Places and love letters

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In the distant past there were artists of African and Caribbean heritage who did a lot to mythologize unsung parts of London for having relatively bleak ways of life. I’m not an ardent Grime follower, so I’m uncertain if much is expressed about those districts nowadays, but I think it is a pity that there seem to be few memorable love letters to Harlesden, White Hart Lane, Lewisham or even Peckham.

Those with the wherewithal to leave those areas are very quick to move to apartments in Chelsea, only to complain about being profiled by law enforcement agents who regard them as interlopers or burglars when they see them entering their expensive homes.

How would we have known about the frontline, barrier block and other racy parts of Brixton if the bards and singers who were young in the 1970s didn’t mention them in their songs? Why hasn’t the change of circumstances in Dalston been written about, for posterity?

Elmina’s Kitchen stands out in recent times for putting Chatsworth Road on the cultural map. I’ve met American performers who have done several jobs in US theatres based on their awareness of vague undercurrents that run through the lives of Black Londoners, because that play was written.

In any case, visual and literary artists shouldn’t be let off the hook. These are the surroundings that many of us grew up in or emerged as young adults. Singers, musicians and other performing artists are not the only ones who ought to create symbols of the places where we live. Are we missing a trick in this case?