Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Immigrants in London

London is a multi-cultural city. Its geography and history as a trading centre have made it inevitable that all types of people have found their way here. The commonwealth immigrants act of 1962, Britain’s membership in the EU, the acceptance of legal immigrants seeking asylum and the countless illegal immigrants have all contributed to the sometimes overwhelming migration of nationalities.

Here are some interviews with immigrants living in London today.

Victoria – Eastern Nigeria

How old were you when you came to England?

I was 18. My parents weren’t here. I came here to meet my husband who had been here for about a year.

What was your perception of England before you moved here?

Because the British brought us Christianity, I thought this nation would be full of things to do with God.

And did England fulfill your expectations?

Initially I was disappointed by what I found in churches. There weren’t many people there. As time went on I came to realise why the English did not go to church very much. They used to go to church and God blessed them, the English have gotten too comfortable with their blessings so they have forgotten where their blessings came from. They thought they came from their own power and their own minds so they have turned their backs on God because they think they no longer need him. They have everything materially, but do not realise, as we are finding out now, that you need God for your spiritual and emotional well being, your stability and family. You must raise your children to know right and wrong. People have become selfish and opinionated.

Do you think that the multitude of faiths in London make it hard for Londoners to know which God to worship?

God says if people want to find out the truth, they will. Some magazines and things on the internet that you are not supposed to look at, people still find those things and find out what they want to know. If people want to discover which the true faith is, they will. Christianity is not about what you do, it is about what God has already done. Many people can’t understand that, particularly men. They want to feel proud of what they can do. They want to grow a beard and wear something on their head or whatever. In heaven everybody is equal.

Do you think Londoners can learn from Nigerians about faith?

Many Nigerians are born again. There was a time when the Lord got me to pray for this nation. During that prayer, the Lord reminded me that although many Black people are with Christ in this country, the revival is going to come through the English. He said he is allowing us to relight the lamp of the Englishman which has been quenched. The Englishman will carry the beacon that will bring revival to the country.

Abu – Bangladesh

How old were you when you came to England?

I was about 4 months old. My grandparents migrated from Bangladesh for economic reasons in the 1940’s; they used to work on a ship. My parents brought me here to be with my grandparents. Many people were coming here at the time because of the state of affairs on the Indian subcontinent. Issues of poverty and so on. Many people came from the village in the 40’s and slowly more came in the years that followed. In 1971 after the war with Pakistan more people claimed asylum after experiencing abuse at the hands of troops.

Have you been back to Bangladesh?

When I was 14 I went back and spent a couple of months there. That’s about it. It’s a second home for us but we associate ourselves more with the UK than Bangladesh.

What do you think was attractive about Britain for your parents to want to raise you here?

They were seeking a better way of life in terms of economics and technological advancements. Recently things have been changing. There are many third and fourth generation Bengalis in the UK. When our grandparents came it was a non religious migration, it was for secular reasons. They kept their religion to themselves. Now the youth are learning more about Islam and we are using it to challenge the many problems of this society; drugs, alcohol abuse, rape, prostitution. All of these things. We live in the community and we see it and speak of an alternative. We speak of a solution. We believe Islam is the future for the UK and for Whitechapel.

How do British and Bengali Muslims differ?

In the Indian subcontinent you’ll find Islam is a way of life. Everyone is a born Muslim. Many people will live their whole life without having to study Islam. There is no conflict. Here we find it is different, we have Christians, Hindus, Atheists and religion becomes a conflict. A Muslim may have difficulties in the work place, he needs to pray five times a day, eat Halal food, he is not allowed to drink or go clubbing. We find that some Muslims are treated as second class citizens. This is bringing a change in the Muslim community. We believe we are here to stay but we could compare the current system to apartheid, with the new terrorism legislation that is being enforced.

Do you think any positive progress has been made in Britain with regards to Muslim relations?

Religion is a dirty word in Britain. In the bible it says leave Caesar to Caesar and God to God. In other words let Jesus stay in the church and Man will decide what happens on the streets. With Islam, it is a complete way of life. It has an economic system, a social system, a political system, a judicial system. The Sha’ria is a complete way of life. We as Muslims are not allowed to adhere to a judicial system dictated by man. There is a conflict between democracy and Islam.

Do you think your parents foresaw such conflict when they brought you here?

Nobody did. Not even the British government. If they knew there would be a challenge to their systems of democracy, socialism and capitalism in the form of Sha’ria they would not have allowed Muslim immigration into Britain on the scale it was allowed at that time. This is now a police state, with the stop and search laws, Muslim’s houses being raided, CCTV in all the local mosques, Muslims being spied on and being asked to join MI5 and spy on other Muslims. There is a war against Islam.

Thomas – Lithuania

How old were you when you moved to London?

It was 10 years ago, I was 21. I had been working as a policeman back home; the place became too small for me. I wanted change. I wanted a career. I split up with my first love. I decided to change something. I was going to go to the States, but I couldn’t get a VISA so I came here for half a year to stay with friends, but to be honest I got stuck.

What kept you here?

I fell in love again, with an English girl. Now I work as a chef.

What difficulties did you face moving here?

I got home sick for the first couple of years but it wasn’t very difficult. Of course I was hungry before I learnt English; I wanted to meet new people in this multi-cultural open minded place. I encountered discrimination when I lived in Devon, only in rural places but not in London. Most of the hostility comes from non-English people and maybe some snobby English people who might call me a foreign bastard, but it doesn’t matter.

How does the reality of London differ from your preconceptions?

I find it very dirty compared to Lithuania. It’s more multi-cultural than I anticipated. The drug culture of Britain is very widely spread. Somebody who doesn’t know about heroin or crack may not understand that another world exists in every part of London. If you have never been with such people, you would have no idea. The media doesn’t even cover 10% of the reality. It’s horrific.

Marie Choy – New Zealand.

How old were you when you moved here? And what were your reasons for coming?

I was 27, I wanted a change from the small town I was living in, I felt like I wanted something different. It’s quite a normal thing for New Zealanders to travel. I didn’t come here with the intention to settle although I kind of had a vague idea that I probably wouldn’t go back to New Zealand. I came here initially for two years and really enjoyed it so I ended up staying.

How does the reality of London differ from your preconceptions?

I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect. I thought there would be a lot more of the clichéd English stereotypes. I thought it would be a lot cleaner. I guess the thing that surprised me most is just how many people from different countries there are living here and how they bring all their culture with them. I didn’t expect places like Whitechapel to exist. I expected it all to be more white I suppose.

Kevin – Born in America, raised in West Germany.

Why did you come here?

I’m 22, my parents sent me here when I was 16 to learn English because my dad is American and he wanted me to speak English. Back then, there wasn’t a big future in Germany. I wanted to work in fashion so I came here to pursue that.

How does the reality of London differ from your preconceptions?

I had a textbook image of the English in my head before I came here. I thought there were lots of castles everywhere and everyone spoke the Queen’s English. The typical stereotype wasn’t true.

Do you like it here?

I love it. When I first came over, some people asked me if I was a Nazi and if I liked Hitler and things like that. That freaked me out a bit, being only 16. London is also quite dirty. I do love the people and I like how international it is and I quite like the weather. I’m probably the first person who’s said that. There’s a buzz about the city, everyday it is different, you can do something every night. There’s a great vibe here in all these different parts, Camden, Shoreditch, East Dulwich, that’s what I like.

Olivia - Sweden

Why did you come here?

I came here when I was 20 because I was offered a job as an au pair, so I just took the chance and I went.

How does the reality of London differ from your preconceptions?

I didn’t really have any. At that point I thought all of Europe was the same. I found London was more like India than Sweden. It’s very different. I really like it though.

What do you like about it?

I really like that its multi cultural. There are so many people from all over the world. I love to travel and I like to meet people from all over the world, try food and experience culture from everywhere.

Do you ever miss Sweden?

Not really, I never miss Sweden that much. I am thinking of going back to study, as I have better opportunities for education there. I can study there for free.

Is there anything you don’t like about London?

I make hand crafts and jewellery. If I go to Spain it’s more relaxed, I can sell stuff on the streets, but I can’t do that here. I don’t like the whole surveillance state, the police and all the propaganda everywhere. Everybody being suspicious of everybody. Also the bureaucracy, all the weird forms you have to fill out about your ethnicity and stuff. It’s also quite hard to make money here, especially if you want to make it on a day to day basis.

Words and Photos: Tom Rowsell

Published: State of Play, 2009

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Monday, 17 August 2009

Fair Ohs

Free Download: Fair Ohs - Hospitals

Garage rock is a genre that seems to remain perpetually cool. But even cool genres get boring, unless something comes along that injects vitality into the sound. Fair Ohs are not that something because they don’t even want to be called garage rock. “We're definitely not a garage rock band,” guitarist/singer Eddy protests adamantly. “Though it’s an influence, along with the African, hardcore and noise stuff that we rip off.” The unwelcome garage rock tag is assigned in response to their punchy lo-fi pop sound. “If you play simple music on crappy equipment it just ends up sounding like garage rock right? simple music is always cool.” Eddy explains. It’s probably safe to say Fair Ohs won’t be releasing a prog album anytime soon, “All this super-complicated-look-at-me-I’m-a-musician-stuff is too much for me, I couldn't care less.” Adds bespectacled bassist, Matt Flag.

Despite their position on the value of simple music, Fair Ohs owe as much to the self indulgent, free style jazz of Pharaoh Sanders and the edgy post punk of Minutemen as they do to any simplistic garage rock group. The sound is the logical product of ex-teenage music geeks with one ear for melody and another for noise. Fair Ohs suck the dregs of twentieth century music through the straw of innovation and then rudely spit it all over the fast food restaurant of contemporary pop. For these three guys the discreet charm of musical history holds more allure than the slutty inevitability of its future. “I'll never get over the fact that I will never be able to experience the whole Minneapolis electro/ funk/soul thing when it was happening.” Drummer Joe complains nostalgically. “I'll never be able to dance to it in a club without some prick thinking it's funny and ironic.”

In fact, Fair Ohs are so keen on bygone eras that they still release material on cassette tape. Tapes which come in their own hand made, felt sleeping bags. “None of us understand using computers so I made the inserts and stickers using a photocopier, a typewriter and Letraset letters.” Matt confesses. “This is not a boast; it’s a sign of modern inadequacy.” Retro to the max.

Over the summer they’ve featured on three splits with other cool east London bands but their frenetic live show is what really makes them worth checking out. What can you expect from a Fair Ohs live show? Joe sums it up nicely. “Super, awesome, good times from three hotties who've listened to lots of Paul Simon and Black Flag.”

published: Dazed and Confused Vol II #77 September 2009

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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Eco Village at Kew Bridge

On June 6th 2009 a group of flea-ridden, tree hugging activists occupied an area of derelict land in Brentford, West London, near Kew gardens. The so called eco-village is little more than a fenced off area of weeds and rubbish, left untended for the past 20 years. The owners of the land, St. George, have issued the following statement. “We are aware that the site has recently been illegally occupied by a group of squatters. We are currently considering what action to take.”

At present St George are unable to use the land, as the council have denied their application to build a block of flats on the site. St George and the local police seem to be turning the blind eye to the squatter community, which claims to provide aid for the homeless and others who have been let down by society. The activists forbid the consumption of drugs or alcohol on site, this policy has come under fire as a homeless man seeking shelter on the site allegedly commit suicide after he was refused entry for being intoxicated.

Despite problems like this, and the occasional verbal abuse hurled from Kew Bridge by locals who resent the long haired crusties, the site has brought out the best in the community. Locals have been donating seeds, plants, tents and compost and are being encouraged to use the grounds for horticulture, public meetings and film screenings.

The illegal occupation of this land is politically motivated. Soap dodging hippies from across the nation pitched tents at eco village in an attempt to highlight the lack of affordable housing and misuse of urban land. Squatter, Charlotte Summers made this statement on the eco-village facebook group, “In my eyes, the eco village provides a platform for protest against property laws which serve the rich and are taught as natural laws, but are historically arbitrary.” The residents of the Eco village claim to be linked to a 350-year-old group of agrarian communists known as The Diggers, who campaigned for property reform following the English Civil War.

The eco-village serves as a media magnet to draw publicity to issues such as environmentalism, common land reform and anti-capitalism. These movements have gained momentum as a result of police brutality at the G20 and the killing of Ian Tomlinson. Many are starting to question the institutions of authority and the legislation that governs our lives, and are looking for alternative solutions. The eco village is open to visitors, but anyone wishing to stay there must be willing to work the land and contribute to the community.

Published: State of Play, 2009

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Monday, 10 August 2009

4 Step Counter Gentrification Technique

Like a plague of locusts, the idle rich descend on East London. Gradually the greasy spoon cafés, illegal street vendors, charity shops and pre-pubescent drug dealers all fade away. The cultural curiosities that draw creative middle class youths to traditionally working class urban districts are eventually replaced by the standard high street familiarities that can be found in any town centre in the world. The intrepid art-fags who first penetrate these virgin slums are followed by wave after wave of vacuous cultural leeches, hungry for a drop of anything resembling authenticity. But their arrival drives up property prices, pushes out the communities that give the district character and finally attracts corporate conglomerates, eager to capitalise on the disposable incomes of the floppy haired dandies who parade about those once decrepit streets.

The nostalgic lamentations of native residents in areas such as Williamsburg in Brooklyn or Shoreditch in East London can hardly be heard over the relentless din of progressive indie rock music. With tears in their eyes they reminisce about an idyllic past, where the bare footed, junkie sons and daughters of violent alcoholics would save up a week’s wages for a jar of eels and a fix. They watch as their memories are trampled beneath the march of a thousand plimsolls and wonder if any of these bearded, bohemian barbarians realises the damage they’re doing. If they did they might consider adopting the counter-gentrification technique, a consumer method that relieves middle class guilt and aids the preservation of indigenous urban cultures. The counter-gentrification technique can be properly executed by following these 4 simple steps:-

1. Adopt Mock-native dialect.

If you live in East London, make an effort to watch East Enders and films with Bob Hoskins in. Learn to mimic the regional dialect and you will find the natives more receptive to your ideas and grateful that you have made an effort to understand their primitive ways.

2. Refuse responsibility.

Ignore the fact that you are part of the problem and dump your guilt on others. With your newly acquired native accent, ruthlessly criticise your fellow bearded wankers and maintain that it is they who are responsible for the decline of the local community.

3. Buy local.

Buy from local establishments. Eat Bagels not sushi. Go to the market not the supermarket and the local pub not some trendy wine bar. If you continue to put your money into the local economy then these traders will eventually become successful enough to get the fuck out. Then they won’t care how much you mess up their grotty little ghetto.

4. Pretend to give a shit

Lament the closure of local establishments. Engage in patronising conversation with natives in which you sympathise with their harkening back to the old days before all the immigrants and hippies ruined England. This is the final stage to relieving guilt and doing your bit to undo the destruction caused by your decadent youth culture.

Published: State of Play, 2009

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FREE MP3: DINOWALRUS - Electric car, Gas guitar

The over stimulated hipsters of Brooklyn are inclined towards staring at their shoes disinterestedly at live shows. It takes something akin to a musical sledgehammer to snap them out of their self conscious nonchalance. “I like to think that when we play, the music rips the audience out of some complacent mind set and makes them feel alive!” Pete, lead guitarist and singer of Brooklyn’s Dinowalrus , glows with enthusiasm as he speaks. Things should have taken off for the band by now, who supported the legendary Silver Apples at the end of last year and released their first 7’ in February. Alas their unpredictable electro-psych rock has gained far less attention than it deserves.

“I feel like our band has had a tougher time than some,” Pete says sadly, flicking his eyes nervously up the dark Brooklyn streets to look for cops before taking another swig of beer. “I have nothing else going on now that I’ve been unemployed for 6 months. It’s like a permanent vacation and I’m taking advantage of it.” It’s hard not to sympathise with the experimental trio, whose blend of electronica and good old fashioned psychedelic rock is balanced to perfection but has failed to deliver them from the welfare office. “We still like certain sounds from the seventies like the Ron Ashton solo, you know like funhouse shit?” Pete goes on, “We’re not gonna get rid of that just for the sake of futurism in our music.”

Their organic approach to making music is based simply on jamming, doing whatever they feel like. This inevitably leads to a barrage of distortion, pedal effects, screams and moans, haunting synth, pounding drum machine beats and even the frenzied strangling of a clarinet. But how long can the band survive living on the margins of financial stability? Regardless of the somewhat self inflicted poverty, Pete maintains that Dinowalrus will not compromise their creative vision in an effort to gain popularity, “Are we gonna be an art project that happens to be a band or are we going to buy into the traditional trappings of being a band?” He asks himself, “We’re certainly not trying to be the next Jonas Brothers that’s for sure. Whether we’re trying to be the next MGMT is debatable, but we do have certain aspirations beyond being a noise band playing for 5 people in a weird loft.” Pete goes as far as to say that he does consider what he would like to experience if he were amongst the audience. “What’s that then?” I ask,
“I wanna have my mind blown.” Their debut album will be released on Kanine in October, expect it to blow your mind.

Published: P.i.X magazine: issue # 36, September 2009