Most accounts of black immigrant identity in Britain tend to focus on the pride and self-assertion of Rastafarianism, which accompanied the early-Seventies roots-reggae movement. But, as the sleeve note here explains, several strains were providing a distinctive soundtrack to the black British experience long before dreads appeared in Notting Hill and Handsworth.
Released in 2002, the first volume of Honest Jon's survey of post-war Afro-Caribbean immigrant music focused on the Trinidadian calypsos that were the main voice of the early waves of West Indian immigrants in the Fifties, a series of lucid, humorous observations on Britain's baffling social foibles.
This second compilation casts its net wider, to those black immigrants who came from the African colonies, bringing an entirely different, more jazz-based music culture. Calypsonians such as Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner continued to amuse with their risqué commentaries on such matters as "My Wife's Nightie" and the innovations of beboppers - whose "high-speed riffs and staccato beats" leave vocalist Young Tiger confused and consequently "unenthused", possibly the only use of this term in music history - but they're outnumbered here by highlife exponents such as Ambrose Campbell, Shake Keane and Rans Boi.
Campbell arrived in the UK during the war, forming the West African Rhythm Brothers in 1940. On tracks such as "Adura" ("prayer") and "Ominira" ("freedom"), they offered a highlife jazz style featuring nimble guitar and languidly riffing horns over neatly syncopated beats. A quarter of a century later, the bandleader's High Life Today album focused on infectious layered percussion exercises. Tracks like "Yolanda", with its blend of muted trumpet, hand percussion and humming, strongly resembled some of Sun Ra's experiments from the same era.
Cross-cultural collusions were fairly common. On "Kalenda March", calypsonian The Lion's reminiscence of the Trinidad Carnival is set to jazz horns, rumbling percussion and even a rhapsodic violin; Shake Keane employs French patois over the trumpets and congas of "Baionga"; and Tunji Oyelana, a Nigerian, is joined on "Omonike" by the South African musicians who would later form the Brotherhood of Breath.
The attitude revealed through this fascinating compilation is one of relaxed good humour, wit and musical intelligence, with pride in native music forms not too stiffly asserted. Despite the racism these musicians must have encountered, there's none of the resentment that has at times preoccupied later generations of black artists - and no trace of the deadly feuds that afflict the modern garage scene. These musicians seek community, not conflict.Reuse content