Actor, author and broadcaster Sir Lenworth George Henry CBE has criticised Glastonbury Festival for its lack of black faces, both on stage and in the audience.
Co-organiser Emily Eavis agreed with the TV comedian better known as Lenny Henry, saying that Glastonbury is a “predominately white festival”. In 2019, when grime star Stormzy became the first black solo British headliner in the festival’s history, the move was, said Eavis, “a little bit late – we should have probably done it before”.
Talking to Radio Times magazine, Lenny also commented on the lack of diversity at other UK festivals. “I’m always surprised by the lack of black and brown faces at festivals. I think, ‘Wow, that’s still very much a dominant culture thing’,” he said.
Some weeks earlier, several Guardian readers made similar points. Amarjitlse commented: that since ring-fenced, fully ticketed festivals became the norm, they have “been largely white… only people of colour [are] security guards, food vendors or artists. I watched Stormzy play – not a single black person in the audience as far as I could see.”
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Notting Hill goes to Glasto
At the end of May, organiser Notting Hill Carnival Ltd (NHCL) announced that it would be partnering with Glastonbury by sending masqueraders and steelpan players to the festival.
NHCL CEO Matthew Phillip said that Notting Hill and Glastonbury held “many of the same beliefs and represent the country on a global scale”.
Masqueraders, including moko jumbies, will follow an environment-friendly electric sound truck around the site. Mangrove Steel Orchestra will play at Block9, described as a “sprawling multi-venue area in the east side of the festival site”. Block9 will be celebrating “a dream of music, community, and progressive inclusivity free from state control and corporate profiteering,” according to its co-founder Gideon Berger, quoted in The Guardian.
Glastonbury Festival runs from Wednesday 22 June (Windrush Day) until Sunday 26 June 2022, with live coverage from no fewer than 20 BBC presenters producing over 60 hours of coverage. Tickets, priced at £280, are all sold out.
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Strawberries & Creem & Notting Hill too
One festival that claims to buck the all-white-audience trend is Strawberries & Creem, which this year runs from 18 to 19 June near Cambridge. It will feature a ‘Notting Hill Carnival takeover’ of the main stage on Sunday, building on a collaboration that started in September 2021.
S&C co-founder Preye Crooks explained: “It has long been a dream of ours to work with Notting Hill Carnival… and when we heard the sad news of their postponement this year , we felt there would be no better way than to celebrate the influence NHC has had on all of us than by collaborating with them. We’re absolutely delighted this year to be bringing the Carnival flavour and spirit to Cambridge…. It’s a festival first and something we are incredibly excited about.”
The festival already prides itself on inclusivity and diversity – perhaps significantly, and in contrast to most music festival organisers, Crooks is a Londoner of African heritage. The injection of NHC sound systems, steelpan, Carnival mas and moko jumbies into the 2021 festival proved highly successful, according to Imogen Lea’s enthusiastic review in Noctis. So it can be done…
Black culture, especially music, has had a foothold in the UK for several hundred years. Calypso was being sung by Caribbean soldiers in First World War training camps in southern England, and nightclubs and imported records brought black music to a wider audience in the 1920s and 1930s. In the immediate postwar period, a craze for calypso and steelpan had taken hold, with the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, a particular fan (Soca News can exclusively reveal that Prince Charles is now the appreciative custodian of her Caribbean record collection). The BBC televised the first of Claudia Jones’s indoor ‘Caribbean Carnival’ shows in January 1959 and Notting Hill Carnival itself began in 1966, followed by many other Caribbean carnivals around Britain. That makes the failure of so many present-day music festivals to appeal to a more diverse and representative audience all the more puzzling. Perhaps, one radio interviewer suggested, the camping and the food are to blame.
What do you think?
Are festival audiences too white, and is that something we should be bothered about? Do you go to Glastonbury or other music festivals? If not, what puts you off – the mix of music on offer, safety concerns, getting cold and wet in a tent, travelling to some obscure field far away, or the lack of decent food?
We’d be really interested to hear your opinions, comment below.
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