HEARTLESS CREW are one of the leading acts behind the Anti Nazi League's Love Music Hate Racism organisation. They played at the carnival in Manchester in September and at the London launch party on Friday last week.
Fonti from Heartless took time out last week from recording a new album to talk to me about racism, politics and the musical phenomenon of UK garage: 'Garage is quite a broad term that covers a lot of different styles. The type of garage that we play evolved from US house music initially, but this is a UK sound. You won't hear this particular style being performed outside the UK. It is an underground style that represents what the streets are saying. There are echoes of hip-hop, reggae, socca, calypso and soul in garage. By and large, the people who are making garage, their parents are from Jamaica.'
Fonti feels that the hopes and fears of young people from Britain's inner cities don't get any recognition, but that garage can provide them with a voice: 'When you write a lyric and perform it and people in the audience start nodding their heads, you know you are communicating.'
But garage has been a target of the mainstream press who associate the music with a culture of gang violence, drugs and crime. Fonti agrees that the garage scene suffers from the actions of a violent minority but is tired of having to defend his music: 'It's not the music that causes the crime. All those people who are into garage, who have no connection to crime, they've been slapped in the face. Both the people and the music are being stereotyped by the media. They want to point the finger so they can say, 'Let's not have any more garage music because it causes crime.' Most of these people are not even taking the time to listen to the music.'
Garage MCs talk about issues that affect inner city youth, and in particular black youth - and sometimes what they say doesn't make for comfortable listening.
'Certain people in high places choose not to listen to people who are screaming out from the underground, so they always try and suppress it. They would rather do that than look at the problems and give a solution. Black youth are being suppressed by the police, the media and the government. When they get into school they are categorised and sometimes put in special classes. But the classes never help you - it's like the way that jails only breed more criminals. School should be a learning experience. But for a lot of black youth it isn't, and they are really glad when they can leave.'
Like most people, Fonti would not describe himself as a political person, but the increasingly violent and unequal world around him continues to shock him into very political conclusions:
'In this world people only care for you if you've got money. It's like there are two worlds. The world I live in is on fire and nobody even recognises it.' Anger about the state of the world does not always lead people to fight those who are responsible for their problems. Sometimes other victims of the system can be targeted.
Much urban music is plagued by an attitude towards women and gay people that is derogatory. Garage is not an exception. In videos and lyrics women often appear as sex objects, like they are just another gold chain to an overblown rapper.
Fonti feels that this is a problem: 'Every day when you turn on the TV or look in the paper it's what you see. When you look at American music, naked women is all that it shows you. It never shows you a guy who respects his girl or anything like that. It encourages people to think that you can say whatever you want to a woman.'
Fonti and I talk about whether there is a difference between an MC talking about sex and an MC who is being sexist. He says he thinks the way some women dress and react is partly to blame. This idea exists not just in the garage scene but among a lot of young people getting involved in politics.
However, this view is not something I would agree with. Fonti does acknowledge that things may be beginning to change with the rise of artists like Ms Dynamite.
I tell Fonti that I hate MCs who attack gay people and those who have rapped about shooting gay people and he agrees: 'There is no reason why anyone should say that gay people should be hurt. If one of my brethren said things like that, then I would say something to them. A microphone gives you great power, so you've got say things that are positive.'
Being positive and having an increasing desire to explore how music can lead to social change have led Heartless Crew into making a commitment to Love Music Hate Racism. 'We got a real buzz out of doing the carnival. It was the first time we'd done anything like that,' says Fonti. 'The audience was very racially mixed and very young. But inside the garage scene it does feel as if we are standing alone at the moment. Sometimes you need someone to make the first move to see how much people agree with you. I know that we've got a lot of new crews on our label who are pushing the same message as us - anti-racism and being against violence.'
For more information go to www.lmhr.org.uk
Mood music against war
A DOUBLE CD of anti-war songs has been organised by the Stop the War Coalition, which mobilised over 400,000 people for the anti-war march in London in September.
Peace Not War is a diverse collection of songs in different music styles. The contributors include Public Enemy, Billy Bragg, Ms Dynamite, Massive Attack, Nitin Sawhney, and many others. You can hear some of the music by going to the www.peace-not-war.org website. All proceeds will go to the Stop the War Coalition and similar organisations in other countries to help them continue their anti-war activities.
The CD is available from mainstream record shops like HMV and Virgin. Local Stop the War groups will also be selling it. It costs £15 including postage and packing. For more information go to www.stopwar.org.uk or phone 07789 991 591.