New novel on 1981 British Handsworth riots


This reggae music video says about itself:

Steel PulseHandsworth Revolution

Steel Pulse – Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland 1979, “Montreux Casino

David Hinds – Vocals, Guitar
Basil Glendon Gabbidon – Guitar
Ronald, Ronnie “Stepper” McQueen – Bass Guitar
Selwyn D.”Bumbo” Brown – Keyboards, Vocals
Alphonso “Phonso” Martin – Percussion, Vocals
Steve Nisbett, Stevie “Grizzly” Nesbitt – Drums

By Farhana Shaikh in Britain:

‘I’m interested in exploring how the personal becomes political’

Saturday 15th October 2016

SHARON DUGGAL tells Farhana Shaikh what impelled her to write her first novel, set during the 1981 Handsworth riots

The Handsworth Times is your first novel. How did you go about writing it?

I’d like to say I have a routine and a set process for writing but it would be a big fib.

I am quite unorganised and a bit sporadic as a writer but I do always carry a notebook, jot down ideas as they arise and revisit them later. I have taught myself to write quickly through necessity and I can bang out a shoddy first draft at speed.

This is because I know my time is short due to other commitments, so I have to get whatever is in my head down on paper before it is too late. From there I revise and redraft a lot and I suppose that has organically become my process.

You’ve set your novel in Handsworth in Birmingham but your story has at its heart a Punjabi family. What personal experiences did you draw on?

I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in a British-Asian family in Handsworth, surrounded by the joint values of traditional Indian culture, family loyalty and an emphasis on hard work as a way of progressing through life and becoming upwardly socially mobile.

However, I was also surrounded by people of diverse cultural backgrounds living in reduced circumstances, struggling to make ends meet, and it soon became apparent that actually, for the working-class communities that I was in the midst of, opportunities for social mobility and aspiration were severely restricted whatever we did.

Having said that, Handsworth was also an extremely lively and exciting place to grow up with the street, doubling as a playground, central to community life.

I come from a big family with lots of siblings and cousins so there was a rich pool of material to draw on for ideas and characters. Like most extended families, stories about legacy and family history get passed down and become fragmented over time but some things, even though you don’t quite know whether they actually happened or not, do stick in the mind and resurface when writing.

The novel’s set in 1981 and, while it’s fiction, it feels as though we’re very much grounded in reality.

How much research did you do about the period and were you surprised by what you uncovered?

The novel started as part of a research degree so I was well placed to do research as part of the process but, rather than heavy academic research, I found what I had to do was a lot of googling to check things like TV listings and pop charts from the time. I do remember certain things about the period but it was a long time ago so I did have to do my homework, especially on the cultural and news references.

What made you want to write about the riots of 1981?

Birmingham in general is under-represented in mainstream literary output. Not enough stories about the city get published and I don’t know why.

But it is hugely interesting, both for its industrial past and how that has shaped its present, including its demography. It must be among the most multicultural places in the world yet, for some reason, publishers are not choosing stories based there.

This, coupled with the political landscape of the 1980s, of which the riots were a consequence, continues to be of interest, not least because our politicians and governments don’t seem to have learnt anything from what happened then.

Unfortunately, as ordinary people get squeezed tighter with welfare cuts, archaic education policies and lack of investment in communities and as racism and xenophobia rise, stoked as political tools by certain politicians and by their media mouthpieces — or vice versa? — manifestations of social unrest like rioting have and could so easily happen again at any point.

We see the struggle within the household juxtaposed against the one happening in the community. What were you interested in exploring by setting the story firmly within the space of domesticity?

I suppose I was interested in exploring how the personal becomes political, especially for the younger female characters, and how the domestic world and the social external world are inextricably linked.

The world beyond the house very much influences how characters develop and this, in turn, begins to transform how they exist alongside each other in the domestic sphere. They each go on a journey of some kind that helps equip them for the challenges of the world beyond the domestic sphere or, in the case of the father Mukesh, a journey that actually contributes to his demise.

I also wanted to convey something of the claustrophobia of living in a large family in a small house and how this can mirror the claustrophobia of living a seemingly fish-bowl like existence in a community like Handsworth.

Plenty of writers have written about the immigration experience but British stories set outside of London still seem few and far between. What were your hopes for the story you wanted to tell?

Like most people, I get frustrated by the stereotypes that continue to get churned out in books, sitcoms, film etc. It seems that there is an acceptable face of multiculturalism that mainstream publishers and other cultural gatekeepers want to perpetuate for some reason — I suspect it is because it is what they perceive as marketable.

The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a great talk a few years ago where she warned against the danger of a single story as it leads to misunderstanding and stereotypes which are almost always untrue. I couldn’t agree with her more.

We have a long way to go to change the lack of diversity in literary output despite some really good recent interventions.

The saddest thing is that this is at the expense of some very talented writers that don’t fit the mould and at the expense of the reading public who, I am sure, are thirsty for different kinds of stories and voices.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about writing about the past?

Bring the past alive as part of the research by exploring personal accounts, diaries, social histories, film archives and oral testimony.

Luckily, with more recent history, we have a lot more access to this kind of primary source material online, including digital archives housed on library and community sites.

I found old photographs, music videos and news footage particularly helpful to informing some of the more descriptive passages of the book. Visual stimuli really are useful.

The Handsworth Times by Sharon Duggal is published by Bluemoose Books, price £8.99. A longer version of this interview was first published in The Asian Writer, theasianwriter.co.uk.

Jamaica’s first gay pride celebration


This video from England says about itself:

30 June 2013

YO! Blessup, One Love and Real Rasta greetin’s to you, fellow follower of de Lord of Lords, de King of Kings, de most High…Rastafari.

Have ya heard of de latest roots reggae and dancehall sensation to come out of our island home? Well a mi fi tell yu! Rastatroll Battyboy Soundsystem, all di while dem depon di bashment, Lord a Mercy. Dis crew a been buss dancefloors up in Kingston, all over Europe, and Kingston again, ya see me? Big man ting, ya dun know.

Yes, ‘ere me now, Rastatroll Battyboy Soundsystem are a REAL Jamaican soundsystem, proud of our fabulous heritage and our broad, glistening shoulders and thighs. Rastatroll are not ashamed to look a man in his eyes while he heaves his hard muscled body against ours, whisperin’ sweet words inna our ears. Rastatroll do not apologise for quivering like a flower in his arms, groaning and writhing as he pushes forcefully inside, pumping us over and over until de walls shake and de eyes roll back inna dem head. And Rastatroll do not hesitate to share a ganja spliff wit him as we relax pon de beach afterwards, holding each other, and listening to de cool sea breeze tell its stories of the love our forefathers shared, in much de same way we do now.

Star, dis is our way of life. Worn down by centuries of slavery and homophobic subjugation – but not defeated. Slandered by de bloated, imperialist, Western music industry – but not silenced. Attacked by de colonial sheep and demons who spread lies about Jamaica, but never once forgettin’ de dignity of our ancestors who first spread de Rainbow over Kingston.

In de immortal words of Gloria Gaynor, Prophet of Carr: “Jamaica’s a sham…till it can shout out, I am what I am”

PUUUUUUUUUUUULL UUUUUUUP!

Dis video is some bless footage from de Rastatroll stage at London Gay Pride. Nuff respect and REAL RASTA blessings fi all de battybwoys and punnanygyals who came out to hear de Lion‘s roar inna Trafalgar Square. We were truly blessed to walk amongst you.

De 29th June will go down in history as de day Rastatroll assumed its rightful title of as de most respected Reggae soundsystem on de European Gay scene – a day dat will resound through de ages.

Even Babylon were struck down in awe by our fabulousness, begging us to have their photos taken with us and asking for more rewinds.

If yu have any pictures or video, feel free to share dem pon dis page and inspire de next generation of Rastatroll soldiers.

SELASSIE I. Praise be to de Most High, JAH CARRSTAFARI.

Battyboys inna London, set it set it set it.

From Associated Press:

Jamaica to hold its first gay pride celebration in the island’s capital

Weeklong event that was previously almost unthinkable in a Caribbean country long described as the one of the globe’s most hostile places to homosexuality

Tuesday 4 August 2015 21.22 BST

Jamaica’s LGBT community is holding its first gay pride celebration in the island’s capital, a weeklong event that was previously almost unthinkable in a Caribbean country long described as the one of the globe’s most hostile places to homosexuality.

Events in Kingston have included a flash mob gathering in a park, an art exhibit and performances featuring songs and poems by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans.

Jamaican gay rights activists said Tuesday the peaceful events are a clear sign that tolerance for LGBT people is expanding on the island even though stigma is common and longstanding laws criminalizing sex between men remain on the books.

“I think we will look back on this and see it as a turning point because many persons thought that it would never actually happen,” said Latoya Nugent of the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, or J-FLAG, the rights group that organized the event.

For years, Jamaica’s gay community lived so far underground that their parties and church services were held in secret locations. Most stuck to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of keeping their sexual orientation hidden to avoid scrutiny or protect loved ones. A number of gay Jamaicans have won asylum overseas.

But while discrimination against gays remains pervasive in many parts of Jamaica and anti-gay violence flares up recurrently, Nugent said there’s an inaccurate perception overseas that homosexuals in Jamaica “can’t even walk on the streets because if you do you are going to be stoned or stabbed to death”.

“What we are seeing these days is more and more LGBT people willing to be visible, to be open, and to be public,” said Nugent, a co-chair of the planning committee for the events called PrideJa. “It’s remarkable.”

Still, some 80 incidents of discrimination, threats, physical attacks, displacement and sexual violence were reported to J-FLAG last year and the high-profile 2013 mob murder of transgender teen Dwayne Jones remains unsolved. There have been reports of targeted sexual assaults of lesbians. In a 2014 report, New York-based Human Rights Watch asserted that LGBT people in Jamaica remain the targets of unchecked violence and are frequently refused housing or employment.

“Yes, there’s still ridicule on the streets and some people look at you and laugh, but it’s not as violent as it was and we will insist on living our lives. There is a certain change going on,” 26-year-old Nas Chin told the Associated Press after dancing at a secure pride event.

Many Jamaicans consider homosexuality to be a perversion from abroad and a newspaper-commissioned poll has suggested there is overwhelming resistance to repealing anti-sodomy laws. In late August, a young Jamaican gay rights activist who brought an unprecedented legal challenge to the anti-sodomy law withdrew his claim after growing fearful about possible violent reprisals.

But Human Rights Watch has noted that there’s been a “groundswell of change” in the way Jamaica is responding to human rights abuses against LGBT people.

In recent days, Kingston’s mayor and the island’s justice minister have even publicly supported the weeklong pride activities, a major change in a nation where politicians once routinely railed against homosexuals and former prime minister Bruce Golding vowed in 2008 to never allow gays in his cabinet.

Reggae musician Mista Majah P against homophobia


This reggae music video says about itself:

Maverick Mista Majah P “Closet Is Open” LGBT Community Music Video

13 October 2013

Maverick Mista Majah P breaking the taboo in reggae, telling gays that it is OK to be yourself, no more hiding, come out of the closet, be who you are, be happy.

By Will Stone in Britain:

Reggae star’s LGBT rights stand hailed

Friday 10th April 2015

A JAMAICAN singer was hailed by LGBT rights activists yesterday for his lone voice attacking the homophobic “murder music” of his reggae peers through song.

Mista Majah P has relaunched a two-part music video for [his] single Karma, which attacks the homophobic songs of top dancehall singers like Bounty Killer and Buju Banton.

Many artists in the genre are notorious for their anti-gay lyrics and beliefs, with Shabba Ranks infamous for once stating that LGBT people should be crucified.

Majah P’s music turns the tables on them with lyrics warning that they will reap the hate and violence they sow and suggesting that they could be homosexual themselves, uncomfortable with their own sexuality.

His lyrics have also appealed to parents not to reject their LGBT children, spoken out against gay bullying and in support of same-sex marriage and adoption rights.

Human rights lobbyist Peter Tatchell said: “Such lyrics are unprecedented in the hard-man world of Jamaican reggae and dancehall music, where eight of the best known performers have, for over a decade, made homophobic murder music a staple part of their repertoire — variously inciting and glorifying the shooting, burning, hanging and drowning of LGBT people.”

Since releasing his pro-gay music, California-based Majah P has received numerous death threats and has been warned to not return to Jamaica.

He said: “As long as there are homophobic people, hatred, bigotry, death and no equal rights for the LGBT community I will continue to use my talent and speak out about injustice.

“I’m seeking to challenge ignorance and reach out to gay people.”

He is working on [his] third album Gays Belong In Heaven Too.

This music video from Italy says about itself:

For the first time in Italy, reggae music takes a stance against homophobia. Luciano and The Jah Messenjah Band came out in support of gay rights and the 2009 national LGBT Gay Pride to be held in Genova, Italy on 27 June 2009. The concert took place on the international day against homophobia (17 May) drawing a crowd of 3-500 revellers. Special guest: Carrol Thompson.

USA: Hateful Bigot Mike Huckabee Totally Fails At Basic Civics In Long, Idiotic, Anti-Gay Rant: here.

Afghan war soldiers’ survivors denounce war


This music video from England is called Jimmy Cliff at Glastonbury 2011 singing We Don’t Want Another Vietnam in Afghanistan.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan say their loved ones lost their lives for nothing

“It’s been a total waste of British lives, Afghan lives, American lives,” said the grandmother of a soldier who died in action

Kashmira Gander

Friday 03 October 2014

As David Cameron visited Afghanistan and declared there was no prospect of UK troops returning to fight there, the families of soldiers killed in the conflict say it has all been for nothing.

Speaking to British troops at Camp Bastion, the Prime Minister thanked soldiers and acknowledged that the armed forces had paid a “very high price” for bringing “stability” to the country over the past 13 years.

But bereaved relatives have said that any improvement seen in the country would “come unglued”, and the lives of 400 British soldiers who died in the war have gone to waste.

Joan Humphreys, an outspoken campaigner against the war, lost her grandson in Afghanistan in 2009. The 69-year-old from Dundee said that British forces had not achieved anything in the Middle Eastern country.

Private Kevin Elliott, 24, of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, died alongside Sergeant Stuart Millar, 40, in an explosion while on foot patrol in southern Helmand on August 31 2009.

“In my opinion we should never have been there in the first place. I don’t think we’ve achieved anything, I don’t think there’s an improvement,” she said, and added that while there appears to be an improvement in Kabul, nothing has changed in other areas.

And although families would always be proud of their loved ones, she said many felt they had “died for nothing”.

“I was very proud of my grandson but never proud of him being a soldier, never proud of his involvement in the military. I supported him, of course I did, but I wasn’t happy with him being there.”

She added that the Taliban remain, and Al Qaida is likely to return to the embattled country.

“It’s been a total waste of British lives, Afghan lives, American lives,” she said, and went on to criticise politicians who initiated the war, claiming they have forgotten that Britain is not the power it once was.

“We should just stay back and if the Americans want to go in, let them go ahead, but don’t put our servicemen in there.”

“We should never have been there and when people say it’s a job well done, it’s just unbelievably crass. There’s no consideration for the families.”

Tony Philippson’s Paratrooper son Captain James Philippson died in a firefight in June 2006, making him one of the first British soldiers to die in the conflict. He echoed Mrs Humphrey’s sentiments, and said that while his son wanted to fight in Afghanistan, he never believed the mission would succeed.

“Though my son wouldn’t have missed going there for the world, he didn’t believe for one minute it was either worth doing or that we would succeed,” said Mr Philippson, 73, from St Albans, Hertfordshire.

“But he wouldn’t miss it. He joined the Marines and then the Paras because that was where the action was.

“He knew it was for nothing but I couldn’t stop him from going because he wanted to do some soldiering. It was his decision, he was the one who was willing to take the risk.”

“He didn’t think it was worth doing, just simply because of the cost, of human life and in dollars and pounds.

“What have they achieved?” he asked. “For the moment they think they have achieved a lot, but they haven’t.“

He predicted that the small improvements made in Afghanistan, such as women being able to go to school, would “all come unglued in the end.”

Additional reporting by AP

In fact, schools were already closing down in Afghanistan in 2012. Even the talk about girls being able to go to school is and was basically not reality, but talk. War propagandists’ talk.