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Making our history

AN INSPIRATION: Nelson Mandela was well-received on his release from prison, especially on his visit to Brixton

BLACK HISTORY Month? It’s easy to forget that we are making that history every day. It’s easy to dismiss who we are, how we are and what we do as insignificant whereas it is what we go through that defines our history and informs coming generations of how they have got to where they find themselves.

Nowhere is this more poignant than in those magical moments that we share communally, inspired by some musical or otherwise artistic griot. Call it raving if you want to, but we don’t just rave – like I said, we’re making history. Who remembers Sunsplash at Crystal Palace? When ‘nuff spliff ah bu’n and nuff chalice did deh? The late great Sugar Minott tore down the place with the liveliest concert of the human race and Third World’s Cat Coore switched his guitar for a cello and by so doing turned the whole place kinda mellow. It was a sellout crowd, all loud and proud and the cane man and his idren dem did ah laugh, singing, “Tra-la-lala-la-la-lee”. And the sun came out to bless that little bit of JA in south London.

Black History Month? Who remembers that time when Terry McMillan came to Brixton Academy and the place was rammed from front to back with all the beautiful black women who were patiently waiting to explode and hear about how Stella got her groove back. Remember how they decked out the entire stage like it was a scene from one of her books? It was a good look. I was sitting right next to her Jamaican guy who gave her that groove back – let’s call him Bunny Lie Lie. I remember thinking, 'You lucky devil', not realising the whole thing was about to unravel. This was of course before he said, 'I’m gay', straight outta the closet, and accused her of being homophobic.


HISTORY-MAKER: Flip Fraser (RIP), first editor of The Voice newspaper

Black History Month? Who remembers Flip Fraser’s Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame when it was rinsing out the Hackney Empire night after night to great acclaim? It brought out the stars and the black middle classes who were dressed to the nines to witness the history of our trials and crosses from Muhammad Ali to Nelson Mandela and back again to Nanny, Garvey, Harriet Tubman and black history’s lucky and unlucky fellas. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing, but there it was live and direct. Nuff respect.

Black History Month? Well, we gotta mention when we turned the Hackney Empire into the 291 Club which was the original X Factor with a lickle rub-a-dub (the way we black folk love to buss joke). It didn’t matter who, the crowd would buss a 'boo' if that tie you were sporting was not to their liking, even before you sang a note, that would be all she wrote. And if you got up on stage without combing your hair, you had more than a little cussing to fear.

Black History Month? Who remembers when all men from London and Manchester, not to talk of Liverpool, Stoke and Leicester, used to go ah country to partake in the annual Birmingham International Carnival revelry? The carnivalists would snake through the city to Handsworth Park where the real jollification used to spark. It was different from Notting Hill, more chilled out and civil, and the people of Handsworth know that one hand wash the other so they clap and don’t business ‘bout black or white or Asian too tuff, even though things were kinda rough. It was like they were one big love-in community enjoying the carnival, even if in reality it was always the black Handsworth people who had the toughest stage. Yeah, we always had one or two jokes when we went to Handsworth Carnival, they need to bring those runnings back for a revival.


USA MEETS UK: Police outside the Hammersmith Odeon, where LL Cool J, Erik B, Rakim and Public Enemy were performing in 1987

This is all about history – Black History Month.

Who remembers when we used to pile into a minivan with Sunday School and the church people dem, not just for the ride but to go to the seaside – Margate or Southend and then back again – for the first time since leaving Jamaica. You remember how the locals dem used to roll their eyes in desperation or exasperation, when we went amusement arcading, and they watched us closely in case we tried to teef something?

Black History Month – who remembers the roadblock the day Nelson Mandela rocked Brixton Rec? It was like the time His Imperial Majesty touched down in Jamaica to vanquish the devil philosophy, back in the sixties. That day saw the Rastamen flow down from the hills, and they went insane when they saw the Lion of Judah emblazoned on the side of his plane. Nelson thanked the people of Brixton for their support in the 27 years he was in prison on Robben Island. That’s when you realise ah serious somet’ing, we ain’t really ramping.

All our years of struggle haven’t been a doddle.

Who remembers when LL Cool J, Eric B and Rakim (my personal DJ) and, way down on the bill Public Enemy, rocked the house from the podium at the Hammersmith Odeon? Who remembers dem times? It was the first time from New York, with a knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork and LL the master with his triple XXXsize ghetto blaster that looked like disaster, but kept the beat pumping faster. And Eric B and Rakim also moved the crowd pretty loud. Yeahh, boyyyyy, those of us who knew, were in there early not to miss Chuck D and Flav and Griff and the S1Ws. But a lot of the crowd were still out in the foyer like a soiree, when Public Enemy were busting out tune after tune for the first time outta the USA, where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day and they was miserable 'til they saw the golden arch over by Marble Arch.

Back then the Hammersmith Odeon was like a black venue. Who remembers when Omar sold it out becoming the first black Brit to achieve that? And who remembers seeing soul legend James Brown there on the night, he almost fell off the stage and nearly killed himself, but yet somehow managed to rebalance himself and dance his way out of what would have been an extremely premature demise in front of our eyes.

I’m talking history.

Dotun Adebayo is Britain’s most listened-to black radio talk show host. He presents Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 live Thursdays through Sundays on 909/693 MW, The Sunday Night Special on BBC 94.9FM and Reggae Time on BBC London 94.9FM on Saturday evenings. Tune in if you’re ranking!

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