Kelela pens personal essay on race, tokenisation and visibility in the music industry

“I’ve always been a black girl – but I’ve never been a visible black girl until recently, as an artist”

Hot off the recent release of her debut Take Me Apart, Kelela has penned an opinion piece on being a woman of colour in the music industry and a “post-Pepsi/Kendall era” for Resident Advisor. Entitled Being a visible black woman in the music industry, Kelela begins the essay by highlighting how she’s gained visibility as an artist and how the culture of the music industry extracts her “blackness” and “womanhood”, or “the way that those two things intersect”.

The industry, she says, operates around a “culture of trying to extract the most from you while also investing the least” and is “more mean when you’re a black woman”. As an extension, brands and marketing companies recognise that “capitalism is intersecting with social justice in a way that it never has before, and that means that it’s quite literally bad business to look racist or sexist”.

“Companies use our faces to make them look progressive, and a real byproduct of that is that we live lol. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯,” she writes.

She states, “What I’d like, if I could use my platform for anything, is to send the message out to these companies that it’s actually not about quantity; it’s about the quality of the interaction.” While there are people of colour contributing to art, and they’re included in the industry, they’re rarely in positions of power. The RnB artist says, “The problem is that they don’t have a voice, so it’s not about just including them”.

On her debut album, she pens:

Part of being a black woman is that your humanity is stripped from you on a daily basis. Despite that, there is a way that black women in the world have expressed tenderness and have helped people around the world access that for themselves – I’m speaking to the tradition of R&B, jazz and black female vocalists in America since forever. It’s wearing your heart on your sleeve, despite the fact that the world treats you like shit. It’s the tradition of disarming, of making people feel vulnerability over everything. Take Me Apart is an ode to all those things.

Read the full piece here.

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