Corinne Bailey-Rae's father went over to the United Kingdom in the 60s as part of the Windrush generation. Here the British musician talks of growing up in Leeds in her British-Caribbean family.
31 Octubre 2018 15:53
My heritage definitely affected my music, because it’s given me an outsider perspective. I was a woman from a working class family who was outside the accepted feminine beauty standards of the time – a black girl who was skinny with afro hair. It made me identify with punk and indie music, to find those individual, expressive voices who were shaking things up. I delved into African American music as I saw it as the poetic expression of black excellence that I had been searching for. It shows in the graceful pioneers – like Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, or Miles Davis.
I enjoy playing festivals in the Caribbean, but I’m definitely seen as a little bit of an anomaly. I embrace that because I’m never going to be this voluptuous Caribbean woman with braids down my back, speaking patois or singing reggae. I do feel like there’s a part of me that doesn’t feel ‘authentically’ Caribbean, because I’ve been brought up in the UK and because my mum is white. I’ve always felt open to being teased in that world.
The literary side of Caribbean culture has been a big ‘way in’ for me in terms of exploring my identity, and the more I explored the multi-faceted nature of Caribbean expression and the further I moved from a surface, stereotyped reading, the more I felt at home with my Caribbean-ness. Caribbean voices, like Linton Kwesi-Johnson, burrow into post colonialism, Caribbean identity and how it engages with Britishness. My dad represents that reality as well; in that he is a deep-thinking introvert – a computer guy who is interested in maths. He was my first example of blackness. He has an elegance that I know to be Caribbean, though it flies in the face of the image of the Caribbean man as the ‘jovial party person’ that we are still fed in wider culture.
My mum made it her work to raise us in black culture. She met my dad when she was 17 and they got married when she was 19. She fit well into my dad’s family and went out dancing to Blues clubs with him and his sisters when they first got together in Leeds. We went to Carnival every year (Leeds West Indian Carnival is the oldest in Europe), and deconstructed everything we saw on T.V. I studied English Literature at Leeds University, and both my mum and I have read all Toni Morrison’s and Alice Walker’s novels, as well as masses of black literature; it is one of our favourite shared pastimes to discuss this work. Mum read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race before me which, if you know her, is typical! I think it’s brilliant. It’s your duty to culturally engage if you have a child who has a different ethnicity to you and it’s always been really great to have a parent who knows that. She’s what people might call an ‘ally’.
If I had had a racist experience at school, I would more likely have gone to my mum and said ‘This thing happened’ or ‘This person called me that’, and we would talk through it. She felt more approachable because I didn’t want to burden or sadden my dad, I wanted to insulate him from it.
Obviously I learnt more about my blackness in a soulful and direct way from just being around my dad, and his way of existing. There’s a very dignified aura to my family, which I really associate with the Caribbean. He was certainly brought up around colourism and pigmentocracy, but St. Kitts was, nevertheless, a black majority culture. The policeman was black, the judge was black and the teachers were black. The bank tellers, and the shopkeepers, and the green grocer reflected him. Even though when my family came to England they faced prejudice, I don’t think it was deeply internalised by them because they always had the Caribbean to refer to as place of black independence.
This is an extract from Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and published by Headline.