Organise. Inform. Create. Own.
The last year has, at times, felt unrelentingly constant; our immediate surroundings have remained for the most part unchanged, as we remained confined within our own homes for the duration of the lockdown period. This has created a strange situation in which, through windows and TV screens, we have watched the outside world, a world that we have become increasingly distanced from over the course of the year, undergo significant social change.
The murder of George Floyd in Summer 2020 instigated an international crusade for justice. Although sparked by police brutality, Black Lives Matter's message quickly spread to all corners of the globe even during a period of lockdown, highlighting the plights and injustices faced by people of colour in all aspects of life. What followed was a period of intense self reflection, in which both individuals and organisations alike had no choice but to take a look at their actions and practices, and review them in the light of this snowballing social movement.
This sense of revaluation and self reflection permeated all industries, and the music industry was no exception. After decades of the appropriation and the shunning of the work of Black musicians, BLM rightly forced everyone to reassess the way in which they acknowledge the Black history that often paves the way for the genres and conventions that we recognise today. However, the actions of some platforms that followed left a sour taste.
Back in June 2020, Inperspective Records founder Chris Inperspective posted a lengthy exposé video on his Facebook page detailing his experiences with Hospital Records. He explains his struggle with attempting to persuade the label to include more black artists in their rosters during his time there, and being met with an often dismissive response. Throughout the 25 minute video, he calls out the hypocrisy of the label, and how, despite actively avoiding searching out Black talent for their lineups and track lists, they claimed to stand with the BLM cause online (You can watch his full video here.) This performative activism was the last straw for Chris, and he decided to take matters into his own hands. That same month, he created a secret online organisation: Black Junglist Alliance.
6 months down the line and BJA is no secret. It is an organisation that proudly showcases the ongoing achievements of Black artists from the world of Jungle and Drum & Bass. From a small private Facebook group, BJA has become a platform that aims to not only give a platform to Black artists, but to inform the world of the Black history of the genre. Following their success in 2020, we had a chat with the BJA to get an insight into the origins of the platform, the challenges that they have faced along the way, and the work that still needs to be done.
BJA was 'born of fury! It was the result of race being on everyone minds'. After having a bad experience in the scene, Chris decided that a platform needed to be established to directly address these issues within the scene that he loves.
'Black Junglist Alliance as a company was then formed from a need and a desire to address the issues of diversity and representation, to inform our community about the importance of ownership, to understand economic value, and to secure the legacy of Black contributors to Jungle & Drum and Bass.'
Since its inception, BJA has done exactly that. It has become a hub in which Black creativity and achievement is given full support and attention, demonstrating that 'not being able to find' Black talent is just no excuse. One of the key points that was stressed in Chris' video was the frustration he felt when being able to list off plenty of promising Black producers and DJs, but them being unknown, or seemingly unimportant, to Hospital Records. BJA demonstrates with ease that you really don't have to look far.
If you head to the BJA Youtube channel, you are met with thriving archive of interviews, DJ sets, and track premieres from Black junglists from up and down the country. BJA pride themselves on being able to showcase this talent, and to offer a platform to people who haven't had the opportunity to have their music heard by a wider audience.
"New Track Tuesday see’s BJATV premier an artist’s track that is exclusive to us with no ‘sub-genre’ preference. This is ultimately giving a platform to not only artists that may never have had an opportunity to showcase their talent before but also to labels, agents or promoters looking for new or existing black and cultural talent to work with. No longer can there be the excuse of “we want to work with you, but where are you?’"
Whilst putting out new music, BJATV also facilitates recorded sets in the form of 'Alliance Sessions'. This series has ran for the last three months, and has seen a wide variety of talents take to the decks to showcase their craft.
"The Alliance Sessions is also a showcase of musical talent old and new. The difference here being that artists, covering the spectrum of Jungle DnB, are coming and laying down a set with no pressure to perform. It has been extremely well received by artists and ravers alike and as we close down the first season, we already have much more in store for it in 2021."
The BJA Youtube channel is not only a hub of creativity, but a hub of information. Alongside the BJATV sessions, the 'Junglist History' video series sees a selection of different artists discuss their connection and history with the genre. In one video for example, Ragga Twins recall their transition from the reggae scene into the word of Jungle in the 90s, and their first breakthrough set with Andy C at Jungle Fever, which paved the way for MCs to become more prevalent in the world of jungle and drum & bass.
BJA have achieved a huge amount in a relatively short space of time. From their continued artist support, to getting a signing to RAM records last year, BJA are a real asset to the scene. Musicians and organisations alike have been quick to come forward and praise them for their efforts and the work they are doing. However, from talking to BJA, it became clear that their objectives extend beyond simply building their organisation. They explained how although the work they are doing now is crucial, their ultimate goal is to reach a point where they are no longer needed at all: 'We don’t want there to be a need for us in the future. If we do what we have set out to do correctly, then there won't be a need for us. That’s the best achievement any of us could want out of this.'
Back in August, when speaking to Knowledge Magazine, BJA mentioned that 'The Black community needs to stop attacking white people for being tokenistic. We have to give them a chance to make a change, or they won’t do it again.' Several months down the line, it seems that although there has been tangible change, there is still plenty more to be done:
'Whenever there is a call to change there are a few things that are sure to happen. A surge or rush to be seen to be doing, then a quieting of that surge as day to day sets back in until there is either action or non-action, and this is exactly what we’ve seen. Mistakes have been made, quite publicly by some, which was inevitable. Real change happens only from within, not from superficial, hollow gestures. There have been, more importantly, some great actions undertaken by many and undertaken quietly. It may be difficult to measure at the moment, (with our industry being devoured as it is in this climate of zero acknowledgement of our valid economic issues, social and mental wellbeing - as a whole we all input to this country!), and there is still a lot more to do but we are optimistic as the hard conversations and actions are still happening.'
Although there is much to still be done, BJA has been hugely successful in creating a supporting environment that champions Black talent in the genre. A wide variety of artists and organisations have praised BJA since its inception, and we hope that their inspiring work continues to ripple through the music industry. BJA have plenty planned for 2021; whilst they will be continuing with their current series', they will also embark on their 'next creative project' which is yet to be revealed. With plenty of exciting stuff on the horizon, we'll leave you with some of the things that artists have had to say about their work.
Breakout: “I really enjoyed filming for BJA’s Alliance Sessions; I was greeted with a huge welcome from the team, and I thought my DJ set went really well too. It’s an honour to be involved with the amazing work that BJA are doing to promote black and cultural inclusion within the Drum and Bass scene, and I can see that their work is making a huge difference already. Special thanks to Chris Inperspective and the rest of the BJA team for the opportunity, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for BJA”
Kenny Ken said “"I like what Black Junglist Alliance are doing, I had a good time on the day doing my mix for them and I'm looking forward to helping young talent come through into the future of the jungle drum & bass scene."
MyKool said “Honestly all the people I met felt like my family – extremely welcoming and good vibes all around, it was a very wholesome experience as well as being professional. I love what they are doing and feel so happy to be a part of it, I’m excited for what’s to come!”