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Black British music has an enduring legacy of activism that spans generations. This article explores this remarkable journey from the Windrush generation to the emergence of Grime, highlighting music's pivotal role as a catalyst for change.

The Windrush generation brought with them genres like Calypso, Reggae, and Ska, which not only served as a form of cultural expression, but also as a vehicle for activism. Their resilience in the face of adversity laid the foundation for subsequent artists to use music as a means of addressing societal issues.

Calypso, Reggae and Ska songs carried the messages of unity, identity, and resistance

The arrival of the Windrush generation in the UK in the mid-20th century marked a significant turning point in Black British music history. Their music, steeped in Caribbean roots, became a powerful tool for cultural expression and activism.

Calypso, Reggae, and Ska songs carried the messages of unity, identity, and resistance, resonating with both the Caribbean diaspora and the wider British population. These genres celebrated the rich tapestry of Black British identity while addressing issues of racism and inequality.

In the late 1970s Linton Kwesi Johnson and Steel Pulse emerged as iconic figures in the UK music scene, wielding reggae and dub influences to address pressing social issues. Linton Kwesi Johnson's spoken-word reggae poetry provided a powerful narrative of the Black British experience, with tracks like "Sonny's Lettah" shedding light on police brutality and racial injustice.

Steel Pulse's reggae anthem, "Your House" confronted racism head-on, establishing a musical legacy of resistance and consciousness.

Grime embodies the voice of a new generation

As a genre born in East London in the early 2000s, Grime embodies the raw, unfiltered voice of a new generation. Its socially conscious lyrics often tackle racism, inequality, and the challenges of everyday life.

Grime artists like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and Skepta have been at the forefront of this movement, using their music to shed light on the challenges faced by Black Britons. Their music has resonated not only within the UK but has also gained global recognition, solidifying Grime's place as a powerful tool for activism.

I have a personal connection to this legacy, as my father is a Rastafarian from St. Vincent who traveled to the UK during the Windrush generation. Growing up in both South London where my mother lived, and North London where my father resided, I was influenced by the diverse sounds of the city.

I attended small raves and watched "Lord of the Mics” (a series of recorded grime clashes) before witnessing the evolution of Grime merging with hip-hop, producing artists like Stormzy and Dave.

Each generation has built upon the legacy of its predecessors

In the North East of Scotland (Aberdeen) where I now reside, London-raised and Scottish based artists like Big Bemz continue to contribute to this legacy.

They address important social issues through their music, fostering a more inclusive and empathetic world, with songs like “We move” advocating for healthy living and mental health awareness.

In summary, the journey from the Windrush generation to the rise of Grime illustrates the indomitable spirit of Black British music as a vehicle for activism. Each generation has built upon the legacy of its predecessors, using music to address issues of inequality, racism, and identity.

As we look to the future, this legacy continues to inspire change, making Black British music an integral part of the ongoing struggle for justice and equality.  

Intercultural Youth Scotland (IYS) is Scotland’s leading charity for Black and People of Colour (BPoC) youth. IYS is the only major organisation that is both youth-led and Black and PoC-led, and key decisions within the organisation are led by a network of Youth Ambassadors.

Find out what else we’re doing to celebrate our partnership with IYS this Black History Month.

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Ash Harper

I'm a world traveler, growing up in London, the UAE, Guyana, and Southampton before heading to Aberdeen back in 2008. Philosophy was my first love, leading to an MA, but now, engineering and law. I create wooden hair accessories and blend my artistic side of Vincentian and Sierra Leonean heritage. You'll find me grooving to indie, R&B, hip hop, and rock.

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