The Windrush Generation: Revolutionising British Music

By Nina Leech and Etienne Maughan (Year 11)

Continuing our focus on Black History Month, Mrs Gibson (Headmistress) has invited members of the African and Caribbean Society to guest write her blog, as they explore the role of Caribbean influences in British Music.

In the 1930s, the ship ‘HMT Empire Windrush’ was built and designed for the German Navy. However, it was built purely for war so its future purpose was undetermined. In 1945, after World War II had ended and Germany was defeated, its purpose was now very different: this ship would be used to rebuild Britain’s damaged industry. In 1948, what we now know as the ‘Windrush Generation’ travelled to Britain and would come to have a profound and positive impact on British culture as we know it today.

Caribbean communities arrived with a diverse music spectrum ranging from Latin American to Asian and African influences, which had a large impact on the British music scene. These styles fused with British music, which consisted of primarily swing and dance bands at the time, creating a unique blend, which eventually led to genres such as Drum and Bass, Garage and Grime. In the 50s, few nightclubs were open to black people, so small clubs in Soho and Brixton began to adopt genres such as Ska – a predecessor to Reggae. The legacy of this led to a second-generation wave in Coventry with bands like The Specials, pioneering multicultural Post-Punk Fusion. Birmingham was also central to politically-led, British Reggae, with artists writing about hardships faced by young black people, led by bands like Steel Pulse. The evolution of Soca music in the 1980s created the blueprint for many music styles that dominate the UK charts today. Two of these music styles, Hip Hop and Grime, have generated success for many black artists such as Stormzy and Dizzee Rascal. Popular British bands such as The Police, Culture Club and The Stranglers all used riffs inspired by Reggae. The impact that the Windrush Generation had on helping to construct Britain’s varied history will continue to shape and influence the music of the future.

The Caribbean communities diversified British culture, shaping and creating a new British society with new music, culture and charm. The Windrush Generation was not only key in pioneering change in a predominantly white country, but also helped in creating a sense of belonging within the young population of black teenagers. The music that many produced allowed the younger generation of the African and Caribbean communities to relate to the struggles of racism and hostility towards them, and provided a sanctuary and escape for them. Unable to prove their legal right to remain in the ‘mother country’, as they had arrived before it was a legal requirement, many were afraid of what was to come for them in Britain, so the music created by black artists showed power within the black community.

Unfortunately, an escape was hard to find, as the racism that the Windrush Generation faced was extensive. Even now, more than 50 years after the first ship arrived, those who are part of or descended from the Windrush Generation are told they do not belong; many have been detained and are facing deportation. Regardless of our skin colour, we must advocate for all black lives. The work we do during Black History Month to celebrate and uplift black people should not stop here, but continue each day of the year.

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