Posts Tagged ‘Reggae’

Answering Simon Webb’s Question about the Contribution of the Windrush Migrants

June 23, 2022

Yesterday, right-wing Torygraph reading internet historian Simon Webb over at the History Debunked channel responded to the Queen’s speech, in which Her Maj referred to the ‘profound contribution’ of the Windrush generation. Webb asked what that was. He’s put up another video today repeating the question, and commenting that nobody was able to give him an answer. A number of people told him he was racist for asking it. So he repeated it, giving as an example of a profound contribution made by an immigrant community the Gujarati shopkeepers who kept their shops open up to eight or nine in the evening rather than shutting at five O’clock. This is a benefit, because it’s led to a change in opening hours which means you can buy whatever you want at any time without having to worry about a rush when the shops open a nine.

I’ve left a reply there answering his question. Here it is:

Okay, Simon – it’s a fair question, so I’ll bite. After the War there was a labour shortage which the Black Caribbean immigrants helped to fill. They were particularly needed in nursing and the care sector. Not a spectacular contribution, but a contribution nonetheless. And here in Bristol the St. Paul’s Carnival is a major local event and very popular, despite that part of the city’s poverty and crime. There’s also a statue up in one of the more multicultural parts of Bristol to a Black writer, actor and playwright of that generation.

Okay, the actor and playwright is obscure – he was mentioned a few months ago when racists vandalised the bust to him, probably in reprisal to the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue. And the St. Paul’s carnival is local to Bristol. Nevertheless, it is spectacular and very popular, with White Bristolians coming into to see it and it is one of the major events in the city’s calendar. As for Black Caribbean workers helping to fill the labour shortage, that’s true whether they did so in response to national appeals for workers or if they were simply looking for better wages and opportunities. And I’d also say that Bristol was made morally better by the boycott of the local bus company because it wouldn’t employ Blacks. The bus boycott was given great support by the-then Bristol MP, Wedgie Benn.

I think Webb might be asking the wrong question, or expecting the wrong kind of answer. He clearly wants to hear about a distinctive contribution made by the Windrush generation. Something revolutionary. But even if the Windrush generation’s main contribution was as workers, the same as White Brits and the other New Commonwealth immigrants that arrived at the same time, that’s still an important contribution. And our hospitals and care homes did need their nurses and ancillary staff.

And just before the Windrush arrived, we were assisted during the War with workers and soldiers from the Caribbean. There’s a bit about them in an anthology of articles on Black and Asian British history, Under the Imperial Carpet. There was, I believe, even a Black RAF pilot, who I’m sure deserves to be better known. As for the post-War years, I’d say that the most profound contribution of the Afro-Caribbean community in Britain has been in the performing arts and particularly music. Apart from some great Black musicians, they also introduced into Britain new musical genres like Ska and Reggae, which were also taken up by White performers. Oh yes, and they introduced the steel band to Britain. One of the school’s in Bristol’s St. George’s ward had one.

I’m very much aware that the Black British community has its problems – higher rates of unemployment, low academic achievement, drugs and crime. But nevertheless they’ve also brought benefits and made a genuine contribution to British society, and Her Maj was quite right to talk about it.

Two Images of Blacks from the Age of the Victorian Music Hall

March 14, 2022

I found these two pictures in Edward Lee’s Folksong and Music Hall (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1982). This is part of a history of popular music for schools. Other books in the series are, or were, on contemporary folksong, Jazz and Blues, Reggae and Caribbean music, Rock, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soul and Motown, and Tin Pan Alley. The picture below, of a Black man holding the hand of a little White girl as they go paddling on the beach in the chapter on the Minstrel shows. The caption for it says ‘The minstrel as a family entertainer. Another stereotype – the black man as simple friendly soul’.

I’ve mixed feelings about this. I can see that some people would find it patronising and offensive, but at the same time it also shows how Black American popular music was gaining an audience in this country. And that people were enjoying it and celebrating its performers, rather than treating them as some terrible threat.

Less controversial, I hope, is this picture of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, one of the first genuine Black American musicians to become popular and tour over here.

Discussing the impact of Black American music in Britain, the book states

‘Linked with the popularity of minstrel shows there was an increasing interest in black artists and in genuine black music. Early in the nineteenth century the actress Fanny Kemble, travelling in the southern states of America, had been struck by the ‘strange and wild songs’ of the black boatmen. These were probably an early form of shanty with a strong blues influence.

‘As the century passed, black artists began to make a name for themselves. Among the most famous was James Bland (1854-1911), composer of ‘Carry Me Back to Old Virginny’ (his first big hit), and ‘Oh Dem Golden Slippers’. In England a sensational reception had been given, in 1848, to Juba, an outstandingly talented black dancer, and later, in 1871, to the Fisk University Jubilee Singers. It was they who made popular ‘Deep River’, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, and ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’. It was through them that the genuine ‘spiritual’ became known and loved by white people.

‘But this was not all. The tumultuous receptions they had (ten thousand people at an open-air concert in Hull, for instance) was in part due to the powerful rhythmic effect of their music; it must have had what Jazz lovers later came to call ‘swing’. The gripping excitement of authentic black music had begun to be felt, and within twenty years, ragtime, the first internationally popular Afro-American musical style, was sweeping the world.’ (Pp. 79-82).

Brits have been listening to Black music for a very long time. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are also included in a collection of essays on Black and Asian British history, Under the Imperial Carpet, which is itself well worth a read.

As for the minstrel shows, I’m not nostalgic for their return. The music’s good, but Whites performing in blackface is racist and offensive, however much the Heil and Depress may defend it and get themselves furious about the cancellation of the Black and White Minstrel Show. What I also find sad is that when people have tried to perform the old minstrel songs without the racist makeup, they’ve flopped. I don’t think there should be anything problematic about the music. But it is skewed and wrong that people only apparently want to hear it when it’s in blackface.

Miley Cyrus Puts a Wrecking Ball into Trump

March 3, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that pop chanteuse Miley Cyrus has given her succinct opinion of the New York Nazi, Donald Trump. And it wasn’t approving. She described him as ‘a –ing nightmare’, and in the colourful demotic of contemporary rap, expressed her physical disgust and wish to leave the country.

Quite.

I realise that Cyrus isn’t exactly everyone’s musical cup of tea. She was Hannah Montana, but after growing up she decided to make her act much more raunchy, to the angry dismay of moralists, and the delight of Daily Mail journalists as they rushed to their keyboards to knock off stories about what an evil menace to western civilisation she is, and how twerking should be banned, with full pics so you can share the outrage too. But she’s done something cool here. And she’s right: Donald Trump is indeed a nightmare.

His racial attitudes are horrendous. His bigoted attitude towards Mexicans and Muslims is well known, as is his support for torture, even when it doesn’t work, and the targeting of civilians in the War on Terror, or whatever name they’re giving to the bloodbath in the Middle East. All of this is genuinely frightening enough. His alliance with the far right- he’s actually given press passes to a White supremacist radio show, The National Cesspool – could even pose a threat to pop culture.

Modern pop music, by and large, is pretty liberal. Part of the mainstream American right hates it because of its very frank embrace of sexuality, including homosexuality. The Moral Majority were most definitely not fans of David Bowie, because of the sexual ambivalence of his ‘Ziggy Stardust’ persona. Some of us can remember the 1980s when the Organisation of Senators’ Wives went chasing around demanding that the recording companies put stickers on the records stating that it had offensive lyrics. Just to protect good old American values, you know. The Reagan administration also inaugurate a series of congressional hearing in which various rockers and pop stars were hauled up before the nation’s elected representatives and interrogated about this new moral threat to America’s impressionable children.

They came a cropper when they got to Dee Snyder, the main man from Twisted Sister. They asked him about how he felt about exposing children to inappropriate material. Shouldn’t he be more careful about his band’s music? They actually didn’t know that Snyder was a responsible father himself, and said he was very careful indeed with what his children listened to. I’ve got the impression many rock stars are the same. Behind all the stage makeup and the bizarre performances, many of them in their private lives have exactly the same concerns about raising their children properly as the rest of society. Not all, by any means, but enough to take the wind out of some of those determined that rock is a genuine threat to western society’s moral fabric.

The Far Right also has ambivalent attitude to pop music. Of course, there is a Fascist music culture with the Nazi skinheads and the Eastern European Black Metal bands. On the other hand, there are also parts of the neo-Nazi milieu that bitterly hate pop and rock music because of its roots in Black culture. Modern rock ‘n’ roll started off as a mixture of White country music and Black barrel house jazz. Along the way it also drew on Blues music – it was due to the Chicago Blues style of Howlin’ Wolf that the guitar is the instrument of choice in contemporary pop music. Before then much Jazz was piano-based. Think Thelonious Monk tinkling the ivories, as well as, if I’m right about this, Professor Longhair. Gospel music has its origin in Black churches, while Punk after the initial fury passed was also influenced by Reggae. Let alone the influence of Ska, R’N’B, and so on.

Some of the White bands, who’ve been accused since of stealing the Blues, were originally real supporters and advocates of Black music. When they started out, the Rolling Stones covered songs by various Black American artists. The Stoned didn’t hide their musical debts – they told their audiences who the piece was really by, and the record label that had recorded it so they could hear it for themselves.

And some of the great Black performers were very proud of the fact that their music brought Black and White together. A little while ago Little Richard gave an interview into which he recalled the segregated nature of the dance halls in America. The Blacks tended to dance, while the Whites stood around the hall and watched. Richard, however, said that when he and his band came on, ‘the White spectators’ around the walls stopped spectating, and came and joined the Black folks on the dance floor. ‘And so’, he said, ‘Before Dr Luther King, we had integration’.

The racist right bitterly hates that interracial legacy and the tolerance that has been partly built up by Blacks, Whites and other ethnic groups, like Latinos creating a common musical culture. You can read rants by some of the American Nazi groups denouncing pop as ‘N*gger music’, and sneering at the people who like it, ‘dance like n*ggers’. It’s disgusting stuff, and it goes back a long way. The Nazis also objected to Jazz as ‘Negro’ music. By allying himself with White supremacists, Trump’s also given his support to people, who despise everything mainstream pop music stands for. Hence Miley Cyrus’ condemnation.