As a child of the 60s, I recall entering my primary school assembly and being greeted with classical music played on the wooden record player. Sometimes our Head Teacher would effuse about the piece – to be honest his speech went right over my head – but I did enjoy the listening activity where I could conjure my own thoughts with the music.
At home music was much different. My father played up-tempo-feet-tapping Jamaican Ska and Reggae tunes on the ‘gram’ which I loved dancing, to like Desmond Dekker and the Aces song ‘Israelites’ or Millie Small’s ‘My Boy lollipop’.
My parents brought their culture and music with them
My Father and Mother, like many young people from the Caribbean at that time, arrived to the UK by invitation of the UK Government to help rebuild the economy after World War II. These young people are described as the ‘Windrush Generation’ because the first cohort from the Caribbean landed in Essex on 22 June 1948 on the ship MV Empire Windrush. The Windrush era ended in 1971.
Like many from the Caribbean, my parents brought their culture and music with them. They had difficulty settling into the country as they were not always welcomed by some members of the indigenous population.
Musically this did not stop the importing of their records, the writing and performing of music, the creation of record Labels, or parties in homes and dances in venues where Caribbean music was allowed to be played or performed.
Seeing them allowed me to dream that one day I too could be making music
The 70s was a turning point for me. We had a Telly! As an avid Top of The Pops fan I was always star struck when Afro-American artistes were featured, but even more so on the occasions when Caribbean music was aired by artistes like Bob Marley.
Some of the children of the Windrush generation went on to pursue music. Some formed bands, duos or stayed as a solo act performing compositions of their take on life and love. Not all stayed with Caribbean styled music, they majored in Funk and Pop, for example but music was made. Some received Record deals and even made it onto ‘Top of the Pops’, TV shows and radio like Hot Chocolate, Steel Pulse, Althea and Donna, and Janet Kay.
Seeing them allowed me to dream that one day I too could be making music. At that time I learnt the clarinet and played in the school orchestra, but my greatest joy was playing in my school steel band because we performed at fundraising events in the UK, toured Germany and had occasion to meet Chris Tarrant at BBC Radio Pebble Mill. Also we performed in the Street party scene in the first episode of ‘Empire Road’ a BBC series about a family from the Caribbean.
The music of the Windrush Generation did not stay within its own people but eventually crossed into UK culture. Artistes like ‘Madness’ and ‘Boy George’ imbibed Reggae and Ska into their music and popularised the genre further. I recall a friend telling me about her school friend who was in a band called ‘UB40’ who were doing well. They covered songs from my parents’ era – the Windrush generation.
Celebrate Windrush Day by exploring the Windrush Generation genres
On a different note, it would be remiss of me to omit to mention the unresolved matter of the UK Government’s challenge to those members of the Windrush Generation about their right of stay in the UK. It has jarred many. There are articles on the internet where you can read more about it, but I hope it will be resolved speedily to the mutual benefit of all.
That said, I celebrate the fact that on 22 June 2018 the UK Government introduced ‘Windrush Day’. It is not a public holiday but it serves to recognise the contributions of the Windrush generation and their children to the UK.
So here is an idea. Reggae is not the only musical style from the Caribbean. There is also Ska, Soca, Calypso and more. Why not explore the genres and choose one to include in your repertoire in recognition to the Windrush generations contribution to music in the UK Industry? Perhaps fuse the style with your own?
Read the article on the Musicians’ Union website.