Brixton: a cultural and intellectual powerhouse of London
|Photo by Deborah Jaffe|
One of the advantages we, immigrants, have when relocating to another country, at least at the start, is a lack of awareness of codes. By this I mean that we are not conscious of local prejudices and hang-ups. The urban geography we slowly become acquainted with is just that: new territories to discover and new names to learn.
That’s how I found out about Brixton and its (unjustly deserved, in my opinion) bad reputation. In my early days at the travel agency where I worked for more than half a decade, I once mentioned to a colleague where I was planning to go later on that evening. He looked at me as if I’d just sworn at a client on the phone. Brixton? Are you mad? Do you want to get knifed?
Irony of ironies. My colleague (London-born and nearby Kilburn-dwelling) came from Irish stock and in years to come he’d relate to me tales of his parents (both from Northern Ireland) and the animosity and discrimination they faced when they arrived in the British capital. Yet, here he was, repeating the cycle. A cycle whose meaning I couldn’t grasp at the time but which was already making me curious.
Of course, I went to Brixton that night. As days turned into years and years turned into a couple of decades, I came to fall in love with SW9. I may live north of the river and hang out mainly in east London, but there’s something about Brixton that lures me back. It’s the crazy, organic and hard-to-define cultural and intellectual mix the place has to offer.
I saw a post-Baduizm but pre-New Amerykah Part One Erykah Badu at Brixton Academy (before it became O2 Brixton Academy) in the early noughties. I’ve raved to anyone who will listen about Fish, Wings and Tings, one of the top street food joints, not just in London, but probably in the country (pre-pandemic I’d already been to the place about half a dozen times. I can’t wait to go back). I danced my head off to the beat of master percussionist Kevin Haynes’ batá drums outside Habesha, an Ethiopian restaurant in Brixton Village on a sultry summer evening a few years ago.
At Pop Brixton I enjoyed an excellent dance-heavy set by the bandleader, pianist and producer Eliane Correa’s band, Wara, in the summer of 2018. And at the Electric in 2017, I was reunited with the music of one of my salsa heroes: Isaac Delgado. Along the way from that evening in the late 90s up to now, I’ve caught up with the history of the place. From the controversial sus laws to the Brixton riots, I’ve been filling up the gaps my university degree never addressed.
In the summer of 2015 when I embarked on a three-market bicycle tour (Borough, Brixton and Portobello), it was in the second one where I stopped and spent more time. Whether speaking in Spanish to the many Latin Americans who have stalls or work in the area, or waxing lyrical with the elders on Brixton Station Road, this was me taking full advantage of the culture London had to offer. The difference was that this time around I was aware of the code system. And I didn’t give two monkeys.
So, piece of advice for any fellow immigrant newly arrived in London. Go wherever the hell you want to go. Codes are meant to be broken and postcodes to be travelled through. You could even start in SW9. I know it will welcome you with open arms.
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