Dave wowed the crowd during his live performance at the 2020 BRIT awards after winning Album of the Year. He performed his song “Black,” in which he simultaneously lifts up the Black community and criticizes the racism that exists within society.
Dave stripped his performance down to a live group of string performers and a double sided piano, which he plays for half of the performance. A series of black and white graphics, images, and video clips are displayed on the piano to complement his lyrics. Dave wastes no time before he points at the clear inequality that Black people have to face in the UK. After his first few lines about the beauty of being Black he says “[Black is] working twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than.” In this line Dave points at the fact that Black people have to go above and beyond to be recognized the way that a White person with less qualifications does.
Dave is a first generation Brit having been born to two Nigerian parents; he is proud of his heritage, and often speaks about the African experience in Western countries. This song is no exception. He dives into the way African countries are represented in the West by saying that all people are taught about Africa is “‘bout famine and greed.” He speaks on the way the media portrays Black people vs White people who have committed a crime. He says “if he’s White you give him a chance, he’s ill and confused,” as a comment to the fact that many White shooters are given a “second” chance with the argument that they were mentally ill, but Black people are not given this same privilege. During this verse, the piano displays headlines from the news to display the way they portray Black people and Black communities. As he goes on in describing what “Black is,” he says that part of the experience is succeeding in a new place, and “then being forced to leave the place you love because there’s hate in it.” While rapping this line the words “go home” are displayed on the piano.
He notes the diversity within the Black community, by saying that Black does not just mean one thing. He gives the example of how different people have different shades of skin or different hair types. Dave returns to speaking about African countries when he talks about how “Black” can mean having 20 cousins “walkin’ for their water [in your country],” referring to one’s country of origin. One of the most powerful lines in the song is when he says “Black is distant, it’s representing countries that never even existed while your grandmother was living.” This line speaks to the fact that most countries in Africa as political entities are very new, and that country lines were drawn by colonizers making each African country consist of so many different cultures. He makes a powerful comment on what regions in Africa are known for. Many coasts are known for the trading commodity that exists within them, for example the Ivory coast, he then says “But most importantly to show how deep all this pain goes, West Africa, Benin, they called it slave coast.” This shows how people were seen as trading commoditites during the height of the “slave trade.” He recognizes how painful this history is in his song. Dave then speaks directly to the White people addressing cultural appropriation, and wrongful incarceration of Black people.
During his performance Dave uses his platform to make more pointed comments about current events in the UK. When he finishes performing the released version of his song “Black,” he adds another minute of new lyrics to the song. He grabs the mic and turns to the audience when he says “it is racist, whether or not it seems racist.” It’s not uncommon to hear White people defend their racism instead of admitting they did or said something racist. He calls out British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, calling him racist as well. He then makes a controversial statement in British context, about how the news discriminates against Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s wife, rather than how they treat Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife. Kate is a White woman and Meghan is Biracial. It is not hard to see the clear discrimination, but many people across the world are in denial of this.
He ends his performance with a powerful tribute to victims of two recent tragedies in England’s history. The first is the London bridge stabbing in which an activist and a friend of Dave’s, Jack Merritt, was killed. Dave speaks about how Jack was a White ally who fought injustice specifically in trying to reform the prosecution system in the UK. He displays pictures of Jack and the second victim Saskia Jones on the piano. Lastly he speaks about reparations for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fires, a group of victims that consisted of many people of color and immigrants in West London.
This incredibly powerful and moving performance from Dave received a lot of criticism, with some going as far to say that the performance was racist against White people. Despite knowing the performance wouldn’t be well received by the entire country, Dave took the risk and spoke what was on his mind. Despite the criticisms it received, he also received a lot of support for the performance, including from the audience at the BRIT awards who roared their cheers in support of his entire performance. Dave took home the biggest performance of the night while also giving the most powerful performance of the night.