Thirty years after the Brixton riots, a cultural intifada continues
Yesterday marked the thirtieth anniversary of a spark; the beginning of the Brixton riots. Our struggle, however, continues today.
At Brixton Jamm, just down the road from the Atlantic / Railton Road area where the riots began, a cultural uprising is taking place. It’s participants are not armed with guns and bullets, but with microphones and lyrics. Hip-hop music has always been the poetry of resistance, and here is no different, with conscious rappers speaking from their hearts. Every two months, Speakers’ Corner organise a night of revolutionary music, as a way of continuing the struggle those brave demonstrators began three decades ago.
“I’m not trying to start a revolution,” says DJ Snuff, who organises the events, “I’m trying to find solutions.” A few years ago he ran the same nights on a regular basis, but cancelled them when police demanded a database of everyone attending. “They claimed that there had been violence at our events, which simply isn’t true. We are promoting conscious hip-hop and understanding. I believe that we were actually targeted due to the political campaigns we support, especially those involving police injustice.”
Music and art have always played a central role is societies resisting against oppression; as Eliazer, the head chef at a crepe shop in Brixton market tells me earlier in the day, he wishes to rename his restaurant ‘Senzala’. “When Brazil was colonised,” he explains, “slaves brought over from Africa were kept in houses called the senzala. Because of this, many people associate the word with negative connotations, but the senzala were also the birth-place of beautiful parts of our culture, such as the dance form of capoeira.”
A sense of internationalism is prevalent at Jamm; “Kids in Iraq,” headliner Akala raps, “yours and my children! Kids in Iran, yours and my children! Afghanistan, yours and my children! Even Sudan, yours and my children! Kids in Brazil, yours and my children, police drive by the favela and just kill them.”
Many of the artists performing expressed their condolences for the family of Smiley Culture, the reggae artist who died last month after the police raided his home, and called for the people to join the demonstration for him on Saturday 16 April. Although the circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear, the lyrics of Logic, hip-hop artist and co-founder of the People’s Army hip-hop collective, couldn’t have made the sentiments of many here any clearer, “Derek Bennett, Blair Peach and Sean Rigg… one person dies in police custody every week!”
Swiss, a former member of the So Solid Crew, was one of those to join the call for justice. He was joined by most of the audience in rapping the lyrics of his most well-known single, ‘Cry’; “I don’t change colour but they call me a coloured man?” But most pertinent was his rendition of ‘Broken Silence’, a track by So Solid which challenges a percieved media bias against hip-hop artists.
Akala rounded off the night with ‘Find No Enemy’, an ode to the resilience of those living in Britain whilst aware of the consequences of the bombs we drop on other countries. One line struck a particular chord; “The oppressor must suffer, like the oppressed…” Boris Johnson may talk about “huge progress” and a “long way to go”, but he is not in a position to understand this struggle.
One artist billed to perform that night, however, was not able to attend. Palestinian hip-hop artist Shadia Mansour had travelled back to Palestine after the death of her cousin, Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was killed by Palestinian gunmen outside the Freedom Theatre he helped set up in Jenin. Described in the media as an “Israeli peace activist” or “Israeli actor”, Juliano, born to a Jewish mother and Palestinian father, would often describe himself as “100% Jewish and 100% Palestinian”.
“We believe the third intifada, the coming intifada,” Juliano once said, “should be cultural, with poetry and music…” These events in Brixton serve as an example of his vision.
The next Speakers’ Corner event at Brixton Jamm will take place on Friday 17 June.
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