A brief discussion of the impact Afro-Caribbean culture has had on the UK music Scene.
Being from south London I only need to step out of my house for five minutes before I see the influence of African or Caribbean culture in the form of a food shop.
I am being so literal here, shoutout to Bread Of Life because that is literally by go to spot. One of the many perks of this, is having a permanent reminder of my homeland. What can I say a little Afro-Caribbean flavour never hurt anybody?
Where can we see examples of the impact of Afro-Caribbean culture?
It’s these seemingly minuscule touches of home that have permeated the UK music scene, leaving no genre untouched. Living in London, I have a front row seat to all the action as it unfolds. An emblem of this influence is Notting Hill carnival. The carnival started back in 1956 as a way to unite immigrants, who were feeling alienated due to racism, unemployment and poor housing.
Many found solace in music and the celebration of their cultural heritage.
Reggae and Soca, amongst other genres, are now regularly played and performed all over the world.
But even more blatant then that, are the effects of Afro-Caribbean culture in UK Pop, Grime and Rap to name just a few genres.
This cultural influence seems to transcend the boundaries of race, class and gender and can be seen in our melody lines and our unique rhythm. In the words of Ms Banks, the embracing of our culture “is opening us up to a wider fan base globally”, which many of the scenes pioneers are welcoming, adding that these new sounds are “meshing UK flows with African and Caribbean heritage…which can only be a pro”.
The impact on the scene is perhaps most accurately described by Cadet who stated “afroswing is practically the UK sound now”, adding that he is celebrating the fact that there is “a direct line and connection in our music that points to the motherland”
So how did the UK get its sound?
London is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world – with 30% of the population being born outside the UK. What this means in regard to the music scene is that many of these cultures live side by side inevitably causing them to spill into each other, creating a kind of a sound unique to this city.
While I acknowledge that the scene is larger than just London, with influencers like Lady Leshurr and Mist coming from outside the city, London has its own unique musical identity with the extent of cultural influence being slightly different.
MUNDU reflects on this during his upbringing. “When my parents came from Uganda to the UK, they brought much of the soul and rhythm of Ugandan music with them mixing that with my Uncle’s love of Dancehall, creating a massive pot of sounds that I constantly draw from and refer to.”
So, how are UK artists influenced by Afro-Caribbean Culture?
For some artists traces of the culture can be seen in the slang they use, the flow of their bars or even the instrumentals they choose to sing/rap over. For others the influence is seen in the more minute details of their music such as the speed of their songs.
In 2008, a study published in Uncut magazine found that the music Londoners preferred music with an average speed of 90 beats per minute – compared to songs of 150bpm in places like Manchester and Liverpool.
At the time of the article, its author, John Lewis, noted that while jungle was listened to at an average speed of 160bpm across the country, in London, people preferred a slower speed, and instead chose to dance to its bass-line – a testament, some may argue, to the influence of Jamaican culture in London.
The mention of Jungle, tells you that the article I am referring to is one from the deep dusty corners of the archives but its sentiments still ring true today.
MUNDU Echoes this in his description of how culture has impact the UK scene more generally:
“I think we’ve reached a point where no one can miss the impact of Afro-Caribbean culture on the UK (and the world too). Everything from the way we dress, speak, what we eat, what’s popping on social media; these are all made dope by black people. What I think is dope to see is the world really looking in and seeing that black women, especially, are setting the tones of what’s cool and have been doing so for a long time now.”
Afro-Caribbean culture is relatable to a majority, and therefore highly profitable, which the UK music scene acknowledges. However, some worry whether their culture is really being valued in its authenticity.
This has been eloquently voiced by Shae who states that
“there is still a struggle between our artists and the higher industrial powers to celebrate us in the entirety of our authenticity as opposed to capitalising off specific elements from our culture that they feel will be beneficial to them.”
So where does that leave us? While the bringing together and celebration of cultures is most definitely something to be championed it comes with the risk of losing the authenticity of our cultural heritage in the process. The challenge we are now faced with is finding the balance.
The impact of culture on the music scene in the UK, positive? Negative?
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