Noisettes singer Shingai Shoniwa has criticised a “one in and out quota” for black female artists wanting to crack the mainstream music industry.
The singer, 39, the daughter of Zimbabwean refugees, will close the Imperial War Museum’s virtual festival, Refugee Nights, next month.
The three-day event sees comedians, actors and activists explore refugee experiences as a consequence of conflict.
Shoniwa said: “It doesn’t make sense that you can have a 90% white male line-up at UK festivals.
“If we want to perform we have to share the allocation with black artists internationally. This extends to radio and the recording industry.”
She said it is still the case that often only “one brown girl is allowed to be positioned in the mainstream media space at a time”, with a “one in and out quota”.
Shoniwa added: “There’s only so long that we can deny that African melodies, rhythms and style underpin a huge part of what pop music is.
“You wouldn’t have R&B, soul, hip hop, UK garage, reggae, dubstep, jazz, blues, rock and roll, aspects of punk… Most of the music that we love today wouldn’t be here without the backbone of African migration rhythms and melodies running through its spine.
“For far too long African voices, or voices of African descent, and women are left out of the story of pop music.”
She said “the contributions to pop” of “Afro beats and African music are a lot more positively celebrated” now, because musicians are more “genre fluid” and streaming has “changed the way people listen to music”.
Shoniwa will perform her new single War Drums from the Imperial War Museum’s atrium, surrounded by a specially commissioned Ai Weiwei artwork, History Of Bombs.
She said she is proud to be “celebrating the contribution that migrants bring”, adding: “Migrants don’t only bring stories of trauma, they bring stories of hope and resilience and what we contribute to the fashion scene, food and culture.
“It’s really important that we are doing the show and flipping the script.”
Shoniwa recently launched her debut solo album Too Bold.
“It’s growing organically in a way I could never have hoped,” she said of the record.
“We’re on nearly 500,000 streams, which is very difficult for any independent artist now.
“Let’s see if it’s not too bold for the old boys’ club”.
The last two nights of Refugee Nights take place on November 24 and December 1 from 7-8pm. More information can be found at www.iwm.org.uk/events/refugee-nights.