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BLACK MUSIC AND THE BLACK BRITISH EXPERIENCE

 

 

By Lynnee Denise

 

Thursday, May 26, 2011.

 

On the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Brixton riots (April 11 2011), a historic reaction to the violent and xenophobic environment that informed the policing of African and Caribbean immigrants, I examined the ruthless desire to "Keep Britain White." I read Sam Selvon’s 1956 novel “The Lonely Londoners,” which tells the story of the Caribbean community’s communal response to the English brand of white supremacy and their cultural preservation as a means for survival and sought the political, social, and musicological context of a sound that takes root in Sly and Robbie’s genre of Reggae Music—Drum and Bass.

 

Inspired by these histories, I’ve created a musical essay that epitomizes my long-term relationship with Black Britain and the parallel strategies of resistance that Black Americans have employed to attain basic human rights. Shout out to drum and bass pioneers Roni Size, Goldie, LTJ Bukem, Kemistry and Storm, Krust, and all the other sons and daughters of “The Lonely Londoners.”

 

I'm excited to introduce a new series of liner notes. As a part of the WildSeed Cultural Group Independent Artist in Residence program in Atlanta, Georgia (2011-2012), I will be working with my favorite thinkers, writers, cultural critics and scholars to help contextualize my mixes. The first to launch the series is Esther Armah, a fierce Black British writer, speaker, moderator and leader in the emotional justice movement. Thank you Esther for being willing to participate in this project and for helping to make "Entertainment with a Thesis" a reality.

 


Liner Notes by Esther Armah*

 

We made it. Not bodies. They were battered, bruised, brutalized, buried. The drum beat landed. Intact. Slipped unnoticed between bodies, souls, minds carried from West Africa’s shores via the West Indies. Landed unbent and unbroken in this new land - West London. We were the language left when mother tongue was dragged screaming from its source, we were the unshed tears of the middle passage. Company came. Sought us out. Hands grabbed at us from Empire Wind-rush bodies, carried to this place from Caribbean islands. A new language, new accent from this new nation called England. Black backs bent and shaped by British labor, sweat collected from a generation invited and despised in the same breath. Our mamas and daddies, silent and deadly. That racism DNA pounded and flattened, birthed into frustrated beats and a new generation. Defiance became the breath of those born to these Caribbean bodies mangled seeking refuge from racist rants. This was now Black Britain. Sound changed. Started to gather new notes from new generation. April 1981. Brixton streets, injustice exploded, caught fire, consumed and cleansed. 

 

Remnants of those unshed tears from that middle passage put the fire out on the streets, left it burning within Black Britain. Fragments of rage wrapped in that drum, dirt from boots pounding those streets caught between notes. Fragments, pieces, floated, landed. Sound from snatched pieces of leftover 1960s signs that screamed: ‘No Niggers, No Dogs, No Irish’, sound dragged from police officers’ brutal batons before they rained rage on nappy heads, sound from untold injustice - all fashioned into language. Called it bass. The sound from an unwelcome land. The double consciousness in the mirror whose reflection you couldn’t see. Mangled beauty drenched in righteous rage. Drum n bass. 30 years on from Brixton; bodies, boots, batons echo, haunt, haint. Now. Press play.

 

With thanks to New Black Man

 

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