Despite the fact that bigots like Nick Griffin and Trevor Kelway (leader of the EDL) continue to spew their hateful bile, fewer and fewer people are listening. The BNP lost ten of twelve seats in May’s local election. Most losses occurred in areas traditionally considered to be very right wing, areas like Barking, Barnsley and Blackburn. Whilst nobody would go as far as to claim that racism no longer exists in the North of England, the reality is that it's getting harder and harder to find there. And the latest explosion of African and Carribean culture is testament to this.
Ska and reggae music is currently undergoing an epic comeback. Venues and club nights dedicated to black music are springing up all over the country. Perhaps it is the rough and ready ethos of reggae music that appeals to the cash-strapped, doom laden generation of youngsters currently emerging from university. Or it could simply be because reggae music is a truly wonderful and uplifting genre, striking in its depth, lyricism and historical significance.
African and Caribbean culture has a large presence in a surprising number of towns and cities. Now quite staggeringly in its 28th year, the Huddersfield Caribbean Festival continues to go from strength to strength, showing up every year with better costumes, louder music and a bigger show. There’s a rich and beautiful cultural heritage ingrained in everything from the music to the food. People are exposed to this without being forced to confront difficult issues like multiculturalism, religion and racial stereotypes.
The city of Leeds has a particularly diverse relationship with black culture, particularly when it comes to music. Just last month the current Wailers lineup gave a tremendous performance at ‘Leeds O2 Academy,’ delighting the crowd with some surprisingly adept classics. Nightclub Faversham hosts a dedicated reggae and funk night once a month. Sela Bar has a resident reggae band called Mojah who play a couple of times a fortnight. If a night of wild and wicked skanking is what you want, Leeds is the place to be.
Reggae enthusiasts like the inimitable Dr Huxtable, who travels Europe with his Axis Sound System, are currently proving that black culture is endlessly fascinating and astoundingly good fun. With a record collection impressive enough to bring a tear to the eye of any serious music fanatic, Huxtable regularly proves that reggae can and does transcend all social boundaries. Black, white, old, young, male or female, all are present.
If there is one thing about reggae that cannot be denied, it is its belief in the power of music to bring people together. And though it may sound cheesy, its importance cannot be denied either. There will always be people who want to knock things down, to knock people down. Like cockroaches, racism and its proponents will survive by crawling into dark corners and waiting for the vulnerable to appear. What we must do is keep them there. Keep them cowed with music and with art and with dancing. Skank our way to a better world. What could be better than that?