To celebrate the release of Idris Elba's directorial debut Yardie, Black History Walks took us on a tour around Brixton — to learn about the area’s significance for the British Jamaican community.
What's the definition of 'yardie'?
Brixton is synonymous with four things: Brixton Prison, the Brixton uprisings, Brixton market and being the capital of black British culture. Following the Windrush migration in 1948, the area became a unique hive of Caribbean and British traditions. The first stop on this tour is just outside Brixton Station on Tunstall Road, where the tour guide, Kelly, points out the David Bowie mural as an example of the district's select choices of who they remember and why — the legendary musician was born in Brixton and donated large sums of money to the community during his career.
Next, to Lambeth Town Hall, where Kelly explains that the Jamaican origins of the term 'yardie' was merely used to refer to someone from your home, before the mainstream media associated it with criminal gangs in the 90s.
The birth of the sound system
Outside the Town Hall, we're told how sound system culture came to the UK. Kelly shows us an image of a 'no colour bar dance' that was held in one of the rooms inside. She also tells of legendary 'soundman' Duke Vin — considered the grandfather of sound system culture — who bought a turntable and speakers at Portobello Market one day and started a musical sensation by dialling up the bass levels on music from New Orleans to Miami at a time when the BBC was the only licensed radio station in the UK. The popularity of sound clashes swept the city and influenced a new generation of artists, from the Rolling Stones to The Kinks, to develop a more American style of music. It would later evolve into R 'n' B, hip hop, grime and drum & bass.
The mother of Notting Hill Carnival
Heading through Windrush Square, we stand outside the Black Cultural Archives, where there is currently an exhibition about Neil Kenlock, considered a pioneer of implementing black media in the 1970s, 1980s & 1990s. A member of the British Black Panther movement, he took photographs of the group's activism to improve the rights of the black British community, and drive black British pride.
Onto Somerleyton Road and Geneva Road, where the largest concentration of the Jamaican community lived in the post-Windrush years. We're told about Claudia Jones, who was deported to the UK from the US due to her black nationalist activities, and subsequently started the first major black newspaper The West Indian Gazette. Those without a voice were "as lambs to the slaughter," she once said. Jones is also credited for starting the Caribbean Carnival in 1959 — it went on to become the Notting Hill Carnival.
Rocking down to Electric Avenue
The tour ends at Brixton Market, where food stalls produce a colourful and fragrant array of authentic cuisine from the Caribbean. Held on Electric Avenue, of Eddy Grant fame, the street got its name from being one of the first streets in the area to have an electric generator. It is there that some of the community's finest graffiti artists are on display, from Dreph to Nathan Bowen, as well as Brixton Speaks, an installation depicting quotes overheard at the market that aims to showcase the vigour, invention and diversity of Brixtonians.
Walking in the footsteps of the Windrush generation gives an insight into what D, the character in Yardie experiences as well as the environment that Victor Headley, the author of the novel that the film is based upon, used as a backdrop for his enthralling tale of redemption.
Yardie is in cinemas from 31 August 2018.