Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUTX
NPR LIVE SESSIONS – PRODUCED BY JULIA REIHS/KUTX
In the midst of the recent social justice movement spurred by the killing of George Floyd, Austin musicians have urged their city to examine racism embedded in the music scene itself. KUTX Multi-Media Producer Julia Reihs connected with Mélat, native Austininte and former KUTX Artist of the Month (February 2018).
“First off we got the name ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ because we had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else. So it really had nothing to do with the music, it was really just about the space. And what ended up happening is the space did not go to everybody – it went to the white guys with the guitar.”
“When I finally did start making music, I never saw myself represented in things like ACL and SXSW. I figured I had to go to L.A. or New York or someplace where I saw myself reflected. People don’t expect R&B to come from here. They don’t really see Black people coming out of Austin like that in general.”
Lucky for Austin, Mélat stayed and carved out a new space for R&B in the Austin music scene that did not exist before. She has played ACL Fest, SXSW and was named “Break out Artist of the Year” in 2018’s Austin Music Awards. But she still witnesses the covert racism that affects artists of color and skews tastes away from hip-hop, rap and R&B genres.
“Racism in Austin isn’t quite over. It’s systemic. You don’t realize that what you’re saying and what you’re doing is actually continuing to push people out and not allowing for space. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been called a hip-hop artist. It’s like – this is not my space to take – especially people who do hip-hop and rap – it’s hard for them to even get these venues because there’s a preconceived notion about what type of crowds they bring in. It’s all based on preconceived notions, stereotypes.”
“Being quiet about it – it isn’t going to work anymore. I have to find a way to incorporate my activism into my everyday life, into my art, into my existence, into all of it. Hopefully in just doing what I’m doing and saying where I’m from and telling my story, it shifts perspective for another little girl or a little boy or person who doesn’t necessarily see themselves reflected in our city.”
Produced by: Julia Reihs
Additional footage by: Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon and Spectrum News
Featured songs by Mélat: “Happy Hour” and “After All”
Mélat in KUTX Studio 1A 2.9.18