The “World City”: London’s Evolving Cultural Community:

How many languages do you think are spoken in the UK capital? Walking down Charing Cross Road or sitting by a fountain in Trafalgar Square at any time of the day or evening, you’d probably conclude that the total must be several hundred. And you’d be correct. The “london.gov.uk” website estimates the figure at “over 300”. Dr Ed Baxter, Director of “Radio Resonance 104.4FM (“the world’s first radio art station, established by the London Musicians’ Collective”), believes it’s far more – at least 350. Data published by the ONS (Office For National Statistics) and derived from the 2011 Census for England & Wales, has indicated that (apart from English), Polish is at No.1 in London’s “top ten”, followed by Bengali, Gujarati, French, Urdu, Portuguese, Turkish, Spanish, Arabic and Tamil.

The “London Evening Standard”, also quoting information released by the Census, has noted that just “45% of the capital’s 8.2 million population classify themselves as ‘white Britons’, compared to 58% in 2001 and that their numbers are down from 4.3 million then to 3.7 million now, even though the number of people living in the capital has increased by nearly one million during that period. The next largest ethnic groups are Asian (18%, 1.5 million residents), Africans, black Britons and those from the Caribbean (13%, 1.1 million), “white other” (such as Europeans) also at 13%, “mixed race” (5%, 405,000), Arabs (1.3%), “other ethnicities” (2%). The capital (emphasizes london.gov.uk) “is truly the world under one roof with more than 40 communities of people born outside Britain”.

So where do they all live? A list of 100 locations, in alphabetical order, can be accessed on the Guardian newspaper’s website. Among the examples provided are: Spanish /Portuguese – Portobello Road/Ladbroke Grove; Colombians /Ecuadorians (Elephant & Castle), Iranians (High Street Kensington/Queensway), Bangladeshis (Brick Lane/Spitalfields), Lebanese/Arabs (Edgware Road), Somalis (Crystal Palace, Kentish Town, Stratford, Wapping), Turkish (Edmonton, Stoke Newington, Walthamstow), West Africans (Peckham, New Cross, Woolwich, Plumstead).

The Guardian has also pointed out that “there can now be found high concentrations of Sri Lankans in the south (New Malden, Mitcham), Sikhs in the west (Southall, Hounslow), Hindu Indians in the north-west (Wembley, Harrow), Greek Cypriots in the north (Southgate, Palmers Green) and that New Malden in south London has the largest expatriate community of South Koreans in Europe”.

The declared mission of the “Cultural Co-Operation” organization (based near Tower Bridge) is to “promote intercultural dialogue and understanding between the wide range of diasporas based in the capital”. Their aim is to “harness the power of creativity to transcend hostility, establish common ground between people of diverse origins and encourage co-operation and tolerance. They describe themselves as “stubborn optimists” and feel that an important part of their role is to counter what they see as the media and politicians’ interest in “dividing ethnic groups and making them feel they have to box themselves into different camps”.

Cultural Co-operation (CC) started in 1987 to “deliver high-quality popular engagement with the world’s cultures” when the funding for the Commonwealth Institute’s arts activities was withdrawn.  The founder, Prakash Daswani, together with his programming partner Robert Atkins, decided to “take the idea of the music village and host it in street festivals and parks in London”. The current Interim Executive Director, Selina Papa and the Programme & Operations Manager, Leah Cowan, emphasize that the evolution of the festival themes encapsulate just how much London has changed over the intervening period. “In the beginning, the festivals were very culturally specific: Ethiopia one year, Papua New Guinea the next. The “Diaspora/ World City” idea emerged in 2002: It was a “natural fit “ for Cultural Co-Operation.

This year’s event, the “World City Music Village” Festival, took place in  Osterley Park on 28th and 29th June and featured bands such as the 5-piece Greek “Pakaw!”, the Caribbean “Melodians Steel Orchestra” and the all-girl Andean folk group “Warmi”. The second part of this “Celebration of Cosmopolitan London at its Creative Best” was held at Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End from the 5th-6th July.  Among the participants were the Bulgarian “Perunika Trio”, the Zambian “Namvula” and the Persian-oriented “Naghmeh Ensemble”.

Although CC is active in four other UK regions with their training programme (which receives National Lottery funding, though the Festival doesn’t), in terms of their music programme they “only have a London focus right now”, which they see as natural as “there’s always going to be new groups coming in, new waves of people arriving. There’s a constant replenishing of community music”. The Festival receives some Arts Council money but they are not at the moment looking for commercial sponsorship. They don’t want families who have been “invited to enjoy a display of world culture for free” being confronted by “a lot of stuff on sale”.

CC gets some financial support from Tower Hamlets Council which has “maintained and even strengthened its arts provision” – unlike many other Boroughs who have cut back on theirs. All the performers at the Festival are paid the same fee, irrespective of whether they are “headliners” (famous) or only just emerging. The programmes are “balanced so the less established groups are not overshadowed by the better known ones”.

Papas & Cowan have noticed (with evident approval) a trend towards more “overlapping between cultures”, citing a Bengali-Cuban combination as an example. They view CC not just as a Festival organiser but also as a “development agency for artists”. Since 2003/4, they’ve had a close working relationship with Resonance Radio. It’s a partnership which has suited them both. CC runs weekly shows on which their artists appear and for whom it’s often their first broadcasting and interview experience. As Dr. Baxter of Resonance Radio has acknowledged, he gets the benefits of CC’s “cultural knowledge, expertise and content”. Every time Cultural Co-Operation “does one of their big festivals”, Resonance Radio gives live transmission time to  “as many of their  musicians as is physically possible”.

Filed under: Music & Dance, Society | Posted on July 18th, 2014 by Colin D Gordon

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