Sampa the Great called out systemic racism in the music industry on Wednesday night during her ARIA Awards performance filmed in Botswana.
The Melbourne-based artist, who was born in Zambia and raised in Botswana, called for greater diversity amongst music industry leaders and took aim at the ARIAs for cutting her acceptance speech from the live broadcast last year.
“This industry, for people like me. Diversity, equity in your ARIA boards,” she rapped. “To my people I say... we are our own. Freedom.”
She then referenced Australia’s troubling history and treatment of First Nations people, before mentioning last year’s incident where her award was announced during an ad break.
“In a country that pretends to not see Black, to not see its origins and its past, not only do Black visionaries make you see, but made it clone who created human history,” she said.
“And when we win awards they toss us in ad breaks. Is that history lost? Can’t remember what you forgot. Is it free?”
Last year Sampa became the first woman of colour to win the Best Hip Hop Release category for ‘Final Form’. However, her powerful acceptance speech about diversity and inclusivity was cut from the live television broadcast.
She said in her speech that “it’s really bittersweet that in 2019, I’m the first woman of colour to win in the hip hop category”.
“I really hope I’m not the last. I hope the change in this category pushes us to talk about how diverse Black music can be. I hope the Australian music industry starts to reflect how our community looks like.”
Sampa’s win came in the same year ARIA renamed the category from Best Urban Release to Best Hip Hop Release. Meanwhile Kaiit, a Gunditjmara and Torres Strait Islander woman, won the award for Best Soul/R&B Release.
The term “urban” has, in recent years, been criticised as an outdated and overgeneralised way to categorise music produced by Black artists. In a 2018 essay for The Guardian, British academic and author Kehinde Andrews wrote that the word “stands in for Black and comes with all the same stereotypes.”
While the ARIAs ditched the ‘urban’ category name, ARIA CEO Dan Rosen admitted the organisation could’ve highlighted this more, and shouldn’t have snubbed these diverse artists from the TV broadcast.
“We should have handled it better last year in acknowledging the important reforms we made to change that award and, in particular, acknowledge the historic wins by Sampa and Kaiit,” Rosen told The Music Network last month.
“I regret we didn’t take the opportunity to provide the national platform that those wins warranted and I apologise for that. We need to do better this year and will continue to improve as an organisation and how we best represent the diversity of our artists and our industry.”
This year Sampa ended up winning the Best Female Artist gong and also took home the Best Independent Release and Best Hip-Hop awards.
There was no red carpet and no audience with Delta Goodrem hosting live from Sydney’s Star Casino and awards presented from the stage to artists via Zoom.
Some performances were pre-recorded including Sia from the US and Sam Smith from London’s Abbey Road Studios.
Big winners included Tame Impala who won Album of the Year for ‘The Slow Rush’ and Archie Roach who was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
The showstopper moment of the evening was the tribute to the late Helen Reddy; a special rendition of ‘I Am Woman’ sung by a lineup of Australia’s top female talent including Amy Shark, Tones and I, Kate Ceberano, Christine Anu and Marcia Hines.
With additional reporting by Carly Williams
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