Hak Baker: ‘The Windrush generation is built on resilience. I see the damage it’s done’
I am a Three Island man. Me mum is Jamaican, me dad is Grenadian, and I was raised on the Isle Of Dogs. The Isle was me corner of the sprawling metropolis that felt like me own, built from strong working-class community bonds. It was an island in an island. As far as I know, the rest of London didn’t feel this way. Perhaps that’s why me mum decided to raise me and me siblings here, because it reminded her of fragments of home. But the perception of the “Motherland” was not the dream sold to me grandparents and parents. The dream was lost when they realised Britain wasn’t “Great”. My gran came over in the Sixties. She was strong as an ox and did heavy-lifting jobs that the men used to do. When she complained about her wage, her manager said if you don’t like it, you can f*** off. And that message raged like fire through the black community. If you don’t like this country, you can f*** off.
My gran had to leave me mum behind in Jamaica. It happened a lot then. They couldn’t afford to raise their kids so they travelled for the first time in their lives, to find something better. But the grass isn’t always greener. The kids left behind would be raised by their grandparents. They had separation anxiety and trauma from a young age. Me mum was definitely traumatised and had a lot of distrust. A whole generation thought they were arriving in a haven and a place that would look after them. At 17 years old me mum moved here, and the dream didn’t weigh up to the reality. She was a Rastafarian. She had a rebellious spirit and loved the land.
The sky is blue and infinite in Jamaica. The sky in Britain is close and grey, smothering and dense. There is an air of distrust that the black community feels, even today, that’s passed down from grandparents to parents. Distrust in the law and distrust in the government and politics. I saw me parents struggling and working two jobs, so you get this brittle context of the world and how it is, very early on. I used to cook me dinners at a very young age. But don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t complain now. Kids are crying blue murder now and they can’t even butter their own bread.
My new single, “Windrush Baby”, features a voice note from me mum. She talks about the values lost within the black community. Their antiquated values were simple, mannered and polite. They would not dare steal a thing. They had a fear of shame. Jamaicans were quite conservative; their crockery is old English, their wallpaper is old English. You can see British rule and the Empire in the smallest details in the home. Brick by brick, the home informs politics outside the home.
The Empire gave Jamaicans a sense of pride and a feeling that the Queen was their monarch. They would sing the national anthem before and after watching a film at the cinema. I feel it was an island brainwashed into submission of an institution that they felt indebted to. But at the same time, Jamaicans have an unfiltered proudness of their being and their history. We raged war on the island for our freedom and were the first Caribbean country where the English came and offered a treaty for a piece of Jamaica where we could be free. It was named “Mooretown”, of the Jamaican Maroons in the Blue Mountains area of the Island. I feel an affinity with the rebels, which lives through the protest music I’ve been making for years.
Me grandparents’ environment was a complete contrast to mine. I would run riot on the Isle of Dogs with me big sister as me sworn guardian and teacher. We didn’t have the same love for the monarch. F*** that. Windrush for me is built on resilience. I’ve seen me parents come over and do what they needed to do in order to help me do what I want to do. But I see the damage Windrush has done. My gran was sold the dream of the Empire that was unquestioned. But me mum was more of a rebellious spirit like me. Our rebellious spirit now manifests in wanting to go back to Jamaica, and return money to our community.
I am in me happy place in Jamaica. Me friend has just gone back to Guyana and text me and the lads: “How did you feel when you went back to Jamaica? Did it feel like a home or a holiday?” He wrote: “I was barefoot going through bushes with a torch in Guyana, I felt at peace.” Taylor wrote: “I felt at home when we went to Leon’s grandma’s house and listened to the crickets”. Leon wrote: “At peace.” Taylor replied: “Reborn.” I haven’t replied yet. I need to digest me feelings, but maybe that’s what I’m doing whilst penning this essay. When you go back to Jamaica or where you’re from, there’s a magnetism to everything that you miss and didn’t know that you even have. I have a lot of family that has come to Britain and stayed here, but the third generation wants to go back and we want to put our money back into the Jamaican economy.
Britain isn’t me Motherland. Maybe it’s me Fatherland? I haven’t been to Grenada, which is shameless. Me dad’s gifts to me are words and prose. I don’t know if this is common in the Grenadian spirit but I must find out, me curiosity orders me to. But I have always felt an instant affinity with Jamaica. I was brought up with me mum, and me mum is a fire-breathing Jamaican. I can’t disassociate myself with it. Even though being a London boy is me, Jamaican culture is so entrenched in British culture, so it’s a double whammy. I was educated by the music and art that I saw in my house growing up. It’s in my soul. In my living room there were two pictures of Bob Marley and one of Nelson Mandela. I listened to Bob all the time. Sang me mum “Redemption Song” in the bath. Jamaica was the music. Bob encapsulated the spirit of Jamaica. The rebel lives through us.
What does Windrush mean to me? Don’t get me wrong, if me parents didn’t travel to Britain, I wouldn’t be alive. I wouldn’t know any of me mates and I wouldn’t be living the life I am today, mixing with the people I am mixing with. Me friends are multi-cultural and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We learn from each other and go crazy together. Our generation is reaping the benefits from being raised in London now. But racism still exists. My generation was lucky. Kids played with other kids, no matter of race or religion. But this was a bubble in the East End. Me mum always told me to be careful and watch out for the BNP. I got called a “coon” a couple of times, but I survived it. And when that happened me white friends would fight for me.
I’ve definitely got a hardened shell for bad news. Me mum got fired from her job because she was working two jobs. When you watch that happen it affects you and it affects the household. There is less money but it gives you a get up and go attitude. You go and seek money because you want to help mum and don’t want to take money off mum. People came over here for material wealth, at the expense of emotional wealth. But now everybody misses the emotional wealth. It was a lie. You work two jobs and get fired and struggle on the poverty line. We lost out on both. “I’ve done everything you told me to, Empire, to support my family, and you’ve given me nothing in return”.
“Windrush Baby” is about not being told what to do. I’m alive just to have a good time. I’m not working to live like me mum and grandparents. I want to enjoy myself through the skills I have learnt from them and London. I’m not trying to be like them, not in a bad way, but we are a new generation who wants to bring the power and money back to the Caribbean as a whole and we’re going to have a f***ing good time doing it. We’re not going to sit, beg and borrow, we’re gonna go out and get it and have a laugh. That’s how I tie it up, from the perils and the heartache of what me family have had to go through, the new generation is not going out like that. We’re not going to die with no money in our bank, not going to die with no house that we own. We are going to have it all. Thank you for teaching us the law of the land and how treacherous it. Now we have all the weapons we need to succeed and we’re going to learn and teach in the right way, not the barbarian-ship and hardship that the Empire taught and showed.
We’re going to grow some s*** and make some s***. We’re going to be successful and turn the Windrush story into a success story. We won’t cry. Now we are building our house on the land that was given to me mum by her mum in Jamaica. Me mum wanted me to be a lawyer and a doctor. I’m none of those things. I’m a singer now. She taught me spirit and soul and let me know who me people were from the get go. We weren’t just slaves. We learnt how to survive through the music, through roots reggae, and learnt who we were before slavery.
Mic drop? Nah, I could never let the mic drop. It’s me job now!
Hak Baker’s new single “Windrush Baby” is out now and he has just announced his debut album “World End FM” out on 9 June. Tickets for his UK and Europe tour are on sale 6 April