London is the Place for Me

She recently authored an open letter to President Bush that criticized his ‘war on terrorism’ and which was signed by scores of leading US radicals, artists and intellectuals. The letter said: ‘We refuse to allow you to speak for all the American people. We will not give up our right to question. We will not hand over our consciences in return for a hollow promise of safety... We refuse to be party to these wars and we repudiate any inference that they are being waged in our name or for our welfare. We extend a hand to those around the world suffering from these policies; we will show our solidarity in word and deed.’

A quavering piano replicates the chimes of Big Ben and then, as if by some sleight of hand, the London fog parts and a small calypso band – far closer to the feel of Buena Vista Social Club than one might expect – swings into its first impressions of 1948 Britain.

‘Simply magnificent,’ pronounces Lord Kitchener (real name Aldwyn Roberts) fresh off the ship that brought the first migrants from the Caribbean, ‘Hampton Court is my residence.’ If the music weren’t so upbeat, the irony would shine through like a black sun.

Bringing together 20 now little-heard songs, this CD celebrates Trinidadian calypso’s arrival in London in the 10 years or so after 1945. Over 50 years later, it’s tempting to look back with rose-tinted glasses. But *London is the Place for Me* reminds us that the British Empire’s capital city wasn’t so ready to take its new citizens to its heart. Lord Beginner’s ‘Mix Up Matrimony’ is optimistic, to say the least. Lord Kitchener makes a huge joke out of London’s welcome to its black immigrants; he repeats the joke in ‘My Landlady’ (‘restrictions to break your heart’) but, once ensconced, the calypso starts to raise a voice of opposition. Elsewhere, the calypso is a link to home, thematically (‘Jamaica Hurricane’) and more subtly. In the lilting voices, the muted trumpets and soft, still danceable rhythms, one hears the siren call of a land far away in time and distance.

New Internationalist issue 349 magazine cover This article is from the September 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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