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Hackney & Africa through the generations

May 24, 2017

Hackney & Dalston In The 70s & 80s


Remembering growing up in Hackney as a black African takes me back to some really happy moments. Hackney is now evolving and depending on what side you sit, you believe the changes are for the better or you are in the camp that feels traditional Hackney is being phased out. Whatever side you sit, what is undeniable is the rich and diverse culture of Hackney. This week is a celebration of Africa Day and I am looking at the changes in the African diaspora over 30 years in Hackney!

I went to Southwold school and then Homerton house secondary school in Hackney from the late 70s to 1987. Our school rivals consisted of Brooke House, Hackney Free and Hackney Downs. Half of these schools do not exist now. Homerton House is now an academy; the others went as part of educational change in Hackney. Dalston and Hackney have evolved immensely from those years in the eighties. My childhood was full of matchbox toys in two huge buckets that I had accumulated because my Mum worked for Lesney Matchbox toys based next to #HackneyMarshes and Kingsmead estates. 


It began in 1952 when Hackney firm, Lesney, made a tiny model, little more than an inch long, of Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation coach. It went on to sell a million copies, and with this Matchbox model vehicles were born. Lesney was Hackney's biggest employer in the 1970s and early 1980s with over 1,500 employees but this did not help when it became a victim of the recession. Competition from abroad forced it into liquidation in 1982. The old factory building in Homerton is now flats.


In the eighties being African was not cool…When I say not cool I mean you were more likely to get monkey chants, due to the lack of understanding and stereotypes portrayed in the media. I remember being embarrassed to talk about my heritage for fear of ridicule! Black players in football those days were still subject to banana throwing and also racist chanting. There is an iconic picture of John Barnes, who although is not African, demonstrates the feeling to different cultures in the UK at that time, and not just in Hackney.

Most people in the UK’s perception of Africa in the 80s was influenced by two movies - Roots and the film Zulu from the 60s featuring Michael Caine. If I had a penny for every time I was called names after anyone of those movies were aired in the 80s I would own Dalston Kingsland itself! The place that represented black or African culture the most in Hackney was Ridley Road Market.


But across the pond in the US there was a movement going on that would influence my thinking and start changing the word Africa and what it meant…Step forward the Universal Zulu Nation which was formed and formerly headed by hip hop artist Afrika Bambaataa. It became an international hip hop awareness group. 

 Planet rock is famous for being one of the first tracks that ushered in the movement to hip-hop. This came from Afrikaa Bambaataa with huge influence from electro music.
Afrika Bambaataa has spoken of the name "Zulu" as being inspired by the 1964 film of the same name. I believe this shaped the 90s and the fantastic influence of Hip Hop and R & B to come in the 90s.


Hackney & Dalston In The 90s


Then in the 90s something started changing, as the second generation of BAMEs (Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic) started expressing themselves through music. There seemed to be a massive shift in consciousness towards being black, and in particular, African. Clothing from that period was influenced by African print, and also general acknowledgment of Africa as the mother land! The whole awakening was started by Afrika Bambaataa in the 80s and then continued by Hip Hop Groups such as De La Soul, Q-Tip, Jungle Brothers and Queen Latifah.

 They were joined by UK groups such as Soul to Soul who began promoting and acknowledge there African roots. There was an explosion of African influenced necklaces that added to the African influenced fashion. For me this period was the beginning of recognising Africans and the African culture’s rich colour and heritage.
The 90s was the most important and wonderful period of my life. This is in part due to the way music had become afrocentric. Pioneers such as Jazzy B of Soul to Soul made it cool to be proud of Africa. Interestingly enough, many of the original influencers mentioned like Bambaatta, were of Caribbean descent!
The new millennium ushered in two new eras for the African diaspora. Firstly, the late 90s started seeing much more awareness of country independence from the African diaspora. Ghana and Nigeria in particular began celebrating Independence Day on bigger and grander scale. Ghana in the Park is a great example of this, and on March the 3rd 2017 celebrated the 60th anniversary of Ghana. Perhaps a great example of the change in the thinking of Africa is best illustrated by the Guinness advert featuring people  from Congo called sapeurs. When I first watched this advert my thoughts were…What? A big brand talking about Africa?! Don’t believe it!

The third generation from the African diaspora are now proud to be African, and are happy to use the influences of their culture within their music as well as talking about it. Artists such as Stormzy, Kojo Funds & Abra Cadabra are British Ghanaians with huge followings. Stormzy paid tribute to his mum using her voice in the track 100 bags. I’m ashamed to say this now but if that was in the eighties would I have been confident enough to do that?

 The new generation of British African musicians are using afrobeats, which is a style of music that mixes highlife and Yoruba from West Africa with American funk and jazz.  It was developed from the 70s with cultural origins from 1960s Ghana and 1970s Nigeria. Young British Africans are being joined by artists from Ghana and Nigeria to really bring African inspired music to a global world now ready to accept it. When huge American artists like Wycleff Jean and Drake take an interest and are collaborating and producing afro beats tracks, it gives you an indication of how far African music has come.


Fuse ODG talks about T.I.N.A which stands for: (This Is New Africa)

 he as much as most is talking about and showing how much we believe Africa has developed and improved. Wizkid and Dbanji are but two of the many artists that have propelled Afrobeats into the global spotlight. Off the back of this, African dance is also cool, and we now have young people from the Diaspora putting a twist on it.




African Week Dalston is at the beginning of its journey, there are many events across the week that will fuse old Africa and Fuse ODG’s vision of T.I.N.A.  Africa is rich and diverse, but as an African I don’t feel I have done enough to promote a nation that was my place of birth. Africa Week Dalston is maybe my best opportunity to give back and start washing away some of that feeling. Join us at some of the events.

Urban MBA

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