18 Nov 2016

Will Aaradhna's speech change the NZ Music Awards?

4:28 pm on 18 November 2016

Aaradhna rocked the Vodafone Music Awards with her amazing speech about racism and the Urban/Hip hop Award. Today we speak to the guy in charge of the awards about whether there are going to be any changes. 

Soul singer Aaradhna performs at the NZ Music Awards 2016.

Soul singer Aaradhna performs at the NZ Music Awards 2016. Photo: Supplied

As you probably know, the highlight/only event of significance at last night’s Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards was Aaradhna declining the award for Best Urban/Hip Hop Album, and giving it instead to hip hop collective SWIDT.

Her brief speech explained her reasoning in simple but profound terms. Aaradhna is not a rapper or a hip hop artist: she’s a singer. But, by virtue of being of Indian and Samoan descent, she is somehow by default “urban”.

“OK. So this song is ‘Brown Girl’, and it speaks so many things.” She told the audience. “It speaks on racism, and being placed in a box. And for me, I feel like if I was to accept this, I feel like I’m not being truthful in my song. And I feel like if you’re putting a singer next to a hip-hop artist, it’s not fair.

“I’m a singer, I’m not a rapper, I’m not a hip-hop artist. It feels like I’ve been placed in the category of brown people. That’s what it feels like.”

While certain media outlets have described Aaradhna’s speech as some kind of pointed accusation of racism directed at the VNZMAs in particular, what she really highlighted was the insidious and rampant whitewashing of a music industry that, while priding itself on diversity, still feels compelled to to enforce almost unspoken racial boundaries.

Damian Vaughan, CEO of Recording Music, the organisers of the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, heard Aaradhna. Talking to The Wireless today, he said that though he does not consider the awards themselves to be racist, he thought the speech was the highlight of the night.

He was, understandably, hesitant to be specific about what changes might come about as a result of Aaradhna’s words, but with plans to consult the music community and artists like Aaradhna, we just might see a new format at next year's awards.


What is your response to Aaradhna’s comments last night?

Well I mean she’s free to say what she likes, I thought it was a highlight of the show and just fantastic. The category that she entered, that her management entered her into is Urban/Hip hop, and I think she used the time to point out that she doesn’t consider herself a rapper, and that the category doesn’t necessarily reflect the music that she’s making. How we define that category is working primarily within the urban genres of R&B, hiphop, soul and funk, and she was put forward by her management for that category.

But it's not like the awards don’t evolve, so in the last few years we’ve tweaked a few categories with consultation with the artists who've entered into those categories previously.

Interestingly, when Aaradhna’s manager entered her into this category a few months back, he was up here in the office and we have already discussed that as something we should look at for next year, so I have already had that in my thinking. It's something that we’ll look to evolve and we’ll sit down with all the musicians that entered into that category in the last few years and get their feedback on how we should go forward.

What changes will you make?

I think the best plan is to wait to talk to the various musicians who have entered those categories previously and go from there.  

How are the categories determined?

We are the owners of the event, so we hand out 21 [awards] at the event but there are a few others that are handed out at different events throughout the year and we determine over time, but in consultation with our membership who are all recording artists and record companies from the country, and those categories evolve over time.

I can give you the example, a very minor tweak, but one that was important to the musicians involved in that community. We changed Best Electronic Album, which now it is called, and it used to be called best electronica last year. A very minor tweak, but from the perspective of the community electronica is a genre unto itself, whereas electronic music more accurately reflects a group.

[The changes to the hip hop category will be determined by the] same process. Talk to a few musicians who’ve raised it with us and then we consulted wider and then agreed with the change. So that’s how that process works.

We are a membership organisation and our members are the exact people that were there last night and all the artists and all the artists and record companies. And the artists themselves and their record companies are the ones that put themselves forward for any particular award.

Should the title of the urban award be changed?

Firstly I would say that I don’t think the awards are in any way racist and certainly there's no intention towards that whatsoever, they are extremely multicultural and we have multiple categories.  

But I would say that we’re happy to evolve things and I know that music changes over time and community changes over time as well, so those are the things we’ll look at.

I would say with “urban”, that category has existed for some time, and it is a term that means different things in different countries.

Another good example is two years ago the Worship Album was called Gospel/Christian, and gospel music means different things in different countries. If you think about the States, gospel is more southern roots kind of music, whereas maybe in Australia and New Zealand it's more attuned to church performance.

But a group of musicians and artists and labels who put themselves forward into that category over a few years got in touch with me and we chatted through how we could change it to more accurately reflect who was involved in that category.

I’m just pointing out there is a process we go through and I’m happy to explore that, and that’s what we’ll do in preparation for next year’s event.