Windrush 75: an extract from Verbal Riddim

Introducing Verbal Riddim, the first major collection of dub poetry.

Introducing the first major collection of dub poetry.

75 years ago, HMT Empire Windrush arrived in the UK, bringing with it not just a migration of people, but also a fledgling cultural movement that would become a powerful creative force: dub poetry. This poetic form gave marginalised people across the diaspora a voice for their anger, defiance and creativity, and would continue to for decades to come.

To mark this anniversary, we are sharing a poem extracted from Verbal Riddim, published by Vintage Classics, which brings together for the first time the works of dub poets including Benjamin Zephaniah, Oku Onuora and Mikey Smith in a major collection.

An extract from the audiobook, narrated by Seroca Davis and Gavin Dunn

The Men from Jamaica Are Settling Down
Benjamin Zephaniah

From de land of wood an water
Came they to where de air waz cold,
Dem come to work wid bricks an mortar
They heard de streets were paved wid gold,
From de land of fish an ackee
To de land of fish an chips came they,
Touching on a new reality
Where de sky waz white an grey.

Came they to here wid countless dreams
Came they to here wid countless fears,
In dis drama of many themes
Each one of dem were pioneers,
Each one of dem a living witness
Each one of dem truly profound,
A newspaper said people hear dis
The men from Jamaica are settling down.

The men from Jamaica had come wid their music
The men from Jamaica had come wid their vibe
The men from Jamaica had come wid their prophets
To help keep their past an their future alive,
So to de great future they went dedicated
De great mother country waz begging for more,
De prophets had warned it may get complicated
They said dat there waz no equality law.

There waz no ackee an there waz no salt fish
There waz no star apple an no callaoo,
Soon there waz no time to dream, wonder or wish
There waz so much community building to do,
An back in Jamaica they waited for letters
Where there were no letters, rumours were abound,
But de newspaper said it was going to get better
The men from Jamaica are settling down.

They went to de foundries, they went to de factories
They went to de cities these true country folk,
An when they got down to de true nitty gritty
These true country lungs were soon covered wid smoke,
Some dreamt of Jamaica, some dreamt of their wives
Some dreamt of returning to bring something home,
Some prayed to de God, an they asked de God why
The men from Jamaica should struggle alone.

De struggle waz human, de struggle waz being
De struggle waz charting uncharted territory,
De struggle waz opening up an then seeing
De struggle ahead for de community,
De struggle waz knowing de here an de now
An what kind of struggles were now to be found,
Still nobody knew just exactly how
The men from Jamaica were settling down.

Officially four hundred an ninety-two came
On June twenty-one nineteen forty-eight,
But officials were playing a false numbers game
Now it’s up to de people to put records straight,
We now know there were more than eight stowaways
An now we know women amongst dem were found,
Still a newspaper said after just a few days
That the men from Jamaica were settling down.

We know that there were other lands represented
An de women survived just as well as de men,
An we know that our history will be re-invented
If we do not write truthfully wid de Black pen,
Consider de struggles that took place before us
Tune into de bygone an try to relate
To the brave folk that came on de Empire Windrush
On June twenty one nineteen forty-eight.

Soon there were more ships, an more ships an more ships
Peopled wid colourful Caribbean folk,
Men, women an children were making these trips
Each one of dem carrying ship loads of hope,
From all of de islands they came to dis island
De National Health Service waz so welcoming
An de movietone voice said that things were quite grand
As the men from Jamaica were settling in.

Dis waz de new world, dis waz de white world,
Dis waz de world they had been fighting for,
Dis they were told waz de righteous an free world
Dis waz de reason they had gone to war,
Dis waz de land of de hope an de glory
Dis waz de land of pleasant pastures green,
Dis waz de royal land, dis waz democracy
Where many Jamaicans were proud to be seen.

But it did not take long for de racists an fascists
To show ugly heads as de wicked will do,
Quite soon de arrivants had learnt to resist
An quite soon they were dealing wid subjects taboo,
Blacks in de unions, blacks in de dances
Whites wid black neighbours an black civil rights,
The men from Jamaica were taking no chances
The men from Jamaica were not turning white.

Race riots in Notting Hill Gate said de headline
De cameras were there as de flames burnt about,
De fighters for race were establishing front lines
As de great British welcome just seemed to fall out,
Race riots in Nottingham City an Bristol
Race riots in Cardiff an sweet Camden Town,
De newspapers said it was dreadful an shameful
But the men from Jamaica were settling down.

The men from Jamaica would not die in silence
The men from Jamaica just got radical,
To counter de negative Teddy Boy violence
They created blues dances an carnival,
The men from Jamaica were steadfast an growing
Despite Commonwealth immigration controls,
They learnt a few lessons an soon they were knowing
That there were no streets paved wid silver or gold.

A new generation rose up from these fighters
A new generation wid roots everywhere,
A new generation of buildings an writers
A new generation wid built in No Fear,
They too fought de Nazis, they too put out fires
They too want to broaden their vision an scope,
They too need fresh water for burning desires
The men from Jamaica are so full of hope.

De future is not made of ships anymore
De future is made up of what we can do,
We still haven’t got all that freedom galore
An there’s all those ambitions that we muss pursue,
De past is a place that is ours for all time
There are many discoveries there to be made,
An if you are happily towing de line
Be aware of de price your ancestors have paid.

Black pioneers came on de Empire Windrush
On June twenty-one nineteen forty-eight,
These souls were titanic, these minds were adventurous
They came from de sunshine to participate,
They are de leaders, they are de home makers
They have been upfront since their ship came aground,
But in-between lines you’ll still read in de papers
The men from Jamaica are settling down.

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