Black women in music : “I’ve never heard the N-word as much as in Berlin”
At a Female to Empower event at Silent Green in Wedding, two Black women share their experiences in the music industry.
Berlin - Call it a trial run for the autumn. Silent Green, the converted crematorium and cultural venue in Wedding, held its first indoor event in months on Friday. An audience of 70 filled the domed auditorium, with 1.5m between seats. Guests had to provide their contact details, sanitise their hands, put on masks and follow the arrows stuck to the floor.
On Friday night, women talked about their experiences in the music industry during the second event of the “Female to Empower” mini-festival. This event focused explicitly on the perspective of Black women and female People of Colour. The evening kicked off with a screening of the documentary Assurance by Juba, a British DJ with Nigerian roots who moved from London to Berlin.
In the film she travelled to Nigeria to document the lives of female DJs and the challenges they face. The women she portrays are self-confident but also serene. They face a number of obstacles: they earn less, they get taken advantage of, they’re not taken seriously. They have to struggle for their rightful place in society.
After the film, Noraa, a singer-songwriter from Cologne whose mother is German and father is from Chad, took the stage. She chose to launch her career in Paris. After finishing her BA, she was signed by a label and recorded her debut album Mixed Feelings.
As soon as she picks up her guitar and begins to sing on the Silent Green stage, the sparks fly: Noraa's voice is soft, yet raw. The music of Adele comes to mind. Norraa sings of heartache, being in love, loss. Stories from her own life. An approachable artist.
Finally, both Noraa and Juba discussed their careers in music. Juba talked about how surprisingly difficult it was for her to move from London to Berlin. “Most people think Berlin is so open and free, and so great for minorities. All I can say is that for Black women that’s a myth.” The artist had to come to terms with the rudeness in Berlin – harassment on the street, people’s gruffness.
“I don’t want to praise London too much. But somehow Londoners are a bit further along. I’ve never heard the N-word as much as in Berlin.”
The moderator, curator and founder of the Afro X Pop platform, Pamela Owusu-Brenyah, added that in Berlin you feel especially excluded if you don’t understand German. Noraa, who grew up in Cologne and now lives in Paris, talked about racism in Germany.
“France isn’t ideal. But for me it was easier to get my career going there. ‘Mixed race’ women are supported there. If I’d been totally black, it would have been different,” Owusu-Brenyah says.
She also points to the positive racism that she often experiences. For her it was easy to get a record deal because she lived up to the cliché of young, Black women. In other scenarios her identity was no longer an advantage. “Of course Black women are allowed to make Black music. Everyone thinks that’s great. But they still won’t find a flat to live in.”