Nicholas Murray & Rosina Kazi: Musicians in LAL, operators of DIY music venue Unit 2

"Black people still remain on the fringes of the music industry, unless they’re being plucked by Americans."

Musicians in LAL, operators of DIY music venue Unit 2.

Murray: A lot of the racism in the music industry in Toronto is rooted in the systemic problems of racism in Canada. There’s a lot of discourse around electoral politics or bureaucratic ways of dealing with things, but it really all goes back to the white supremacy agenda. There’s no way to have conversations about racism in the music industry without openly discussing white supremacy as a whole.

I’ve seen hip-hop grow from where it was in the 90s to now, and not much has changed. There are artists who have released whole bodies of work who have not been let in. There’s a lot of exclusion happening. Black people are excluded specifically.

Kazi: But there is a shift happening. We’re in our 40s and grew up in a culture where we learned that you don’t say anything. You keep your mouth shut. I’ve noticed younger people being more critical about things and voicing them. That’s amazing to see. 

Murray: For me as a black person, I feel it’s the absolute opposite [re a shift happening]. And let’s be clear about the term “people of colour.” We’re talking about South Asians gaining some power because they’re the new, acceptable people of colour. Black people still remain on the fringes of the music industry, unless they’re being plucked by Americans. 

Kazi: I’m South Asian, so we think about this a lot. We’re taking up room and being allowed into power structures in the music scene where black and indigenous folks are not because we’re considered the safer bet.

We’re about to put out a record, and we can’t find one publicity firm in this country that has a roster of people of colour. I’m sure there are some, but we’ve had trouble finding them. It’s hard to get on CBC, especially with certain types of music. Radio is hard in this country, festivals.

Murray: There’s no industry in this country for any music outside of what white people want to hear.

Kazi: Reggae music is massive in this city, but it’s done by black people off in a corner. It should be all over the radio and at festivals. And with media, it’s not good enough to have white people talk or write about these things. Let’s actually empower writers of colour to write about these things as well.

Murray: The CBC tells the same old white narrative 5 million times. NOW is guilty, too. All media is guilty. 

To me, “indie” is code for “white.” And “urban” is always code for “black” but with white people controlling it. 

Kazi: These are conversations many of us have behind closed doors. April [Aliermo]’s talk made me realize it’s not good enough to talk behind closed doors. We have to start being honest even if it might affect our music career. But, hey, we’re already 20 years deep. 

Murray: The most disgusting thing about racism for me is that you completely doubt your work. You’re constantly wondering, “Am I actually good enough?” That’s the evilest thing about the racist music industry – it makes you doubt your abilities.

When you see famous black people who have done well – and I won’t name names – look at how they’ve manoeuvred through this country’s industry: they’ve claimed white people as their heroes: “I love Thom Yorke. I love Neil Young. I love everything that is white. I am white, just hire me. Neil Young is my god, black people need to learn from him.” There’s no other way for us to succeed.

Kazi: [We started Unit 2] as a safer party space where you could be yourself and dance, for different communities who might not feel safe in mainstream bars to come together and build trust again – allies, white folk, black folk, queer folk. The vibe is, If we’re going to work some shit out, we have to get to know each other, and not just from marching together. Let’s sit down and eat and dance and just be in the space together.

We sometimes have [panels like April’s], but there’s never any press coverage. It’s almost like everything has to be attached to whiteness to get exposure. 

Murray: Talks like that dance around the issue of white supremacy – let’s just go there.

Kazi: Yeah, but even if they do, how do you get white people on board to shift? Yelling isn’t going to work.

Murray: It’s not up to us to get white people to do anything.

Kazi: But it’s still our responsibility as a community to help shift things. You’ll be more likely to shift if we build trust.

Murray: I agree with the whole “being friends with white people in order to understand our differences and work together and create infrastructure.” But I don’t feel the need to teach what they have to learn. 

Kazi: Empathy is important, though. Sitting down together. If you see pain in my face, you’ll be more likely to think about your actions. 

Murray: That’s true. I agree with that. | #racisminmusic

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