April 6, 2009
by Kuljit Bhamra
The Southall Story is a project in celebration of a town that has welcomed new communities throughout the last century, enabling them to excel and influence both the social and political structures of this country.
Southall is also a place that has come to be affectionately known as Little India, but for many it is much more than that. Being a port, (Heathrow is a stones throw away), Southall has been a home to such diverse groups as the West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis in the 50′s through to the Ugandan Asians in the 70′s. Most recently, new arrivals include Sikhs from Afghanistan and Somalians.
These settlements invariably have influenced and shaped Southall. Pivotal moments such as the racist murder of teenager Gurdip Singh Chaggar in 1976 followed closely to the killing of the teacher, Blair Peach in the Southall Riots in 1979, meant that as a community issues of race and gender could no longer be avoided.
The riots of 1979 led to the birth of Southall Monitoring Group whose work with victims of racial attacks and police brutality reached international recognition. Another prominent group that was also formed in the aftermath of the riots was Southall Black Sisters who have also gone onto to become an internationally acclaim organisation, recognised for their work with Black and ethnic minority women. Creative organisations such as the Progressive Writers Association found a new lease of life and set about encouraging secular writings in South Asian languages, particularly Punjabi.
Also, in the wake of the riot, two gangs – the Holy Smoke and the Tooti Nangs; Tooti Nangs were solely made-up of Jat Sikhs and aspired to traditional Asian lives where as the Holy Smokes were a gang made up of various religious and caste, aspiring to be inclusive. The gangs took on a vigil-anti approach to protecting their territories and fought the Racists and each other in brutal and bloody fights, creating a powerful presence.
The strong presence of the anti-racist movement that had built up over the years prior to the riot in Southall pulled in already existing groups such as People’s Unite and their reggae band ‘Misty in Roots’, trade unions and so on. Working separately, Tooti Nangs, Holy Smoke, Southall Black Sisters, Southall Monitoring Group and People’s Unite and many others set about impacting the social and cultural fabric of the community, each creating a radical and at times volcanic presence, causing imminent change to the image of the passive Asian.
In addition, the riots also lifted the veil on the British Asian cultural contribution to poetry, literature, music, theatre and cinema. This resulted directly in giving us the cultural hub that we recognise today along with the creation of contemporary Bhangra by Southall based producers such as Kuljit Bhamra & Raju, together with bands such as Premi, Heera and Alaap. Suddenly, Southall became home to a plethora of new record labels such as Savera Investments (later Multitone Records), Audiorec, T Series, Gem Promotions and His Masters Voice (India), all looking to exploit the new local and national talent. Specialist record shops blossomed and all eyes were on the new music scene.
The aim of The Southall Story is to create an archival, oral and visual documentation reflecting a dynamic heritage. The project’s journey will see a variety of exhibitions, events, film documentaries and sharings taking place throughout 2009, culminating in a publication of a book and DVD.
The project’s mission is to create a long-term sustainable presence by creating a dynamic debate that will be both inspiring and thought-provoking. With a special focus on work in schools, colleges and youth groups, its aim is to bring in the current generation’s view point to engage, explore and embrace this history.
Our sole purpose is to create a popular platform that will propel the story of Southall onto a national stage, with the aim of penetrating the consciousness of the British public.
The project is headed by myself, and Creative Directors Shakila Taranum Maan and Ammy Phull.
Launch: on 24th April 2009 at Dominion Centre, 7pm onwards.
Speakers: Gurinder Chadha, Pragna Patel, Kuljit Bhamra and The Progressive Writers Association.
For a full list of events, go to the website at www.thesouthallstory.com
Partners include: The South Bank, The British Library, The National Geographical Society, The Progressive Writers Association, Southall Black Sisters, The Southall Library, Glassy Junction, TKC and many more.
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