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Don Letts talks music culture, British identity and more

CULTURE: Don Letts

THE LEGENDARY filmmaker, DJ, musician and broadcaster Don Letts is bringing a host of acts together for a Summer Series special. Alongside the likes of Wiley, Congo Natty, Jazzie B and Norman Jay MBE, Letts will celebrate the evolution of bass culture and its impact on the landscape of British music. He says the event, which kicks off on July 7 at Somerset House, will be dedicated to the Windrush Generation.

“God bless them", he said. "They worked hard, not only to benefit this country but also to look after their kids, they struggled and they put up with a lot. It's about the general contribution we’ve made to the identity of what it means to be British.

“We brought the sunshine, some culture and certainly the baseline. It’s a testament to culture generally, in the part that it's played in bringing people together.”

62-year-old Letts is first generation British whose parents were from Jamaican and a part of the Windrush generation. Reflecting on the significant impact that Caribbean migration had on the nation, he said: “they came over and they bought the labour and helped rebuild this country but no one really talks about the fact that they bought their culture through music and style.

“It was that that really helped them to integrate, particularly with the young people because it totally captured their imagination, from that time to right now in the 21st century.”

He continued: "Out of the five acts that I’ve chosen, three of them have been awarded either an MBA or CBE. For me, its acknowledgement of their contribution to society and the part the culture has played in uniting people in a way that the government and politics never could and never has.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see that a lot of that has come through this whole expression of bass and sound system culture. All of the people of this line up are kind of disciples of sound system culture, and although that may be where all our journeys started, what I'm trying to do is show that that’s not where it stops.”

As to the evolution of music, the London-born musician said: “the only original thing to come out of the UK in the 21st is Grime and that goes back to sound system culture a lot of those peoples parents were a part of sound system.

“People don’t realise that Grime smashed its way into the mainstream - it wasn’t like anyone opened the door. They have earned that place.”

He added: "Everybody on stage is black and British and that input that we’ve had from growing up here is very much part of the duality of our existence. The fact that we grew up whether it be to the Stones or the Beatles or David Bowie or whoever, it’s also a celebration of that duality."

As a renowned trailblazer in the industry with great passion for his craft, Letts says one of his big mottos is “anything that brings like-minded people together for a collective synchronised experience in a digital age is a beautiful thing.

“For me it’s a way of turning people on through my culture,” he revealed. “People thought of how my journey started when I was playing reggae to punk rock in the late 70’s – it’s kind of a cultural conversation."

"I thought about the journey of bass and realised that although it might have started with sound systems, it didn’t end there for a lot of people and they’ve taken it to new and adventurous places and I think all the acts on the line up are perfect demonstrations and examples.”

Get your tickets for Don Letts presents Bass Forward at Somerset House Summer Series here:

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