Reggae and the British-Jamaican
This month, it will be 50 years since Jamaica gained Independence from Britain. Today is the final in a series on the impact Jamaican pop culture has had on that country.
SINCE the first wave of immigrants stepped off the MV Empire Windrush in June, 1948, Jamaicans in Britain have endured good and bad times in the former Mother Country. These include the Profumo scandal which involved Jamaican gangster Lucky Gordon, that toppled the Conservative government in 1963, and race riots a decade later.
Positives include the West Indies cricket team winning a Test series in England for the first time in 1950. Thirty-four years later, there was even more jubilation when the Windies whitewashed England 5-0.
The grandchildren of West Indians no longer cheer for the Caribbean side. They are part of the England team.
Similarly, not many listen to the music their forebears took with them to Britain. Nor do they have any great knowledge of trailblazers like Millie Small and Desmond Dekker.
American writer Davd Katz, author of the book Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae, has lived in England for over 20 years. He says young Britons of Jamaican heritage are not taken with reggae.
“They are more into grime and dubstep, that sort of thing,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “They probably have no idea of who Millie Small is.”
Cleon Roberts, a firstgeneration Briton of Jamaican parentage, gives her take on the musical evolution of the British-Jamaican:
My knowledge of Jamaican music is so deep-rooted due to my father being such a strong pioneer for Jamaican music, because he owned a record company and record shop. Therefore, my home was always filled with music and played constantly.
I remember as a child being fascinated by the Jamaican album covers because of their colourful designs, influences and fashion. My favourite album covers are Marcia Griffiths (Play Me, Sweet and Nice) and the Catch A Fire (The Wailers) album cover in the shape of a cigarette lighter.
I grew up listening to Rhythm and Blues, ska, Studio One, Slim Smith, Alton Ellis, Jacob Miller, Barbara Jones, Phyllis Dillon, Johnny Clarke, Pat Kelly, Ken Boothe, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Bob Marley, Gregory Issacs, Burning Spear, Culture, Big Youth to name but a few... Later when I was about 17 years old, when visiting my aunt and uncles in Jamaica they used to take us to Turntable nightclub on Red Hills Road which was great fun.
When visiting Ocho Rios as a child, one of my aunts lived down the road by the sea from (producer) Jack Ruby. I remember lying in my bed late at night listening intently and rocking to sleep to the loud, trembling sounds of great Jamaican music.
My friends have a great appreciation of Jamaican music because their parents used to buy plenty Jamaican music and have parties, also it was very common back then to play Jamaican music on Sunday afternoons while mum was cooking dinner. Dad was playing the music or the radio because the stations had popular reggae shows featuring disc jockeys Steve Bernard and Tony Williams.
We also had a great music television show called Top Of The Pops which everyone watched and never missed because there was not much on the TV to watch back then. Everyone who was of Jamaican origin would make sure that if a reggae record had entered the charts we would “tune in” to support Jamaica then rush down to Woolworths to buy a seveninch single and turn them into big hits globally!
Record shops were packed with customers, sales of Jamaican music was huge in shops such as Dub Vendor, Orbitone Records, Body Music, Hawkeye Records, Starlight Records, Peckings. There used to be so many parties; sound systems such as Saxon, Jah Shaka, Java and Special Edition.
It is not totally the same experience today for the grandchildren because many of the second generation, especially the men, started to have relationships with white women and other races. Therefore, Jamaican music has become less popular with them but it has been mixed into a different style of music with Jamaican influences called grime and drum and bass.
Many first-generation Jamaicans in Britain have mixed-race grandchildren. Thankfully, some grandchildren have embraced their Jamaican culture, especially the boys. Jamaican music has influenced grime and drum and bass by the use of bass lines and chatting, originally called ‘toasting’ on the mike.
Grime artistes such as Tiny Tempah, Miss Dynamite, Estelle, Simply Dubz, Wretch 32, Kano, Wiley, Skepta, Tinchy Stryder, Lady Sov, Katy B, and Chipmunk grew up listening to Jamaican music. Some of these artistes have Jamaican origins or secondgeneration parents or relatives who were either reggae singers, musicians, DJs or in the reggae music business.
Much to the disappointment of some people of Jamaican origin — especially those who came to Britain on the Windrush — they dislike the negative and hard image that grime portrays. The same could apply to rap music in America or dancehall in Jamaica.
Much to my delight, the black British grandchildren are now coming to Jamaica to visit their families and to learn about their roots and culture, much inspired by the Jamaican Olympic team, our music and culture.