Entertainment & Arts

UK 'blind' to British black female artists

Speech Debelle and The XX
Image caption Last year's Mercury winner, Speech Debelle, fared worse than this year's victors, The xx

The chair of the Mercury Prize has claimed that black British female artists are being ignored by the British public.

Simon Frith told the BBC that "Britain has a blind-spot" when it comes to new female urban acts.

The xx - this year's Mercury winners - have seen sales of their album increase by 300%, but last year's victor, Speech Debelle, struggled to shift copies.

"Black female music has always had a particularly tough time," Frith said.

The xx's eponymous debut album is expected to climb into the top five on Sunday, its highest chart position after more than a year on release.

Image caption Alexandra Burke is set to score her third solo number one this week

Debelle's Speech Therapy, by contrast, sold fewer than 3,000 copies in the week following her triumph, rising to 66 in the charts before dropping out the following week.

"I think we've known over the years that British tastes have sort of blind-spots," Mr Frith said.

"It may be radio play or playlists, promoters or whatever it is. Some sort of music instantly has appeal which gets lots and lots of attention.

"There's other sorts of music which will struggle whether they win the Mercury or don't win the Mercury.

At the moment, there are no black British female singers in the UK singles and albums charts, unless they have featured on a TV talent show.

"Unless you are in the mode of a certain type of entertainer it's very hard space to occupy," said Mr Frith.

Sales of urban music in the UK are on a high - up 32.9% in the first eight months of 2010, compared to the same period last year.

Within the genre, black US-based females, such as Rihanna and Beyonce, fare well. So do their male British counterparts - with Taio Cruz, Chipmunk and Tinie Tempah all scoring top 10 hits in the 12 months.

This weekend's singles chart, meanwhile, will see new entries from Alesha Dixon and 2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke - whose Start Without You is expected to debut at number one.

Mr Frith has been the chair of the judges for the Mercury Prize since it started in 1992.

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