Alexandra Ampofo

A Seat at the Table: Black Culture and Community

To mark week three of Black History Month 2022, Guest Editor Alexandra Ampofo gives her personal account of being a Black woman in the industry, and speaks to Kym Thomas about the profound influence Black culture has on popular music and how that culture is kept alive.

Alexandra Ampofo
  • By Alexandra Ampofo
  • 19 Oct 2022
  • min read

Black History Month is an incredibly important time of year for me, mainly because I am a Black Woman. But not only that, I use it as a time to share experiences, create opportunity and amplify Black voices as much as I can through culture and community. While in the UK, October honours the achievements and contributions made by Black artists, Black history is something that happens every single day. 

I started in the music industry ten years ago, producing music events which served as a platform for underground Black music for people of my demographic. The reason I started this was intentional, it was and is still my dream to facilitate a valuable space for Black musicians to have a seat at the table. When I was beginning my journey in the music industry, I’d always thought of myself as an open book, an honest woman and a relatable source. But the truth is, as honest as I am and as open as my pages are, my chapters remained closed at times, and the reason for that was a lack of resources, attacks on the Black community and lack of culture. I was also aware that if I felt like this, I’m sure many other Black individuals trying to break the glass ceiling felt the same.  

So, this leads me into why I am writing this piece. I’d like to highlight ways in which we can keep the Black culture and community within the music industry alive and why it is important to have ‘A Seat at the Table.’ With a string of influences at every corner you turn, it’s inevitable that we take away a little piece of everyone we interact with and that’s why creating meaningful relationships with likeminded people is imperative. The people we encounter on a day-to-day basis play an integral part on who we become and how we identify. 

To me, Black culture in the music industry is everything from social culture, live music events, day parties, archives, forums and genres ranging from Jungle, Jazz, Rock, Grime, Drill, Blues, Soul and more! Music has played such a central role in the Black experience and uniting us together in the hardest of times. Every genre that has been born has come from Blackness and that’s why it’s so fundamental Black people are at the forefront, leading their communities, collecting their flowers and everything outside of that. 

I sat down with Kym Thomas, artist marketing representative for Black Music at Fender, to get her insights on supporting Black culture and community in the music industry.

Alex: What does Black culture and community mean to you and what are some tangible ways we can keep that culture alive? 

Kym: Black culture means, to me, having a sense of pride in everything your community has worked hard for, as well as being empowered by struggle. Rooted in the Black culture and community are the experience of some form of struggle and pain. However, simultaneously there has always been incredible beauty and innovation to embrace the culture. If we continue to create opportunities for more voices and seats at the table, for people from the Black community, then we’re already heading in the right direction of keeping the culture alive.  

Alex: What are your thoughts on how representation has evolved since the last few years? 

Kym: Since the last few years, representation has evolved incredibly well for Black people (especially women) in spaces where you least expect, and yet there is still more to be desired. We’re already setting a precedent for the next generation and allowing younger people to know that there are opportunities for them in every industry and role.  

Alex: In regard to race, what can the music industry do to better facilitate effective conversation and understanding?

Kym: In my opinion, I think the music industry can enable effective conversation and understanding by way of being more proactive towards inclusion efforts. Also create positive change which comes from bespoke trainings and constant discussions that are informed by and interwoven within the music industry and presented consistently over time. 

There are many important factors when it comes to uplifting Black culture and community in the music industry. Below, I have set out some tips for individuals looking to learn more.  

What can I do to help keep the Black culture alive? 

Do your research into what the culture is, question why you want to be a part of that and what tangible things you can do to add value to the culture. Listen to and share the music of historically excluded artists who identify with the culture from which you wish to indulge in. Black music journalists have been doing incredibly necessary work when it comes to Black editorials, written pieces on Black music artists, reviews and coverage. I think it's important to listen to Black writers and read their work as they are just as deep-seated in the Black music community as our entertainers and artists themselves. 

What does support look like? 

Showing your support outside of the music industry is important and meaningful too. Speaking up and calling out racism when you see it can really help Black people in general. Remembering that even the smallest gesture can lead to the biggest impact — and in turn, you can help preserve the art and the people who have long contributed to music, culture and beyond. 

How can I be an ally to the Black community? 

Support Black artists through booking them for your live events, speaking to those respective communities and understand what they need from you when the going gets tough, stream their music and donate to Black artist funds. No matter what way you choose to contribute, it is all valid, helpful and greatly appreciated by those who need it most. 

Authentic engagement and connecting with a purpose. 

It’s important to work with fellow Black people, artists and executives to create authentic relationships, it will help with your personal growth, and you can learn valuable life lessons. When you struggle with adapting to different social spaces, your productivity levels can fluctuate. A simple way to scissor jump over this hurdle is to keep ‘enrichment’ at the forefront of your mind. Don’t give in to pressure, but don’t forget productivity, culture and community is the aim, so make sure it’s not pointless. 

And lastly, an opinion is an opinion. 

Reflecting upon oneself is very important when trying to develop and grow as a person in the music industry. Teach yourself to be around different people in various settings without taking offence to their perceptions of you.