Where comes to mind when you think of the world’s great cities? For most people, London and New York would be two of the obvious candidates. Often directly compared to each other, both are truly international, diverse metropolises. The only two cities characterized as Alpha++ by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network, they are powerhouses leading the way globally in areas ranging from financial and legal services to nightlife. Although only one of the cities truly never sleeps, there is a relentlessness about both that you just don’t find elsewhere. As a native Londoner, New York immediately feels familiar, and as much as I hate to admit it, I love New York. Even though, as an outsider, New York appears to embody many of the things I hate most about London; it is more disconnected, shallower, more expensive, more gimmicky, and more ruthless, for some reason, I just can’t get enough of it. I guess that ultimately, New York, to me, feels like London, except I haven't lived there my whole life, so it feels new and exciting. One of the things I love most about New York, and that it shares with London is its large Jamaican population. New York is one of those places every Londoner of Jamaican descent has family at.
However, while contemporary New York feels like a city where the direct Jamaican influence is still very strong, the situation feels very different in London. The direct Jamaican influence on London appears to have waned dramatically in recent times.
Picture London in the 1990s in Harlesden, Brixton, Hackney, or any other area with a substantial Jamaican population. Along with the plantains and green bananas in the market and the patties and Guinness punch in the food shops, also noticeable would be the audible sound of Patois. From the man selling (and blasting out) the latest sound tapes to the bus driver in full uniform running jokes with his bredrins about the ‘bad-breed’ pickney who keep ringing the bell on his bus to the grandma that has stopped to talk to her friends to tell them how her foot dem ah 'urt ‘er and how tings dem get so dear inna di shop as her grandchildren wait impatiently to get home to watch cartoons, the sound of patois was as common in the air in 1990s London as the stench of piss in the lift or the pungent smell of high grade outside big people dances.
Returning to the present, we all know that gentrification has ripped the heart out of London’s black communities, with areas that previously had large Jamaican populations being particularly affected. Walk around Brixton or Dalston, and you're more likely to hear an expensively schooled Home Counties accent than you are to hear a Jamaican one. Read more