Reggae as Resistance: The sounds of 1981 and beyond


A panel discussion with music exploring how Reggae music soundtracked an era of upheaval, and changed British musical history forever.

About this Event

This event accompanies our exhibition, When Brixton Went on Fire, a photographic exhibition illustrating the Brixton Uprisings of 1981.

Reggae music and Soundsystem culture, originating in the Caribbean, arrived in the UK in the late 1940s via the Windrush generation. Enjoyed amongst the Caribbean communities in the UK, many of whom resided in Brixton, dance parties allowed Black Britons to carve out a safe space for expression, unity and joy. Yet despite its sweet melodies, Reggae music, with its bass-heavy reverberations, has always been a form of protest, and a voice for the oppressed. Since its arrival in the UK, it has been a powerful symbol of resistance against rampant discrimination and racism – both everyday and institutionalised.

The 1970s saw Reggae music in Britain grow deeper and more politicised. During this time, London police revived the 1824 Vagrancy Act (known as the “sus” laws)– meaning that anyone could be arrested if they simply ‘looked’ suspicious. This led to police targeting black and minority communities. This militant mood is directly reflected in the music of the time, and the 1970s saw what Paul Gilroy calls “the golden age of militant reggae,” which climaxed in 1976, when riots erupted at Notting Hill Carnival.

Moving forward, two major events occurred in 1981: the New Cross Fire, in which 13 young Black Britons were killed in a house fire in South-East London, and the Brixton Uprisings, where predominantly young black men fought the police on the streets of Brixton. The Uprisings were a defining moment for race relations in the UK, and are detailed in Linton Kwesi Johnson’s celebrated poem “Di Great Insohreckshan”: When we run riot all over Brixton/ When we MASH up plenty police van (…) Fi make deh rule of dem understand/ Dat we NAH take no more of dem oppression.” The Uprisings, together with Reggae music, brought the animosity of the police against Britain’s Black communities to the forefront.

This panel discussion, which will include music, will explore how Reggae music soundtracked an era of upheaval and social injustice, and how, since its arrival, it has changed British musical history forever.

Panellists include: Edward George (Black Audio Film Collective and ‘The Strangeness of Dub’, Morley Radio); June Reid (Nzinga Soundz Soundsystem); Lynda Rosenior-Patten (Nzinga Soundz Soundsystem); Professor William ‘Lez’ Henry (University of West London); Markie aka Jah Lingwa (Universal Roots Records, Brixton.)

This event is curated and hosted by Melissa Baksh, Gallery and Exhibitions Officer at Morley College.

Photo credit: Nowness

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General Admission GBP 8
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