The roots of “Black” music are unquestionably African derived with its branches spreading throughout the world, wherever Black people settled. Its infectious rhythms and free expression go hand in hand with the lifestyle of the people and is ever changing to absorb new forms, which they encounter in their nomadic movements worldwide. Be it jazz, calypso, gospel, blues, tamboo-bamboo, reggae music or the music recent invention of the century, the steel orchestras, its strong African influence is directly maintained throughout in many variations.

Today along with commercial exploitation, there is a growing number of ill- informed capitalistic armchair opportunists who overnight profess to become music authorities and are readily writing and voicing their opinions about Black music with little or no knowledge of the music or life-style of the people who originated it. Although the inflow of Blacks from the Commonwealth has been prominent here since the early 1950s the British media until recently gave little or no recognition to this new wave of music brought to this country, despite the artists struggle for recognition of their musical abilities. Instead the media gave priority to a trickle of music from the Americas and disgracefully ignored its own Blacks here, because of its colonial slave mentality.

Thus a raft of great musicians practicing their craft here failed to get recognition for their talents. Among them:  Lord Kitchener – Calypso singer; Fitzroy Coleman – Guitarist, full of originality whose style and chord systems had British musicians baffled; Ignatius Quail–jazz pianist, who is still around without any recognition today; ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson — pianist-vocalist who entertained thousands in British night spots; George Durrado, Latin style pianist who is reduced to the level of playing in pubs due to lack  of respect for his musical ability.

Just to add a few more names:  Frank Holder – drummer; Russ Henderson –pianist; Shake Keane — trumpeter; Pearl Prescott – vocalist; Primrose Bledman – bass-man who studied law instead of music and finally left the field; ‘Ginger’ Johnson –percussionist; Coleridge Goode–bass and Joe Harriet – a tremendous jazz saxophonist and musical extrovert who has today inspired thousands of British musicians with his original free-form musical style which was wrongly accredited to the Americans.

Influence of on British Musicians

Prior to the coming of Black musicians from the Commonwealth, the British music industry was fully stereotyped, but Black musicians with their infectious way of expressing themselves, forced as new school of thought on the musical industry in both Britain and Europe as a whole. Everyone craved having a Black band or artist with them to give new life and flair, thus a new awakening transpired.

Suppression by the White musical industry together with the media has left  a pool of unrecognized and fresh talent smoldering through frustration among Blacks here in Britain.  In fact, just recently a well-known white jazz saxophonist, interviewed on television, said that there is still no Black musicians here, because they can only play reggae. This statement is not only untrue, but it reinforces the attitude that is still present today, though many may think that it is changing.

Yes, there is a change; undoubtedly the music is growing in popularity because of the continued struggle. Today there is a greater number of Black residents, enough to generate enthusiasm and build a market on which the Black artist can survive. There are several small record companies that are Black owned. However, the frustration of distribution is still a problem, although there are Black owned record shops which show some progress. The bee in the bonnet is the difficulty of getting records pressed, but this could soon be overcome if the Black music industry pools its resources.

Today Blacks are writing and know how to produce their music which has a sound distinctly its own.  So they are beginning to be flexible, but as always, they are ready to exploit. The worst nightmare confronting the growing Black musical industry is the lack of togetherness among the Black artists’ companies. If only they themselves could see the need for self-respect, they would then be able to gain forceful recognition by the radio and television companies and less exploitation by the White record industry.

Charts

In the sixties and early seventies American music and artists both dominated the charts and large concert halls and received unquestionable support from the Black population here wherever they appeared. The present wave shows a change to Afro-West Indian influence. One may then ask the question how many Black records do get into the charts? Well, my way of answering this is by asking another question: which charts? Because of the negative attitudes towards Black music, the small Black owned companies felt the need to create their own charts. This was the result of the fact that seldom do Black records of Afro-Caribbean flavour appear in the national charts, which do not truly reflect the sales of Black records.

One aspect of the music industry, which is not at all tapped, is Black gospel music, giving the false impression that there is Black gospel only in America must be corrected.

In fact with the population of Afro-Caribbean people merging here in the Pentecostal churches; I am sure there is something brand new in this reservoir of Black British gospel music.

While talking about new music, there is another type of music that Britain is just beginning to hear, though it has been in the Caribbean since the early 1970s. This is Cadence and SOCA music, the former derived from musicians who were musical exiles from Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique seeking opportunities elsewhere.

©Good Vibes Records & Music Ltd.

 


 

The above article was written by Alex Pascall for Volume 1 of the magazine MAHOGANY in the late 1970s when the Black British music scene was campaigning for entry into the British music charts and was in daily conflict with the  domination of the white record companies and the BBC for recognition and representation of their music. Alex Pascall, musician and presenter of “Black Londoners”, Britain’s first Black and daily radio Magazine styled broadcast, devised ways to foster change using sections of the daily programme with slots like “Soca Lift Off — The University of Calypso” on a Thursday evening to bring together Black music makers to discuss and inform listeners of the variety of Black music they made available in Britain.

With time, the industry began to take on a new shape. Sales of the music rose, new labels and artists previously unheard of found a voice that offered them the opportunity to air their recordings. Many welcomed this as a helpful step in their endeavours to change the grain of the British music industry that mostly played white homemade and popular Black American music, while ignoring almost every form of the music which came from and was developed in Britain by Africans and Caribbean’s. “SOCA Lift Off  (Sounds of the Caribbean & Africa) — The University of calypso”, bridged the cultures of North and South Caribbean with early folk songs, reggae, calypso, Soca, steel pan recordings and Cadence (French Caribbean) and drew the attention of a wider and more appreciative listenership.

“Reggae Time”, a two-hour broadcast which was produced and presented by Steve Barnard on a Sunday had already captured a large mixed of young and older people and made its name in households across London playing mainly reggae, what was made in Jamaica and later began its own development in Britain, particularly in the London Borough of Brent.

The largest market for all musical forms became the Notting Hill Carnival on every August Bank Holiday in the Boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith, Kensington and Chelsea that grew into the most international festival in Europe, dubbed “Europe’s largest street festival” numbering 1.5 million in attendance.

MUSICAL  VIBES  (From the archives of BAMAAPC)

By

Alex Pascall