals ever did. This is why Eminem and Macklemore can dominate the Rap category in the Grammy Awards.  This is why the current king of R&B is Robin Thicke, well was until last week, that is

This phenomenon has been going on for so long they even have a name for it.  Its called ‘Columbus-ing’, where white people stumble on some cultural practice that black people have been enjoying for years,  and can then claim to have created/discovered it, while the mainstream media applauds in agreement and pays tribute with extensive coverage and accolades. 

This is how Benny Goodman became the King Of Swing, and Elvis Presley became the King of Rock & Roll, and laughably how Miley Cyrus invented twerking (a dance form with African origins, though made popular through hip-hop culture, predates it) last year.

It is said that teenagers create their own sub-cultures and slang so that they can enjoy their own exclusive world undecipherable to, and beyond the control of, adults.  And so it is with black musicians.  They keep creating new musical genres, just so that they can enjoy it for a few years before white artists inevitably come and colonise it.

So if Wiley, Dizzee et al feel aggrieved at their low 1Xtra Power List chart positions, they know what they must do – move on and create something new. Just don’t expect any plaudits when the awards are being given out in years to come.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own