The racial disparity of the modern global dance scene has been obvious to anyone taking a cursory glance at festival lineups and streaming statistics. As the Black Lives Matter movement has taken center stage in the States, more artists have actually started talking about the issue in public.
Today (June 25), dance world veteran Aluna joins this conversation with an open letter to the dance music industry. Posted via Instagram, her letter addresses inequalities, “extreme” double standards and her thoughts on how to affect meaningful change.
This letter comes at a pivotal time for the English artist born Aluna Francis. In April, she launched her solo project after a decade performing with her longtime duo, AlunaGeorge. She’s thus far released a pair of excellent house singles via Mad Decent, using the opportunity to broadcast her thoughts about her experiences as a Black woman in the dance world. The letter is getting support from a growing list of dance world tastemakers including Major Lazer, Dillon Francis, Annie Mac, Anna Lunoe, DJ Snake, Rema, Gorgon City, DJ Sliink, Diplo, Matoma and more.
Here, Aluna shares her open letter to the dance music industry. Read Billboard Dance’s exclusive interview with her below.
An open letter to the dance music community by Aluna Francis:
As a member of the Black Music Action Coalition and a Black woman in dance music, I need to challenge the “dance music industry” on its longstanding racial inequalities. We not only need to give credit to the artists that created the genre, we also need to establish a long-term plan to secure a healthy future for dance music that is culturally and racially inclusive.
What I’m proposing is that the current genre definition and industry-designed parameters of dance in particular need an upgrade.
Many of us know that dance music wasn’t invented in 1988 in Europe. Its real history is still to be widespread and appreciated since it was virtually erased — House and Techno were pioneered by Black and Brown LGBTQI people, once creating a safe place of escapism and healing for those communities. Dance music was protest music, liberation from oppression, so it’s bitterly ironic for it to be appropriated by the white community, both burying its rich history and casting out the wider Black artists from a genre their community invented.
There are many types of dance music made by Black producers that were never accepted into the genre widely (Juke, Jersey club, Baltimore club, Philly club, footwork, soflo jook, ballroom/vogue, slowflo, Miami jook, UK funky, New Orleans bounce and more). The original sounds of dance drew from and embraced many aspects of Black people’s rich musical heritage.
As the genre was westernized, the sound changed to the point where its original cultural influences were no longer heard or associated with the genre. This means that only the subgenres of EDM or European-style House/Techno are consumed by the masses via DSPs (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube, etc.), radio, and mainstream media — any other styles of dance music from African-born artists and producers of the wider African diaspora are left out.
This is especially shortsighted since currently, due to the lack of diversity, white dance music producers are further appropriating the beats of the very people left out of the main genre, creating an extreme double standard. For example, if a white producer uses African beats, it will be accepted and playlisted as dance, which has a well-worn pathway to mainstream pop music. However, African house music produced by a Black person will not get the same opportunity.
There is no reason why dance music of the African diaspora and African-born artists shouldn’t be included under the banner of dance under DSPs. You should be able to find Gqom, afrobeats, afropop, dancehall, reggaeton, juke, Jersey club, Baltimore club, Philly club, footwork, soflo jook, ballroom/vogue, slowflo, Miami jook, UK funky, UK garage, New Orleans bounce and more under the banner of dance.
Additionally, the top performing songs of these sub-genres should feed into the marquee dance playlists at each platform. Some DSPs have editorial playlists for afrobeats, afropop, dancehall, and reggaeton genres, which I believe is important to have in order for those communities to have their own ecosystems — however, most of these playlists are not prominently placed within DSP platforms, and these styles of music aren’t given opportunities to grow within the dance genre. They’re treated like an isolated genre, yet, these sounds have influenced mainstream dance and pop music for years.
Dance music needs to be progressive and move us into the future, especially right now, as we have globally united in the fight to end racism. The role of dance is to give healing, to uplift us, and to serve as a celebration of those who are on the front line making a better future for us all.
Was the racial inequity in the dance scene always apparent to you?
No. Living in the U.K., no one ever talked about the Black history of dance and how it was appropriated by the white European community. There was no reason to even question the inequity, because dance music wasn’t considered Black music.
You’ve mentioned before that you felt like “a visitor” in the dance scene when performing amongst your white male peers. What were those experiences like?
Feeling like a visitor is totally normal for me. In the U.K., I grew up in a very white area. So when I would do features for white producers, and performing for their very white audiences, it was just another day of feeling like an outsider.
It wasn’t until I found out about the true history of dance that I began to realize I shouldn’t have to feel that way, that I should feel very comfortable as a Black woman making dance music. Before that I never dreamed of making my own dance music because I couldn’t see a world where I would be performing it to faces like mine.
What do you think has prevented DSPs like Spotify and Apple from integrating dance music made by Black producers (as you mention, jook, Baltimore Club, Jersey Club, etc.) from their marquee playlists? What are the first steps they should take to amend this issue?
I think the DSPs would need to answer that question themselves, but if I were to speculate, it would be because the voice of change has not been loud enough for them to pay attention to. They did not take it upon themselves to address the cultural health of the genre because white producers bring in the fans, the money and they can even bring whatever cultural flavors they wish by appropriation to give dance music a “fresh sound” in response to cries of “EDM is dead.”
Why do you think so few Black producers are represented on mainstream festival lineups?
There are many reasons: Music is segregated, so unless a festival is overtly Black in its orientation, then Black artists and producers will not be booked on account of them not “representing the target market” of the festival. Additionally, there isn’t the streaming support for the booking agents who base their lineup on stats, not building the culture.
What can white people in the dance industry do to be better allies?
White artists can get excited about researching and sharing the rich uplifting Black history of music to the fans of the genre they create in. Giving credit is a beautiful thing, and being grateful is an essential component to any art form.
White playlisters, radio producers and DJs can start expanding the genre of dance to include what’s happening in the communities of the African Diaspora with confidence because believe me, that is the future and no one likes to be late.