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A Beginner’s Guide To: Jamaican Music in the UK
Redbrick Music Writer Ollie Davis talks us through the history of Jamaican music's profound cultural impact upon the UK, a uniting force in times of political darkness
What can Brexit Britain learn from the history of Jamaican music in the UK and how it eased race-relations during the late sixties and early seventies?
After the recent fallout from the Windrush scandal and the ever present fears of a no-deal Brexit looming, racism and race-relations have been brought back into public discourse. These events, intensified by political rhetoric, have incited prejudice and the backlash to prejudice which has polarised the country. In light of this, it seems fitting to look at Britain’s love of Jamaican music and how, in the past, it has reduced racial fault-lines within communities, and played an integral part in forming the vibrant multiculturalism we enjoy today.
On March 14th 1964, Millie Small’s cover of ‘My Boy Lollipop’ reached number 2, becoming the first ska song to reach the top 10 in the UK. While Jamaican music would not consistently break into the top ten until the end of the sixties, it had, for the first time, made its way into the white British consciousness. The record label to do this was the legendary Trojan Records, which became the main record company producing Jamaican music during the late sixties and early seventies. Taking over from smaller companies such as Blues Beat, who had been serving the first influx of British Caribbean people who arrived on the HMT Empire Windrush to help rebuild a struggling post-war Britain in 1948. Since then, companies such as Blues Beat and Island Records had been providing British Caribbean communities with music played by sound systems and in dance halls back in the Caribbean. This included mainly American R&B but, after Jamaica won its independence in 1961, the music produced was predominantly ska.
“Rejecting the long hair and flamboyance of the rock n’ roll era by shaving their hair and wearing lace up boots, the new Skinhead subculture turned to Ska as their music of choice
“Now, for the first time in British history, working class people both black and white had a common ground and a shared appreciation of the same music
Now, more than fifty years since Jamaican music was introduced to the UK, reggae in its many forms has continued to traverse cultural boundaries, from punk to jungle to dubstep. British music and society has been shaped by cultural exchange and a sharing of recreational spaces. With the polarised cultural and political landscape of 2018 Britain, it is refreshing to look at the history of reggae in the UK and realise its significance. British culture is and has always been shaped by immigration, and the perception of a monolithic 'white' British culture is false due to this realisation. It is a realisation that reveals how much ordinary people, from whatever background, have in common compared to the politicians who seek to divide our society.