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That time they try tell me about black British history… looooool

Disclaimer: This post is inspired by a conversation. One of the people quoted in this post is someone I believe is a symptom of, not the problem so please understand this isn't a personal attack - it's addressing a wider issue. They were quoted for context so readers could fully understand wah gwaan. Also, they are knowledgable in certain aspects of black American and black British culture. If you don't feel like you fit the category, you probably don't. Bless up.

Before we proceed, I'd like to start this post by quoting BDL founder, Big Narstie. "Black man can't fool again, my lard." This is a history lesson outside of Black History Month *gasp*. That's about Black American history anyway, so you wouldn't get this kind of stuff anyway. Also, make sure you understand the disclaimer before you get worked up or start drawing your own conclusions.

A tweet I posted sparked a reaction yesterday. So much so, a long conversation followed (you can read it here). I was asked to admit I was chatting shit or got it wrong. Which part?! Wrong for using a word that offended soul heads cos they don't feel they were begs? Based on the fact a few missed the point, maybe, but the essence of the tweet is true. And as Bob Marley said "The truth is an offence but not a sin".

(Definition of "beg" in this instance: placing somebody else's culture higher than your own. Yes, I understand some people just prefer the music but you'll get me if you continue reading. Safe)

It's so mad; it went so left, people were bringing what they think I said based on who they think I am and what they think I know. Mate "You might see me on the tweets but homie, you don't know me".

I stated a fact (reggae vs soul) with an opinion (real vs begs) which originates from them times. It was tongue-in-cheek. Call it banter if you want. Ultimately, it wasn't the main course - I said jungle and garage united black youths. I didn't say soul doesn't matter or black people didn't consume soul. Some of my female family members and friends of family went to soul parties. They played soul at reggae parties and soul is a key influence in reggae. Even at family parties where reggae runs the show, soul is played in the background while we eat. My point was all eras are worth the same at the very least. Yeah, you had UK hip hop, r&b and ragga scenes but jungle and UK garage ruled the '90s, encompassing all of those elements (more UKG than jungle) and more in a true reflection of UK identity at the time. 

If anything, that's pro-UK garage and jungle, nah? They were unique to us, but more than that, they weren't inferior forms of already established mainstream music by people who weren't black British. That deserves a hell of a lot of credit in our history. We'd finally broken free.

And everyone missed that the point was related to Snips' outrageous tweet saying "UK soul means more to Black British history than garage and jungle combined". Based on what? The heights some artists reached on pop charts and international success. You can't measure everything by stats. Jungle and UK garage raves still happen today and are attended by people who weren't even aged 10 back then. They still contribute to music made and charting today. And the likes of grime and dubstep wouldn't be here today without UK garage which wouldn't have sounded the way it did without jungle.  Both garage and jungle, like reggae, were predominantly sold in independent record shops so big hits rarely made the official charts. 

People need to respect that everything that happened helped the way things became what they are. There's certain types of people who'd rather tell us American music shaped us when blacks are from Britain and Jamaica not America. It's a combination of all three. Treat them with fairness.

Calling soul heads "begs" was kinda out of order without putting it into context. I used "begs" and "real" because I couldn't explain my point in 140 characters. Either way, I said that cos racial tensions were still high. There were race-related riots still kicking off in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Bradford etc., unemployment of first generation black British males was sky high and there were major incidents like the New Cross Fire to many unreported ones like racist (not all) police/racist (not all) white people fighting black youths. I mean, extremist white political group National Front (NF's) received their highest amount of votes at the 1979 election - things didn't just disappear in the '80s. That's the time they were living in.

Reggae spoke to black people about an identity black people in the UK could relate to - culturally, socially and spiritually. It's where a high percentage of the blacks looked to define them like many do with hip hop today. Soul was still mainly love songs like r&b today. Reggae was more about the struggles of being black, black history, Africa, upliftment of the black man and woman. Rasta probably peaked in the UK amongst first generation black Brits in the 70s/80s. Bob Marley died in 1981 but you still had Dennis Brown and Peter Tosh, as well as groups like Wailing Souls, Mighty Diamonds, Black Uhuru who were MASSIVE! Let's not forget Bob's album "Legend" topped British chart for 12 weeks straight. Reggae events were held in stadiums filled by black people. It's what they felt defined them.

British reggae in the eighties had lovers rock to stuff by the likes of Aswad, Benjamin Zephaniah and Reggae Grammy Award-winning group Steel Pulse from Birmingham which was a lot more, Rasta, roots and rebel. Even a white group like UB40 were talking about issues affecting them. Remember this is Thatcher era. Things were tough for working class people across the board, especially if you were black battling racism.

Asward (means "black" in Arabic) had this big tune in the days. Released in the '80s

For some more info; according to Wiki, placards at the march for the New Cross Fire read "Blood Ah Go Run If Justice No Come". Now I don't know about you, but that looks very Jamaican to me. Listen to the people speaking in this video. That's what I mean by defining themselves through reggae/Jamaica.

The reason I brought reggae into it is because it was literally soul vs reggae. Everyone who was around back then knows this. Soul heads were seen as the minority, looking for identity through someone else's vision (or "begs" as I called them). The soft ones. 

You have a tweet like this: 

When in reality, even top soul DJ and overall don Trevor Nelson recently said: "I had a little soundsystem in college, where I met a group of like-minded people. I was brought up in Hackney, which was a very reggae-dominated area, and every party was a reggae party; they'd play a couple of soul tunes, but it was a necessity thing. Music in those days was really tribal. You could tell what music someone was into by the way they dressed. It was as simple as that and we all played the game, you know? Being a soul boy in Hackney, you had to be a really strong individual to wear some of the clothes we wore [laughs], so there was a real team mentality." (Source: good interview with Complex UK)

That isn't minority? And I'm the one rewriting history? Mi? Little old black man like me rewriting black British history I clearly know more about? I ask again; how can I be the one rewriting history?

For instance, many people went to soul parties in the west end. Reggae or blues parties ran the ends in every ends (Brixton, Lewisham, Notting Hill, Harlesden, Hackney etc.) in houses (often derelict), community halls and pubs with next to no promotion. You'd hear "Party/dance ah keep over..." and reach. You may not know about these things if you aren't black or Caribbean. Why? Because they weren't there most of the time. As I said, racial tensions were high and white people didn't really relate to roots reggae like other forms of Jamaican music due to alienation. And once again, Jamaicans ran the black British culture as they were the most populous.

What is homegrown soul's popularity based on? What you heard about on TV or saw on charts? Do you know how many top Jamaican artists moved here 'cos the money was great and to create? Blacks in Britain making a version of American music has and will always be easier to market to the masses, therefore it'll always attract the attention of big labels funding. Saxon Sound, Coxsone, Mafia Tone and them meant more to a lot of black people in the UK than most big UK soul acts, including Sade and Loose Ends. Remember these are people who were born in Jamaica or first generation via West Indies. Saxon Sound's success doesn't compare based on stats. At all. But on the ends? More black people in places like London, Birmingham, Liverpool etc. would've been more familiar with Saxon Sound cassette tapes than Sade albums.

Soul songs spoke about black British experience like Smiley Culture "Police Officer"? And was as popular? Or about Rasta and topped Jamaican chart like "Mi God, Mi King" by Papa Levi?

Ravers who followed ragga were the ones who buss jungle as evidenced by the songs you still hear today - reggae/ragga bass lines and Jamaican patois. (Let's remember Jamaicans were the first to place emphasis on the deeper bass lines.) They weren't UK soul fans searching for something new - they probably went to house. Furthermore, I have the utmost respect for Soull II Soul but let's not forget Jazzie B started as a reggae DJ in a soundsystem called Jah Rico and Caron Wheeler was a lovers rock singer in female group Brown Sugar (this was the first release on Lovers Rock label). Soul II Soul's signature song "Back To Life" is driven by a reggae bassline backed by hip hop drum pattern accompanied by soulful keys and vocals. Dream combination. 

But you see the problem is this: some people read about the black British history, watch certain things, may even listen and rave to black music and hang around black people with black people so feel like they know my history better than me. Really though, it's a resounding "No, you don't!" They know aspects of the history, but they will never know more than someone who is clued up. That's what the real issue was yesterday. The people defending it the most weren't even black! (And the ones that were black, weren't Jamaican.) I'm a polite guy, so I'll take time to explain why they aren't getting my point instead of letting sleeping dogs lie 'cos that's how ignorance and half truths become fact.

You see "black" and "Jamaica"? Those two things are contenders for the biggest response at most black comedy shows or raves. (Unless it's an ACS ting lol.) We've always represented the hardest in Britain. That isn't to say our opinion is the only true opinion, however we played a major role in contributing to the facts, you see me? As a black man, born-and-bred in South London and of Jamaican descent, I know things because I've lived and experienced them from birth. I'm the guy who always listens to the stories from my elders. I've been to family functions and heard reggae dominate it for years. That's something you may not truly understand if you haven't lived it your whole life.

Which brings me to the crux of my point: I will NEVER go around telling people about their history. I prefer to listen and understand. No matter how much I've read or watched, or people I've spoken to about it, I may know enough to contribute to the conversation but I will never think I know more about another's persons culture and history than them. I know my place.

And this is a problem. I read so many things where people are still trying to rewrite our history. Black British history is still very much an oral tradition. It isn't on our screens often (definitely not accurately when it is) and I don't know of any definitive books. Not to say there aren't any but none have crossed my radar to the point where it's common knowledge. Let black people tell their own stories. I've never seen or read a black man write a definitive guide to white British working class stories. If it has happened, it outweighed by white's writing black stories by an astronomical amount.

Seriously, I read so many articles on websites that make me think "Bruv, where is this guy from? He definitely isn't from the ends." And the amount of middle class writers who live off the past glories of now gentrified areas makes me laugh. I know they weren't about when the area was about. And if they were, they weren't mixing 'cos they wouldn't write such inaccurate crap.

Next time a non-black tells me I'm wrong about my black British history based on what made it to mainstream, I'll ask a simple question: "Oh yeah? So how many times did your parents go to a shubeens kept warm by a paraffin heater?" or "How many times did your dad go to a dance where man were flashing lyrics on mic?" just to source the levels we're dealing with. As I said, you can't quantify the culture based on stats. You live it, know loads of people who lived it. Get enough info to give a proper opinion.

Today's equivalent is we have two types of black raves based on the music policy; those who go to "hip hop. Trap. House" events and those who go to "hip hop and r&b, afrobeats, bashment, club classics..." parties. It's like those who go to the former telling you afrobeats wasn't that popular in years to come. They aren't capable of giving a fair assessment of what black people listen to - they have an opinion based on their limited understanding.

Lastly, you can't give an accurate report of what's going on inside the dance based on what you heard about it or the echoes you heard while standing outside. You're better off in the dance. Don't tell a man who is in the dance how the dance went. You can contribute your opinion, but it holds weight like a bulimic. Know your role.

p.s. Big up the non-black's who do know though. Those who actually know what went on in the days. There are many.

And here's a couple things you can watch if you wanna learn or you're interested.

Documentary: Reggae Britannia

Film: Babylon


  1. Good post!
    As black people we really need to ask ourselves why people who are not black feel that they are an authority when it comes to us and our culture, and why they think they are in a position to lecture. I don't see this happening with any other culture, so why always us? I personally feel some of us (black people) are to blame for this nonsense. Instead of sitting their like nodding dogs challenge a fool who thinks that just because they have black friends, listen/play black music and have a black girlfriend/boyfriend, they now have the right to tell you about your own history.

  2. Nicely written Marvin! Talking as a white guy who didn't grow up in ends, but is a lifelong Reggae and Dancehall fan, someone who knows his Jaro and Stone Love from his Luv Injection and Sir George.

    I've always had an internal difficulty, I'm so passionate about the music that I want to have opinions. But I know that my perspective will only be that of an outsider or fan. I guess the guy you were arguing with has to deal with this too.


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