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Book Reviewed by Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson


Thursday, November 13, 2014.


Lloyd Bradley’s superb social and cultural history of the Pan-African musical influences on and in London is brought right up to date by tracing the evolution of Grime, Dubstep, Drum ‘n’ Bass, Jungle, Funky House and UK Garage - in essence the music of contemporary youth. These recent genres all have the deeply ingrained genetic stamp of the early 20th century African, African-American and Caribbean pioneers in their method and practice. Today’s stars [mainstream and left-field] are building on methods of the past and fusing them with modern reality to step into the future - with culture in social form as their instrument.


The music of the African Diaspora - usually categorised as Black or more recently Urban - has proved its worth in all spheres. And with the founding of BBC1Xtra, it has attained the endorsement of the British cultural elite and establishment. It's a tightrope being walked though - maintaining vital realness or street credibility, whilst supping with the 'devil'.


Still, the eminent journalist Lloyd Bradley, in this scholarly yet accessible analysis shows that the enduring sound system sensibility - self-reliance in creation and cultural production, plus an ear to the street and peoples’ preferences, with autonomous and self-perpetuating networks - insulates today’s performers from the superficial and meaningless accusation of selling-out.


This is the riddim track which underpins a thorough and comprehensive - possibly definitive - account of this recent history. The starting point of this world renowned expert on modern Black music’s book is that this consciousness has been the guiding light for many performers since the early 20th century.  Bradley's work is a thorough and comprehensive survey which can be read alongside Jared Ball’s I Mix What I Like and Hakim Adi’s Pan-Africanism and Communism.


In three informatively titled sections and over 10 chapters, the author of the world’s best-selling book on reggae music [Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King] provides countless golden nuggets [dubplate exclusive shakatack selections without exception]  from his bottomless pool of knowledge.


Soul II Soul 's Jazzie B’s relaxed and insightful preface sets the conversational tone deployed by Bradley. But this reviewer was a bit irritated by the vernacular dotted throughout – ‘f’rinstance’ for instance! And as the one-time member of the UK’s first Black pirate radio crew Dread Broadcast Corporation excavates jazz [of the US and Africa], soul, funk, rhythm and blues, Highlife, calypso, steel pan, ska, reggae and Lovers Rock, Bradley's genealogical dig begs the question - is there anyone of influence whom this veteran journalist doesn’t know?


Offering a perceptive and penetrating analysis with anecdotes from Bradley's extensive network,  this illuminating survey of the London's musical landscape highlights a pan-African cultural mix personified by 1970s group Osibisa, a thoroughly and visually proud Pan-African ensemble whose core membership comprised Nigerians, Ghanaians, Grenadians, Trinbagonian and Antiguan musicians.


Bradley, who is the Associate Producer of the award winning TV series Reggae: The Story of Jamaican Music has given us a literary version excursion exploring interrelationships between the main players – sound system players as well as music promoters, record company executives and musicians of the 20th and early 21st century. Like a travelogue around London's music scene; places, faces and some long-forgotten clubs and venues are meticulously documented and nostalgically described, alongside the trends, styles, and fashions of the past century.  


Bradley - also a seasoned marathon runner and men’s health expert - clearly set himself a tough challenge to document the impact and enduring influence of Pan-African music and culture on London [and indeed the world]. Musicians and sound systems are likewise acknowledged as vital to the culture: Each sound system has its division of labour – promoter, publicity distributor, box boy, selecta, MC and so on. In this work, Bradley stands perdaminent as the vital and eminent historian whose enlightening work – sound clash style - will be hard to beat.


With lucid, penetrating investigation and superb reportage, his ambitious benchmark is now surely the standard text for any historian of Black British history. In attaining the goal he set for himself, Bradley leaves the reader pondering: what would the Capital (London) look or sound like without this African Diasporic heritage?


Sounds Like London – 100 Hundred Years of Black Music in the Capital

Lloyd Bradley

Serpent’s Tail [2013]

ISBN 978-1846687617

Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is a London based arts editor, writer and journalist for www.thenewblackmagazine.com. He writes about political, social and cultural issues. Email:shaunhutchinson@thenewblackmagazine.com.

Lloyd Bradley’s ‘Sounds Like London – 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital’

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