Tuesday, August 26, 2003

When Lord Kitchener lent his piercing eye, laser sight finger and dodgy moustache to First World War recruitment posters, he probably didn't imagine that several decades later a Calypso singer from Trinidad would borrow his name. And put a sassy spin on the relationship between the Empire and its "exotic" children.

Kitch sang "London is the Place for Me" back in 1948, the year the Windrush brought 492 Caribbean immigrants to Britain, yet the tune made "mas" on the capital's more discerning radios in 2002. It was featured on a compilation released by Honest Jon's, the premier record shop in Portobello Road, a jewel of the capital's alluring yet thorny crown of multi-culturalism. The song's lifespan is roughly in parallel to the ascension of the Notting Hill carnival.

The point is that London has the Caribbean, Africa and Asia fluttering in its subconscious as well as nestling in the marrow of its bones. The sons and daughters of Britain's former colonies have a long and complex history of economic, political and artistic engagement with the capital. They have given it as much as it has given them.

-- From Kevin Le Gendre's review of Sukhdev Sandhu's London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City, published in last Sunday's Independent.

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