The Brixton Riots of 81′
‘It was in April, nineteen..eighty-one. Down n’ on dee ghetto of Brixton. Dat deh Babylon dem cause such a friction. Dat it bring about a great insohreckshan’
Dub reggae poet and activist Linton Kwesi Johnsons wrote ‘The Great Insohreckshon’ about the Brixton riots in 1981. In reaction to constant police oppression, people in the Brixton community were beaten, racially abused and harassed on a daily basis. Against a backdrop of cuts and social and economic problems, the riots forced the government to wake up. It defined the attitude of a decade.
The resilience of Brixton’s black community has stood strong to hold its vibrancy and harmonious atmosphere, whether it is found in old West Indies pubs or the sound of patois as people rush past.
30 years on and Linton’s fellow Brixtonite Hiatus has come up with his own interpretation of Linton’s track called ‘Insurrection’ which was blessed by Linton Kwesi Johnson himself. Mint caught up with Hiatus over a cup of tea and a walk around Brixton to reflect on the cultural significance of the riots and why Brixton and we should remember them.
What is the idea behind the interpretation of Linton Kwesi Johnsons ‘The Great Insohrekshon’ that you have made?
Initially when making this track I based it around the Linton sample of him performing that poem in Paris. His voice is phenomenal, his cadence, his articulation, his sound, everything is so good. The irony is that ‘The Great Insohrekshon’ is about him not being around. The poem is about wanting to be there, to have seen it. I don’t think it matters; the point is that it was an event that defined an era.
Does the message of the song still hold relevance today?
I think it does, the track is about resilience of people and generally Brixton as a place. I think that’s something that can be applied, now more than ever. With those student protests, it’s a bit of an eye opener. It’s made you realise that we are almost returning to the dark days of thatcherite Britain and again its like there’s so much reactionism, there’s so much revolution in the air and that’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good that people are taking notice again.
You have to look out for each other, you have to watch each other and I think that was partly what Brixton was doing when essentially it burnt itself down to the ground.
Do you think that your track conveys Brixton moving forwards as a place?
For me personally I think if there’s a benefit in releasing a track like insurrection. It’s to remind people that these things happen, that they have happened and god forbid they may happen again.
I think it’s important that people remember their heritage, having lived here for several years. It’s a duty to have some connection to your past and to a past place and when that is tied up with persecution and oppression I think its something you need to know has happened.
Is there a specific place you go in Brixton, to find inspiration for the music you write?
Insurrection was an unusual track for me; I don’t normally make that kind of dub-influenced music that sort of extent. Its impossible for it to not rub off on you living round here, it’s the smell of the fruit from the market or the music from sound systems in the cars going down the street.
Brixton has a lot of heart and it wears itself very well, it’s a very friendly place as well. People really know each other here in a way you don’t see in other parts of London.
Words: Patrick William Bethell.