The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 910: OH goes BHM

Here’s a truth that some people find very uncomfortable: rock, alt-rock, indie, rock, and metal are predominantly white. Why is that? The answers–and there is more than one–are complicated. In fact, there’s actually been quite a lot of study into this question.

Perhaps it’s because non-white people don’t choose this music as part of the way they project their identity to the world. Culturally, they just don’t identify with these forms of music, so they naturally gravitate somewhere else. Others ask this: How is this different from someone choosing the music of their culture and ethnicity over that of another? If you’re Italian, for example, chances are you may have a greater affinity to Italian music than, say, gamelan music of Bali.

Here’s another truth: Any form of music tends to reflect the shared sentiments of a particular community. Compare indie-rock attitudes with hip-hop. You probably won’t find an indie band singing about drinking Cristal in the back of a Maybach while discussing the size of the diamonds in their new grillz. Neither would a hip-hop artist rhapsodically describe driving their new pickup through the countryside. And what are the odds of a country artist singing about police brutality and inner-city poverty?

Each form of music has its own aesthetics. If it doesn’t mean anything to you on a cultural, emotional, or personal level, you’re just not going to be into that music.

However, others don’t buy into this, seeing the non-whiteness of rock as a status quo barrier to people of colour who would like to participate but feel excludes, unwelcome, and branded as outsides. They also see countless microaggressions, covert (and not-so-covert) expressions of racism exacerbated by continued cultural appropriation.

We’re not going to solve any of these issues on this program. But we will acknowledge the contributions of Black performers have made to the evolution of alt-rock. Yes, this music is pretty white–but not always.

Songs on this program:

  • Death, Keep on Knocking
  • Bad Brains, Pay to Cum
  • The Specials, A Message to You, Rudy
  • English Beat, Tears of a Clown
  • Fishbone, Ma and Pa
  • Living Colour, Cult of Personality
  • Body Count, Body Count’s in the House
  • Lenny Kravitz, Mr. Cab Driver
  • Bloc Party, Banquet
  • Bakar, Hell N Back
  • Kennyhoopla, How Will I Rest in Peace…

Eric Wilhite provides this playlist.

The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor,  Montreal, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s and anywhere else with a transmitter. If you’re in any of those markets and you want the show, lemme know and I’ll see what I can do.

If you ever miss a show, you can always get the podcast edition available through Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your on-demand audio.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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