Socialist Worker

Love music, hate the BNP: 100,000 flock to LMHR carnival

by Anindya Bhattacharyya and Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2099

The crowd at the carnival (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/» Guy Smallman )

The crowd at the carnival (Pic: » Guy Smallman)


Some 100,000 people of all ages and backgrounds delivered a powerful message against fascism by joining the hugely successful Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) carnival last Sunday.

The crowds flocked to the event to hear bands, DJs, campaigners and trade unionists put out a call for unity against the fascist British National Party (BNP) on the eve of the London elections.

The concert took place in Victoria Park, east London, to mark 30 years since the April 1978 carnival organised there by Rock Against Racism (RAR) and the Anti Nazi League (ANL) against the National Front, the precursors of today's BNP.

The National Front were eventually smashed by a mass movement led by the ANL. One of the key messages of Sunday's carnival was that beating back today's Nazis will involve building a similar movement against the BNP.

The day started with a morning rally in nearby Weavers Fields, a park in Bethnal Green, which heard speakers from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and a variety of trade unions. A march then snaked out of the park and headed towards the carnival venue.

Local indie rock band The Toy Guns headed up the demonstration, belting out their own songs alongside classics from the RAR era, while a couple of samba bands provided entertainment at the rear.

Passers-by waved and many joined the march as it passed through the main road in Bethnal Green. By the time it reached Victoria Park it was up to a thousand strong.

The carnival proper kicked off with speeches from Red Saunders, Roger Huddle and Paul Holborow, three of the organisers of the original 1978 event. They introduced the first act on the main stage – reggae guitarist and RAR veteran Dennis Bovell heading up his London Lovers' Rock Crew.

Meanwhile the park was beginning to fill up with carnival goers. The audience was incredibly diverse, with black, white and Asian revellers from across London and beyond. There was a real range of ages, with veterans from the punk era rubbing shoulders with teenagers into grime and emo.

Jay and Courtney came to the carnival from Croydon in south London. 'This has brought people together in a positive way – the whole community is here,' Jay told Socialist Worker.

He contrasted this with the vision offered by the Nazis. 'If the BNP got elected the streets wouldn't be safe. They would divide people and there would be a lot of unhappiness – people would be scared to go out.'

'It's really good to be here because you know that everyone is here for the same reason,' added Courtney. 'Before I came I didn't know much about the issues, I just came with my friends. But it's good because I've been able to find out more.'

Multiracial

Others spoke of their pride in living in a multiracial society. 'We should support all cultures in Britain,' Sarah told Socialist Worker. 'My parents are Egyptian and I think we should celebrate the fact that we have different nationalities and cultures mixing together.'

Her friend Jasmine added, 'The BNP talk about 'real Londoners' and 'fully English people' – but they don't exist. Everyone has a mixed culture if you look at their family trees.'

The bulk of the funding for the carnival came from trade unions, including Unite, PCS, CWU and the South East region of the TUC. Unite sponsored the second stage, which featured acts including Patrick Wolf, Akala, The Paddingtons and Adelaide McKenzie.

The PCS hosted the dance marquee – which was packed right from the start of the carnival with ravers yelling 'Fuck the BNP!' to a host of DJs and MCs playing everything from bassline house to jungle.

Several union leaders spoke at the event, including Unite's Derek Simpson, the CWU's Billy Hayes and Frances O'Grady, the deputy general secretary of the TUC.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers' union, talked about the strike action many of his members took on Thursday of last week.

He also highlighted the fact that two Nazi candidates in local elections work in the civil service and called on the government to sack them. 'There should be no room for bigotry in our public services,' he said, before urging everyone to go out and vote against the Nazis.

Back in the 1970s, RAR made a conscious effort to bring together the predominantly white punk rock scene with black soul and reggae artists.

That tradition of mixing musical styles was reflected in the line up at the LMHR carnival, which interlaced rising grime stars such as Bashy and Snakeyman with more established indie rock acts like Hard-Fi.

The carnival also included more sombre moments, such as the minute's silence to remember Leon Greenman and Henry Guterman, two Holocaust survivors and longtime anti-fascist ­campaigners, both of whom died in the last year.

People also remembered those who could not be at the carnival because their lives had been cut short by racist murders – including Stephen Lawrence, who was killed 15 years ago when the BNP was active in south east London, and Anthony Walker, who was murdered by racists in Liverpool in 2005. Anthony's cousin David Okoro helped compere the event.

By mid-afternoon some 60,000 people had come through the gates to the event, despite intermittent rain. The political atmosphere was strengthened by the presence of stalls and campaigners from a host of progressive organisations, including trade unions, the Stop the War Coalition and the Left List.

While there was unity against the BNP, there was also debate – especially over wider questions relating to the London elections. Ken Livingstone, the incumbent London mayor and Labour candidate, spoke at the event and urged support for the campaign against the BNP. Many trade union leaders called on people to vote Labour to keep the Tories out.

Critical

But other speakers were more critical of Labour. Lindsey German, the Left List's candidate for mayor, drew cheers for saying, 'This government has done nothing for working people. We need a radical alternative to a Labour Party that has let us down.'

The atmosphere in the park built throughout the afternoon, with acts including British R&B star Jay Sean and leading grime crew Roll Deep. Jay Sean spoke fiercely on stage against racism, talking about how he was 'an Asian man singing black music in a white country'.

After the show he told Socialist Worker, 'I loved it – it was just what I wanted to do, sing songs to my fans, but also broaden it out to people who hadn't heard it. And it was great to speak out on a political level about the need to understand that we all have as much right to be here as anyone else.'

Drew McConnell from Babyshambles, a longstanding LMHR supporter, took to the stage in the late afternoon with his band Helsinki, playing a set involving a series of guest vocalists to replace the Babyshambles' singer Pete Doherty.

These included RAR stalwarts such as Jimmy Pursey, former lead singer of Sham 69, who performed a version of The Clash's 'White Riot'. Poly Styrene, who kicked off the 1978 carnival with her band X-Ray Spex, joined Drew to perform a raucous version of her punk anthem 'Oh Bondage, Up Yours!'.

Speakers including Weyman Bennett from Unite Against Fascism, and Martin Smith and Lee Billingham from LMHR got the crowd chanting anti-BNP slogans as they introduced the final act – The Good, The Bad and The Queen, featuring Damon Albarn and former Clash bassist Paul Simonon, another veteran of the 1978 carnival.

They were joined on stage by the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Jerry Dammers of The Specials, who introduced a series of MCs who had played the carnival that day.

The event ended on a spine-tingling ambient version of The Specials' hit 'Ghost Town', with music by dubstep producer Kode 9 and live vocals from Space Ape.

People left on a high, confident in a multiracial, multicultural Britain and determined to fight back against the fascists. 'The BNP are a real threat in the upcoming elections – but lots of people don't support them,' said Maria from Lewisham. 'Music is a good tactic and a really good way to spread the anti-racist message.'

Her sister Kathleen added, 'If the BNP get elected it will make it so much harder for all the minorities who live here. The BNP are dangerous because they lie about what their policies really are. That's why it's so useful that this carnival is happening now.'


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