British Multiculturalism In Music

Yesterday, multi-millionaire posh-boy and British PM David Cameron spoke out on a subject that he clearly knows much about: multiculturalism. It doesn’t work, he says. Though silver-spoon from head to toe, apparently “Dave” also has his finger on the pulse of British culture beyond his fave Tapas bar in upmarket Notting Hill.

Unlike Dave, I wasn’t ‘lucky’ enough to be raised in a monocultural ghetto like Eton. Over 40 languages were spoken at my London state school, and white kids represented no more than 15% of the school population. London is probably the most mixed, diverse and racially harmonious city in the world. Immigrants make up a high percentage of the population, yet racist groups like the BNP and EDL find it impossible to establish a toe-hold within the city. The good people of London have been notoriously intolerant of intolerance, ever since they fought and beat the fascists of Oswald Mosley at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

But how do you measure culture? How do you decide if an idea like multiculturalism has worked? For me, one answer is given by music. Thanks to immigration, and the British tendency towards cultural mixing, Britain has become one of the most creative music producers in the world.

Below is a small selection of “multicultural” British music – illustrations of the cultural power created when multiple influences come together without segregation. Feel free to listen to one or two… or all… or just read my comments on each track.

Ghost Town – The Specials – 1981
The Specials, from Coventry, were the original “two-tone” band, blending white skinhead music with Jamaican reggae to create UK Ska, and bringing white and black kids to the same gigs for the first time. The creation of the two-tone movement coincided with the fall of far-right street racism.

Food For Thought – UB40 – 1980
This mixed reggae band from Birmingham are still going strong, though much of their best work was made 30+ years ago.



Smooth Operator – Sade – 1984

Sade (pronounced Sharday): 50% Nigerian, 50% English, 100% British Soul.



Back To Life – Soul II Soul – 1989

Though black artists were rising from the late-70s, their styles were borrowed from Jamaica and the US. London-based Soul II Soul are credited with creating a truly British black sound for the first time.

Chok There – Apache Indian – 1993

Real name Steven Kapur, a DJ of Indian origin from Birmingham; blending Indian music with Jamaican-influenced Ragga, a true creation of the British Empire!

21 Seconds – So Solid Crew – 2001

This collective from South London were part of the UK Garage movement: a uniquely London music style whose roots include UK dance music, Jamaican dancehall and Hip Hop.

Terrorist? – Lowkey – 2010

Lowkey is a London rapper of mixed English and Iraqi descent, known for his political lyrics against racism and war.

So Dave, if you want to understand race and culture in your home city, take a bus up the road and let me help you. If I want to know whether to drink Beaujolais with foie gras, I’ll be sure to drop you a line.