Anthony Joseph musician from Trinidad talks about Windrush

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Anthony Joseph musician from Trinidad talks about Windrush


Anthony Joseph is a musician from Trinidad. He tells Subi Shah about how important it is for his children to know about Windrush, the ship bringing immigrants to the UK in 1948.

There’s a problem on the London Underground and I’m late. I arrive at Leicester Square and there is heavy rain, I see people rushing from the rain. A bus has broken down, there is a big problem on the road, and the cars behind are sounding their horns. Then I see him. He is wearing his usual cool hat, he is standing quite still. And he looks cool, he is just relaxing.

Anthony Joseph was born to a teenage mother in Trinidad. His grandparents looked after him from seven months. He describes them as ‘country people, strict and loving’. It’s difficult to describe him so easily. Poet, academic, musician, novelist? I ask him how he describes himself. ‘I’m just a person feeling my way and trying to understand the world.’

He says he began writing because it was so terrible when he was separated from his mother. ‘I was the only child in my grandparents’ house. I had no-one to play with, I started writing poetry. It helped me to understand things. There was always Calypso music playing and I listened to people like The Mighty Sparrow and Lord Kitchener, and I thought “Wow! How these people are using language, to say one thing and mean another!”’

Calypso music is from Trinidad. It has steel drums and double meanings, it says one thing and means another. It is a form of storytelling. I ask Joseph what story he’d most like to tell and to whom? ‘I’d tell my daughters about the experiences of the women of the Windrush. Often reports say “500 men arrived”, but there were 300 women on the ship too. They were on an adventure on their way to England. And they would make a very big contribution to British life. The way you can’t find their story in the history books is a political problem.

‘I think everything is political because everything is about power. For example, the #MeToo Movement, which is big in Trinidad now. It’s about the rights and power of women, but it’s also about the way the people in power should treat women.’

Joseph has worked with many respected names in music, including Me’shell Ndegeocello, and he has written good things about Malala Yousafzai. But some people have criticised him for ‘objectifying women’ in some of his music videos. I ask him about that.

‘We need space so we can give compliments. That’s not the same as harassment. If you take the sexual part from Calypso music, you lose such a big part of it.’

We talk about Joseph’s new book, Kitch, a fictional biography of Calypso musician Lord Kitchener. When the Empire Windrush ship arrived at Tilbury in England in 1948, he played the people waiting a song he wrote on the ship called ‘London is the place for me’.

‘Biography is usually one person’s story about another and that’s not what we are. No-one is what another person thinks of them. No-one knows very much about Kitch, so I tried to fill in the gaps with fictional stories of the people in his life.’

I am not sure Kitch himself would have liked it. Would he have said, OK publish it? He laughs. ‘No way! It doesn’t say very many nice things about him. There are some crazy things in it. I mean his attitude towards Africa and Africans was just so negative! He thought they were savages and refused to even visit.’

‘London is the place for me’ is such a hopeful song, but Kitch’s later songs describe loneliness, cold weather, racism, poor housing, no work. Was he a very simple man who was disappointed? Anthony thinks not. ‘He was a charming man of 26 years, he tried to make the English sweeter.’

I ask him what he thinks about politics in Europe now – especially in terms of cultural identity – and are things different since Lord Kitchener arrived.

‘Politics is more to the Right, yes, but history is long! This is a bad chapter in a long book. I travel a lot around Europe, lecturing and performing. In some of the more rural places I visit, racism is so open that it’s shocking. I was in Spain last weekend and I saw shops selling sweets with golliwogs on the wrappers! It worries me that in 2019 that is still acceptable. I wonder where the protest will come from. Because no people of colour live in those villages, there are no universities in the small towns. But then, I think Brexit has woken young people up about what it means to be European. All the kids who go travelling and on exchange trips and backpacking around Europe are suddenly asking “What the hell is going on?”’

Anthony Joseph’s latest music album is People of the Sun (Heavenly Sweetness, 2018), and his most recent book is Kitch: A fictional biography (Peepal Tree Press, 2018).

You can see him perform at:


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