Show some respect

Tomorrow's TUC festival in east London invites you to rock against racism. By Matthew Brace
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The Independent Culture
Who said trade unions weren't hip? All men in suits, quaffing beer and sandwiches? Not a bit of it. A trade union conference with a difference kicks off tomorrow. The Jamaican reggae vocalist Luciano, Zimbabwe's intoxicating Bhundu Boys, summer festival favourites Dreadzone, New York's controversial Fun Lovin' Criminals, and a reformed line-up of 2-Tone stalwarts The Specials will take the stage at Respect, a free one-day festival with a fervent anti-racist message.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has deliberately targeted the east London borough of Tower Hamlets for the event, where four years ago the streets resounded to the boorish cries of the marching British National Party celebrating the election of one of their members to the council. Now those days are past, the TUC is making sure the campaign against race discrimination gathers speed through a free festival expected to attract up to 100,000 people.

Pop's performers for ethnic harmony must be getting pretty familiar with being wheeled out to perform on such days of brotherly love, but it seems they can't get enough of it. Dreadzone, now seasoned festival entertainers, say it with spirit: "Music is a true force for sending out messages that transcend all cultural, racial and political divisions. Dreadzone, once again, look forward to creating an atmosphere that will symbolise the unity and respect needed to combat the cancer of racism."

But why the TUC? They are hardly the chaps you would normally associate with urban rap or Cuban rhythms.

"A lot of older relatives of today's young black workers came to this country to fill low-paid jobs in industry, so it's absolutely right that the TUC is taking a lead in this stand against racism," said Kamaljeet Jandu, policy officer in the Equal Rights Department.

"The TUC's on-going campaign against racism, of which Respect is a part, is the main vehicle for social change at the moment. We wanted to reach a generation of people that would never normally get involved with a demonstration or picket but who would come to a music festival.

"It's that recognition that ethnic minorities are a part of our society and music is a wonderful way of portraying that."

Respect is also showcasing some lesser-known acts, including Trybe Vybe, who performed a stunning gospel ballad at the event's launch party last week. Minutes earlier the stage had been taken by the TUC's general secretary John Monks making an introductory speech, resplendent in a bright orange Respect T-shirt over his sober shirt and tie.

The event has the blessing of the Prime Minister Tony Blair, Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown and John Major. Although the ex-PM from Brixton is unlikely to be down the front cheering for his south London rude-boy soulmates, the ska eight-piece Maroon Town, he said he was delighted the event was taking place and wished it all the best.

Also playing tomorrow are Fun-da-mental, the Asian band offering a mix of hip-hop, rock, jazz, dub and traditional Asian rhythms - East End singer Frankie Oliver (recently back from a recording session in Jamaica with dubmasters Sly and Robbie), Manchester's Audioweb, American soul singer Adeva, Nitin Sawhney bringing an Asian dance groove to the afternoon, and Los Charangueros from Cuba spicing up the proceedings with some hot salsa rhythms.

There is an Unsigned stage where new acts will be giving it their all to impress any passing record company scouts, and for the kids a rap competition which culminates in a performance on stagen

Respect is in Victoria Park, London, tomorrow, noon-9pm. Admission free. Nearest Underground stations are Mile End or Bethnal Green