There have been a lot of seminars, conferences and features about diversity in media this year. People often talk about the fact that nothings changed over the past few decades in the UK, when it comes to sharing the love with diverse communities.
I disagree. If you’ve been in the game as long as I have you can acknowledge change when it’s there.
There was a time that the youth of today couldn’t even imagine existed in the past, when young ethnic Brits couldn’t dream of making it in the UK music charts or becoming household names in daily tabloids. Nowadays names like Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempeh, Leona Lewis, Ms Dynamite, Wretch32 and more are given a nearly equal playing field as their paler counterpart peers.
Only a decade ago we in the media and music industries were up in arms that the British media didn’t take black and Asian British talent seriously. Radio wouldn’t playlist them, tabloids weren’t interested, but on the street of the UK, thousands in urban areas and beyond were bubbling to their tracks.
If I wrote a book and exposed which famous gate keepers and faces a decade ago, refused to support or play this talent back then, but quickly jumped on the band wagon once they saw this British urban music train was speeding ahead to success with or without them, you’d never believe me.
Some of these names swore to me point blank, that they’d never play or support our homegrown talent- most of these DJ’s and tastemakers are now out of a job.
The ones that saw the future, clung onto their jobs for a while longer but now it’s the true champions of our scene that are moving ahead as a part of an extended movement to (as my mate Mariah once said-) ‘make it happen’.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still miles to go before we have a totally fair entry-level system and routes for true high progression within these areas, but it is improving.
A few years ago international music star Jay Sean- an Asian male from Hounslow just couldn’t get a break in the British music game. He had hits, was popular and articulate but there always seemed to be a problem with accepting him as a music star. He was tenacious and pushed ahead through different record labels, managers and teams until finally American behemoth black music label Cash Money spotted and picked him up. Cash Money looks after Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne amongst others and is beyond powerful. As soon as they scooped up Jay Sean he became an international star with hits in numerous entries internationally- now he’s gone clear. The British press may not focus on him much but why should he care- he’s a global face elsewhere.
Someone that hasn’t had the same problem in the UK is Asian male music super producer and artist Naughty Boy. Born Shahid Khan to Muslim Pakistani parents in Watford, he has made hits for other stars, made stars out of nobodies and is now appearing in British press as well as international talk shows and festivals.
This week the UK’s most ground breaking news show- Channel 4 News- also ran a feature about him.
My mum religiously watches all the daily news shows and so it’s been ingrained in my family to know what’s going on across the world. It also means we are all passive observers to news shows between 6-10pm nightly and critique them all the time.
Whilst most of the other big news names tend to make ‘’cut and paste’’ bulletins using news footage from Reuters and APTN style news hubs, Channel 4 produce their own content.
They send their main news anchors like Jon Snow out to international war zones or lighter news locations across the UK. They find new faces to report on news and reflect the country I live in most accurately. They also change what’s been seen as the norm in news for so many decades. Their news reporters are a truly diverse mix of British residents. It’s like a United Colours of Benetton advert nightly at 7pm! It’s inclusive and doesn’t make me shudder thinking ‘’oh no another ethnic face on TV- what negative crime have they committed?’’
When the Woolwich atrocity happened, one of the first witnesses on the scene that tweeted was a rapper called Boyadee who had had minimal mainstream success. Channel 4 spotted his potential and now he is one of their regular reporters. That’s risky but brilliant TV.
In the same way when Channel 4 News ran the Naughty Boy feature this week, it wasn’t to make a huge deal of his ethnicity, but to celebrate a young British mans success in the music scene. A man that entered Deal Or No Deal and won £44k to start his own music studio fro his parents back garden shed.
Shahid Khan became Naughty Boy- (he saw it as his superhero pseudonym and thinks it sounds very British) after music became such a big influence in his young life. Watching Bollywood movies, playing with his dad’s cassette recorder of cassette tapes from Southall and playing piano at school are his earliest musical memories.
There are millions of bedroom music producers all across the UK now so what was it about Shahid that made him stand out and make it? Answer- his luck is what happened when his preparation met opportunity!
This son of a taxi driver applied and won a grant in 2006 from the Prince’s Trust. Speaking to the Watford Observer in 2009 about the opportunity, Khan said “The Prince’s Trust has a scheme where they want to help people who they feel can set up their own business. I wanted to make music but I didn’t have any equipment. They said they wanted to help me’’. The same year he went on Deal or no Deal and won 44,000 on it!
This is a man that is reaching for every opportunity available to him. No chip on his shoulder. Not passively wondering when his time will come. He’s making things happen for himself.
He then met a then yet unknown Emile Sande in 2009 at a singers showcase and loved her voice so much, persuaded her to listen to his tracks in his beaten up car outside the venue and asked if they could work together. He paid for her in bed & breakfasts whilst recording and now both their journeys have progressed from unknowns to international stars.
Most young Asians are encouraged to go down traditional white-collar routes like doctor/lawyer/solicitor- Shahid was studying Business and Marketing before dropping out to pursue his musical interests.
There have been countless debates about being young and Muslim in Britain in the past few years, especially with the recent radicalization of young Muslims. Naughty boy has loads of opinions about the media portrayal about Muslims. ‘’I’ve never had a problem with the UK press, they’ve always been very supportive but I do think they don’t always get the balance on stories right. For example I was recently working at a fund raiser for Palestine with Jemima Khan, Russell Brand and Elton John but there wasn’t one bit of media about it the next day’’.
Naughty Boy is living proof that many young British Muslims are well integrated into British society – there are so many successful stores about young Muslims that aren’t told. He says ‘’Life is not about having money. It’s more about inner struggle and trying to understand your real purpose.”
One thing he’s passionate about is being an ambassador for the British Asian Trust, where he recently dined with Prince Charles and gave him his album. Apparently Charles took it home and Prince Harry declared it was the coolest music Charles had ever brought back!
The great thing about this producer is I never get the vibe that he’s chasing stars. In fact it seems to be the other way around. My record label contacts regularly confide in me, that superstar managers are re routing their artist’s schedules, so they can spend some time working in Naughty Boys studio in the leafy suburb of Ealing in west London, where he’s usually hanging out with his best mate Zayn from One Direction. Britney, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Mary J Blige and more are all examples of names keen to collaborate.
The studio is a small, black painted room akin to a young boy’s bedroom. Containing a fish tank, a fitness machine, rails of clothes and Adidas sneakers, a medicine cabinet and toiletries for overnight stays, random gifts he’s been given from goody bags like champagne bottles, boxes of chocolates and amongst all this his beloved cat Barry (yes-really), who is leaping about sticking his nose into everything. Ultimate chaos!
He has the Midas touch and really enjoys making stars out of unknowns like Emile, Sam Smith, Sam Romans and more. This former pizza delivery boy now has Simon Cowell on speed dial and is bessie mates with 1D’s Zayn Malik- I sat with them both on NB’s table at the recent Asian Awards.
Recently 1D were all over the press in after smoking weed and this past week both NB and Zayn were all over the papers internationally for jumping into the Israel/ Gaza debate after tweeting ‘’#freePalestine’’. NB is very passionate about the subject and distraught about the children that are being maimed and killed everyday ‘’I am not about sides, I’m about peace’’.
His solo album HOTEL CABANNA was visionary in that he saw it as a piece of music and a movie with NB playing producer and director. The album is a morality tale about the trappings of success. NB’s role, as manager of the hotel, is “making sure everyone’s learning their lesson”. He thinks for too long the pop and urban music scene has focused to heavily on the trappings of success.
Another trapping and path that many music acts and videos go down is imagery with an over-sexualisation of women – there is always huge debate across the industry about this- the most recent example being Pharrell/Robin Thicke/ Miley Cyrus when it comes to objectification and over-sexualisation, NB’s managed to steer clear of this and let his music do the talking. ‘’ I think sex sells, it’s easy and based on insecurity, but I think it should be more about…soul?’’ It is so refreshing and important to have a man say that there is no need for music videos to be all about sex. When female artists say it, they are dismissed as prudes.
His hit song La la la has been in the top ten in 83 countries and just hit one million UK sales, it’s the 148th song to ever make it. It also has over 330 million views on YouTube. British music acts are responsible for generating a huge deal of business for the UK economy and NB should get personal letter of thanks from David Cameron for the amount of UK music export finance generated via his productions!
He’s said ‘’I want to bring the sound back to the UK and prove that the US sound has become somewhat stale, the same sound is being recycled over and over again for the same acts. I want to show that in Britain we make vital, innovative sounds that are as, if not more, valid than the big American producers.”
It was never in his plan to be famous- the TODAY SHOW and TONIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN are American sows he’s been on (check them out on YouTube), so clearly he is very famous now and enjoying it.
NB’s brand new single ‘Home’ features SAM ROMANS, and is released 21 July and will no doubt be flying high in the charts this weekend!
Lets all salute him- the boy’s done well!