“The fact that M.I.A’s comments sparked dialogue about a global view of the Black struggle is not a failing… We’ve read and welcomed the critique of M.I.A’s participation.”
The recent announcement that M.I.A. would be headlining AFROPUNK London was met with a heap of backlash. It sparked controversy as people took to Twitter to highlight her comments on the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year. On Monday evening, M.I.A. tweeted saying that she will no longer be performing at AFROPUNK London because “I’ve been told to stay in my lane.”
Sorry I’m not doin Afropunk. I’ve been told to stay in my lane. Ha there is no lane for 65mil refugees who’s lanes are blown up! #nolanes
— M.I.A (@MIAuniverse) June 20, 2016
The ‘Paper Planes’ rapper, M.I.A, is known for triggering conversation through imagery and lyrics of refugees and the damaging portrayals and displacement of refugee lives by The West. She has built up a reputation for being an outspoken activist, using her status to shed light on refugee lives, drawing on her experiences of displacement from Sri Lanka in her early life. However, M.I.A has made some comments which throw into question her being anti-black.
In an interview with the Evening Standard back in April, M.I.A expressed discomfort that the Black Lives Matter campaign is overshadowing other lives. “It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter,” she told ES Magazine. “Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question.”
The announcement of an anti-black rapper, who has carved her music career from being heavily influenced by a genre with origins in black culture, headlining the London strand of AFROPUNK festival (which celebrates black lives, black music, and black people) was utterly baffling.
AFROPUNK Festival was launched in 2005 in Brooklyn. The name and movement stems from a documentary produced by Matthew Morgan and directed by James Spooner unravelling the presence of black punks in America. The Paris edition took place over three days on a weekend earlier this month.
When the London edition was announced earlier this year, the prospect of the black festival arriving in the capital was exciting. But when it was announced that M.I.A would be headlining, for some, excitement quickly turned into frustration. An article surfaced hypothesising what an AFROPUNK London line-up could have looked like, with “more research”.
M.I.A has been accused on Twitter of enforcing political blackness and showing solidarity to justify her headline slot at the London edition of the music festival. Institutional racism in the music industry is rife and evident when it comes to booking black artists to play black music to a predominantly black audience. Grime has had a long history of tension with the police – especially evident in the case of the Form 696. The form is a risk assessment procedure used for “identifying and minimising any serious crime happening at the proposed event to enable the event to proceed with minimal risk.” Promoters and event organisers who want to pull of events of this kind face an added layer of security checks and forms, venues turn them away as the crowd expected is “too black”, and by default more likely to be violent or troublesome. Hence, M.I.A accepting the headline slot at AFROPUNK London is making her look like quite the fraud.
Her outburst earlier this year about the Black Lives Matter movement raised questions as to whether she is really down for the cause. She is clearly not down to fight the fight for black Americans, so why should she be given the privilege to headline a black festival which is a celebration of blackness? Bey has contributed to pop music since the nineties and the second she makes one political statement in her music about black lives she is lambasted by right-wing media and the likes of M.I.A.
Let’s get one thing straight. M.I.A being told to stay in her lane does not equate to marginalising “65 million refugees who don’t have a lane”, as she suggested. The Black Lives Matter campaign does not cancel out Muslim or refugee lives – they are not mutually exclusive. There is enough room for more than one activism campaign existing and to think they should be reduced into a “one cause for all” banner is dangerous.
Last Thursday, AFROPUNK released a statement regarding the controversy surrounding M.I.A. Some have been satiated after days of silence from AFROPUNK, others aren’t so convinced.
— Ms. Doyin (@doyinspeaks) June 23, 2016
Afropunk London’s statement pic.twitter.com/p5mFYFz7ql
— Just (@JusAnother) June 23, 2016
“I don’t understand how MIA has managed to turn an event celebrating black music into a dialogue about the struggle of nbpoc refugees,” says Varaidzo. “It’s so violent and sad and the fact that they’ve had to basically put disclaimers in this like ‘btw we mean BLACK Muslims and BLACK refugees too’ shows how erased black people are from those dialogues. we shouldn’t have to have side note reminders that there isn’t a monolithic black experience man this whole situation started off as just a weird error in judgements to a really sad reminder about how black people are overlooked and unlistened to even in our masses.”
With M.I.A still somehow set to perform at the London edition of the festival this September, and a still a “huge amount of UK/ global talent, still to be announced”, we patiently await the additional names to be added to the line up. London is home to drum’n’bass, grime, garage, jungle, ska and so much more. With rare, homegrown events like the Red Bull Culture Clash, we are reminded that if nobody else is going to give it to us black British people, we owe ourselves the reaffirmation that we lack from many other parts of the world and on our own turf. The only way that will change is if we have safe black-owned spaces like AFROPUNK to celebrate and thrive. While the jury is still out as to whether it is acceptable that M.I.A is still set to take the headline spot, AFROPUNK have spoken and they are sticking to their guns.