Black Artist Database: “Everyday is a good day to support and buy from Black artists”

© Thomas Murray 

Words by Caroline Whiteley

The core ethos of Black Artist Database is simple: “Everyday is a good day to support and buy from Black artists,” says B.A.D. co-founder Kay Ferdinand. 

In June 2020, the global Black Lives Matter movement pushed people and industries to reflect on their role in proliferating systems of racial oppression. The music industry in particular had a lot to unpack. Electronic music was pioneered by Black artists, yet not one out of the all-male list of the highest-earning DJs is Black. A 2020 study found that in the UK, the third largest music market in the world, BPOC employees accounted for fewer than 20% of executive roles, filling just one in five senior positions. 

“After the murder of George Floyd, we tried to look at how everyone involved in electronic music could do better to reflect on the origins of this music,” says Kay Ferdinand, Black Artist Database’s Director and Content Lead. Founded that same month by London-based DJ Niks Delanancy, Black Artist Database was initially a public Google spreadsheet — then titled Black Bandcamp aggregating links to Black artists’ pages on the online music marketplace.

Unaffiliated with Bandcamp the company, Delanancy chose to direct readers of the spreadsheet to the platform because of its low sales percentage cut compared with other music marketplaces. Ferdinand added: “There was a lot of momentum around Bandcamp at the time due to Bandcamp Fridays [the monthly event in which the company waived its fees, transferring all shares to the artists directly].”

The list grew from 30 to 400 names overnight, and quickly expanded from a spreadsheet into a community-run platform and content hub. Last spring, Black Bandcamp relaunched as Black Artist Database and announced the addition of a new database for creatives, logging over 3,500 profiles of Black creators spanning different locations and creative disciplines, from writers to curators and visual artists.

“Although it should not have taken a global pandemic for systemic racism to be acknowledged, the circumstances allowed further momentum to be built; this momentum was integral to the project expanding to become a widely embraced resource within the community,” they said. B.A.D. also encompasses an editorial arm with longform features, artist interviews, DJ mixes, and its Voices podcast series. 

After England lifted Covid-19 restrictions on nightlife last year, Black Artist Database hosted their inaugural “B.A.D. Presents…” showcase during UK Black History month at the Colour Factory, a Black-owned music venue in East London. “Much like us, Colour Factory got started during the pandemic, and much like us, they love and celebrate Black culture in the musical realm,” they stated. 

We spoke to Ferdinand ahead of Black Artist Database’s Fireside Chat at AVA London. You can listen back to the full discussion between B.A.D.’s Oscar Atanga, Richard Akingehin of Refuge Worldwide, and SheSaidSo’s Nikki McNeill right here

You and co-founder Niks go back a long way, how did you meet and how did you eventually get involved in B.A.D.? 

We both went to the same university in Bath. Niks was always really into music and what I remember distinctly about her at that time is that I’d always see her in the radio studio on campus. Every time I passed it, she’d be in there.

Flash forward years later, I had a phone conversation with Niks, maybe in July or early August [2020] about an idea I’d had for a party which turned into B.A.D. Presents…. And eventually I started taking care of the editorial arm, working on a podcast series which turned into Voices, publishing our first episode in January 2021. We launched Black Creative Database in June 2021.

What were the kind of conversations that you had with people from the wider music community when B.A.D. was launched? 

A lot of people were really enthused by the combination of giving a platform to these marginalised voices and to Black artists, who had been pushed to the sidelines. People were really supportive of that and especially how it coincided with Bandcamp Fridays. Black Artist Database gave people the perfect opportunity to show really tangible support, at a time when you couldn’t go out to see live shows from your favourite DJ, or any emerging artists that you might have discovered during lockdown. Everything was happening online, and I think it gave people a good outlet to express their support in difficult times.

How has it been adding club nights to B.A.D.’s offerings? 

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a while and it was really beautiful bringing everyone together in one space, because we’ve been working together for a year and a half. Within that time I had only seen Niks in person maybe twice, and there were so many other people that worked on a project that I had never actually met in real life. 

B.A.D. Presents… was also important for the wider community that gathered around the project online to have a place to finally come together. We met at Colour Factory, which — like us  — launched during the pandemic, and it’s also the only large Black-owned music venue in East London.

The next B.A.D. Presents… featuring Manchester legend A Guy Called Gerald is coming on April 2nd…

Yeah, I had the chance to speak to him on the Voices podcast back in August. As much as he is such a special musical mind, as heartbreaking is what has happened to his discography in regards to the unauthorized use of his records [including his 1988 hit single ‘Voodoo Ray’ and the album ‘Hot Lemonade’] and on streaming platforms. He was essentially robbed of the profits he should have received for his musical legacy, so it’s really good to be able to highlight A Guy Called Gerald’s story and raise awareness around that issue, because it’s something that I’m sure a lot of people don’t know about. If you were to stream ‘Voodoo Ray’ for example, which has since been removed from Spotify, essentially none of the profits would have gone to him. So if you want to support A Guy Called Gerald, you’ve got to go directly to Bandcamp or see him perform live. We’re really excited to facilitate that.

Initially, Black Bandcamp was all volunteer-based, but the team has since expanded. Besides Niks and yourself, can you tell me a bit more about the core team involved in Black Artist Database? 

We’re a really globally dispersed team and one of the benefits of that is all the different perspectives we’ve got on board. Obviously there’s Niks and myself in London. We have our Creative Strategy and Partnerships Lead Oscar Atanga (who makes music under the moniker O.N.A) and Christine Kakaire, who heads up the Creative Database out in Berlin. One of the things we get complimented the most on is our social media presence, and that stems from Charnnie Frimpong, our Social Media Lead, who is based in Melbourne. 

Our Head of Design, Miles Takes, is responsible for how we look — he’s the one who gave us that signature green look and the marble pattern in our visual identity, which is inspired by both ancient and modern designs from the African continent, and architects like David Adjaye. We also have a big team of volunteers, who maintain the accuracy of the database and approve new entries to the website. 

How do you organise the workload, given the many places and different time zones between the wider global team?

We work in smaller teams based around all the things that we do, like our events, panels, partnerships, content, social media, and so on. All of our communication takes place online, we’ve got a nice little Slack group and then a lot of Zoom calls, so that element of pandemic life has really stuck around. But it’s cool. 

It’s amazing how the internet makes that possible, right?

It can really make you feel so close to people who are literally thousands of miles away. Even extending past the family we have with the people that work on the project — when you dig deeper into where people are interacting from, the love we feel and the support we get from far flung places in the world is really touching to see. Among our community there are people from places where I didn’t even know people listened to electronic music! The power of the internet is how everything’s so accessible now that you can really discover your niche and dig deep into the things that you love and make you happy.

Are there any things you learned from being involved in Black Artist Database that were a surprise or that you didn’t expect?

Oh, that’s a tough one. What has surprised me is how far you can go simply with an idea and the support of a community. I mean, the things that we’ve been able to achieve, and the amount of artists we’ve been able to support, the range of people’s stories we’ve been able to tell and the places we’ve gone to — all off the back of the idea that electronic music is unjust for a lot of people that are involved in it, and that we should do something about that.

When I think back on those initial phone calls that Niks and I had, or when her and her friends were just putting together the names on that spreadsheet, there’s no way we would have thought that a year and a half later we’d be able to pay people for mixes. Or that we’d be able to put on a podcast series and pair up with Ableton and teach thousands of people how to produce electronic music.

This is in reference to the ongoing free production courses you facilitate with artists like Loraine James, Russell E. L. Butler, KMRU and rRoxymore?

Exactly, you know, I spoke with Niks after the course with Russell E.L. Butler, which was really beautiful. We always leave some time after the sessions for Q&A’s, and the energy that was flowing through that virtual space was special. I guess you can put that down as one of the unexpected discoveries from being involved in Black Artist Database. As someone whose favourite pre-pandemic activity was to go out and interact with people in the real world, I never really considered the virtual space to hold that much virtue. I guess that’s something that changed for a lot of people. Being able to not only meet in these online spaces, but to create a virtual space where really powerful, life changing, life affirming things are happening was another huge surprise to me. I thought you needed the real life tangibility for human connections. But as it turns out, that potential isn’t limited to the immediate physical world.

Caroline Whiteley is a writer, editor, and DJ currently based in Berlin. Her work has been published by Resident Advisor, Crack Magazine, Electronic Beats, Fact, and many more.