“I Have a Song” for the African & Caribbean Memorial

| March 7, 2016

After many years of dedicated and focused work, the African and Caribbean Memorial conceived by the Nubian Jak Community Trust is finally presented to the public at large for support through a grand launch at the Houses of Parliament, Palace of Westminster.

Hosts Jay Mastin and Nairobi Thompson. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Hosts Jay Mastin and Nairobi Thompson. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Central to the objective of the launch was to raise funds for the erection of a Commonwealth War Memorial in the United Kingdom dedicated to African and Caribbean service men and women of both World Wars. The main vehicle for raising the much needed funds for the Commonwealth War Memorial is a song produced by Jak Beulah (Nubian Jak) and multi Grammy Award nominated artist, Eric Roberson, entitled I Have a Song.

(L-r) Major Larry Davis, Allan Wilmott, Baroness Howells and Nubian Jak. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

(L-r) Major Larry Davis, Allan Wilmott, Baroness Howells and Nubian Jak. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

This event, held on Friday 26th February was presided over by African and Caribbean Memorial patron, Baroness Ros Howells of St David’s and attended by several distinguished guests and dignitaries including Minister Counsellor for Antigua and Barbuda High Commission. Also in attendance were World War II veteran Allan Wilmott who enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of 16 in 1941 and joined the RAF Sea and Rescue Service two years later; and Major Larry Davis who presently serves in the Army Reserves 7 Rifles and is also a deputy headteacher at Southfields Academy.

AC Memorial patron, Baroness Howells addressing a packed room. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

AC Memorial patron, Baroness Howells addressing a packed room. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Ably hosted by the personable poet Nairobi Thompson and her co-host Jay Mastin, board member Nubian Jak Community Trust, guests and journalists including London Live, The Voice, CaribDirect Multi-Media and others welcomed AC Memorial patron Baroness Howells. The Baroness spoke of her pride to be associated with the project to install the African and Caribbean Commonwealth War Memorial, the very first War Memorial of its kind in Europe. She recounted her experience as a Black person living in the UK in the 50s and 60s when white folks regarded their ‘guests’ from Africa and the Caribbean as less than human by referencing the immortal phrase, ‘ No Irish No Blacks No Dogs’. The Baroness concedes race relations have come a long way in Britain and remarked that in spite of the presence of racism in the United Kingdom today, Queen Elizabeth II makes a point to contribute substantially, albeit anonymously, to Caribbean territories struck by natural and other disasters, to show her never ending appreciation for the former and present subjects of the British Empire.

A proud Nubian Jak appeals for generous donations. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

A proud Nubian Jak appeals for generous donations. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

The affable Nubian Jak wasted no time in ushering the audience through a fast-paced tour of the many locations of conspicuous Nubian Jak memorial plaques dotted across the United Kingdom commemorating the lives of stalwarts such as Bob Marley, Pete Robinson, Dennis Brown, Bernie Grant, Amy Garvey and many others. This is an exercise the Nubian Jak Community Trust takes tremendous pride in as they recognize the lasting legacy this effort leaves for the African and Caribbean community in Britain. The Trust plans to publish a book outlining the several locations of these plaques that will allow persons to walk the route.

Veteran Alan Wilmott speaks of the difficulties experienced as a Black soldier in WWII. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Veteran Allan Wilmott speaks of the difficulties experienced as a Black soldier in WWII. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

World War II veteran Allan Wilmott was all in smiles and extremely ‘happy’ to be alive at this important time in the history of the Black experience in the UK. He said for many years he was sad about the fact that the service he and many African and Caribbean servicemen and women made for ‘King and Country’ was never properly recognized and many have died, or as he eloquently put it, ‘Gone to the promise land’ without the slightest hope that their sacrifice would be recorded and displayed for the world to see, in perpetuity. Veteran Wilmott who has met the Queen four times said his white combatants were treated to a heroes welcome after the war but Black soldiers got nothing and usually fell on hard times as there was no financial or other support for them; they were basically abandoned.

Major Larry Davis responding to question from audience about lessons learned from WWII. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Major Larry Davis responding to question from audience about lessons learned from WWII. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Ninety-one year old Veteran Wilmott, who starred in the video of the Memorial Aid song I Have a Song as Nubian Jak’s dad says the Nubian Jak Community Trust has made him a happy man and he knows his fallen comrades would be deeply appreciative of the installation of the Commonwealth War Memorial this year. He made special mention about the Polish fighters that were instrumental in helping the Allies win WWII, something that is not widely known or taught in Britain.

The effervescent Kesheniwa Aghaji outlines the back story of the Memorial Aid song. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

The effervescent Kesheniwa Aghaji outlines the back story of the Memorial Aid song. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Army Major, Davis who served two tours in Kosovo and Iraq, 11 and 10 months respectively, was extremely pleased with the Commonwealth War Memorial initiative. He endorsed veteran Alan Wilmott’s comments about the need to recognize the sacrifices of not only Black soldiers but all ethnic groups that serve in the discipline services. When asked by a member of the audience about the lessons learnt from fighting fascism in the World War II given the current level of race relations in Britain, Black deaths in police custody and disproportionate austerity on Black neighbourhoods he said, ‘ I don’t speak for the army but I can say that I hope lessons have been learnt and that these matters are being addressed in schools to ensure such oppressive attitudes don’t continue.

Distinguished guests including Minister Counselor for Antigua and Barbuda Althea Vanderpoole-Banahene, second from right. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Distinguished guests including Minister Counselor for Antigua and Barbuda Althea Vanderpoole-Banahene, second from right. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Kesheniwa Aghaji, director, African and Caribbean Memorial took time to outline the back story of ‘ragbop’ a word coined by Nubian Jak to embody the many musical elements co-opted to create the Memorial Aid song produced by Nubian Jak’s Memorial Aid Project featuring a host of artists from the world of Reggae, Hip Hop, Afro Beat and World Music. The Single is available on general release (see itunes, Spotify, and main digital vendors). HRH Prince Charles has been invited to unveil the African and Caribbean Commonwealth War Memorial on Wednesday 22nd June 2016 which incidentally is National Windrush Day.

Margaret Busby (Left), Board Member of Nubian Jak Community Trust. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Margaret Busby (Left), Board Member of Nubian Jak Community Trust. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

The poem ‘If we must die’ by Jamaican poet Claude McKay alleged to have been made famous by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Second World War was read by Nairobi Thompson.

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Poet Claude McKay. Photo courtesy histsociety.blogspot.com

Poet Claude McKay. Photo courtesy histsociety.blogspot.com

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

All were treated to a showing of the video of I Have a Song which received unanimous applause and commendations. The evening ended with all partaking in refreshments and engaging in networking. Article and photographs by David F. Roberts

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