It should come as no surprise that some of the most groundbreaking styles of music have emerged from unique metropolises where people, cultures and ideas collide and intertwine. There is nothing revolutionary in that. This is exactly what we humans have been doing since we became human, or maybe even before. So every culture, person and music on Earth is actually a remix of something much older. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun, but some things are certainly unique: the balti gosht (curry) from India, the guaguancó (dance) from Cuba and the epics of the Sahel from Africa. from West. There have always been regions known to attract people from all over, and without fail these ‘melting pots’ have become perfect environments for new and exciting sounds.
I was born and raised in such a place: London. Even in terms of melting pots, it’s a bit peculiar. The UK has been a major player in a number of transformative musical movements, particularly throughout the 20th century. What makes it special is how this place transformed everything that happened on its shores. In all cases, from reggae to drums and bass, rock ‘n’ roll to prog rock and hip-hop to grime, cities like London have smashed together the disparate sounds of their constituent parts in some of the ways the most unpredictable.
The London I grew up in was a place where you could find a bit of every place the British had settled. Ironically, what made the UK such a great place for culture was that for around 500 years the British did their best to dominate and homogenise everywhere else, annexing peoples where possible. and moving where it was not possible. Inevitably, much like the capital of the Roman Empire, London ended up becoming a metropolis where people from all over the empire would come together. The British achieved the exact opposite of homogenization.
From reggae to drums and bass, rock ‘n’ roll to progressive rock and hip-hop to grime, cities like London have broken up the disparate sounds of their constituent parts in some of the most unpredictable ways.
So my community in East London featured traditions from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, from Afghanistan, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Barbados… and that was just my street! (My house was one of three Trinidadian households on this street.) All this to give you an idea of the level of integration. If you imagine growing up with so many cultures co-existing together, then you can see why remixing has become second nature. What do you get when you cross Chicago house, Kingston dub, New York hip-hop and Indian bhangra? Jungle aka drum and bass!
A typical Friday night for me, 25, might have consisted of listening to music at the Blue Note, filled with an audience beyond excited to check out the “Jungle Beat” set, featuring stars Talvin Singh, a young Indian tabla. genius educated in the Indian Carnatic tradition; Squarepusher, a young bass virtuoso who sounds a bit like Jaco, but also cuts James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” into microscopic pieces, rearranged on the fly into densely-configured drum patterns over 180 bpm, that seem to last forever and never really repeat; and an eccentric young vocal gymnast from Iceland who was somewhat unknown at the time named Björk.
One Saturday night I may have gone to see the Jazz Warriors, a 20-piece big band that included some of the hottest names in British jazz, such as saxophonist Steve Williamson, drummer Mark Mondesir, bassist Gary Crosby , pianist Julian Joseph, marimba player Orphy Robinson and singer Cleveland Watkis. The Jazz Warriors were a collective of young, world-class black British jazz musicians, who created their own unique mix of bebop, reggae, funk, afrobeat and more.
Sunday night I may have taken the stage at the Jazz Cafe with my own band, Quite Sane, which included members from South Africa, Mauritius, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, St. Kitts and of course , from Trinidad and Tobago. Although this group was influenced by jazz, and in particular the M-Base which I heard coming out of New York growing up, we were also very influenced by hip-hop (Public Enemy, Mobb Deep, A Tribe Called Quest, etc.), as well as Parliament-Funkadelic, Chaka Khan, Cecil Taylor, Miriam Makeba, Beenie Man, Fela Kuti, the Jazz Warriors and Igor Stravinsky! Want to know what that crazy mix sounded like? Discover our 2002 version, child of troubled times.
The thriving UK scene continues to produce a dizzying array of subgenres (grime, AB-groove, Broken Beat, acid jazz, nu-jazz) and artists (Sons of Kemet, Soweto Kinch, Sona Jobarteh, James Blake, Lion Babe, Stormzy), which are the product of combined elements from everywhere. Who knows what will follow?
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