By Joy Sigaud
North West London is often sidelined when it comes to Black Afro-Caribbean culture in London yet, Harlesden was the year ’round heartbeat of North West London for several decades and still is today attracting all types, rich and poor, great and small from surrounding areas including the far away leafy suburbs who need their weekly fix of quality Caribbean food and aliments that not even the most progressive of supermarkets stock. Although the demographics have somewhat shifted over the years with the influx of East Africans in the ’80s, one cannot help but notice the oblivious nature of the more affluent Afro-Caribbeans to those who were once their contemporaries. Historically, hair products, wig shops and makeup for the woman of colour were to be found here in abundance and with ease.
Today, the Asians seem to own many of the shops sustained by the Black community money. Supply and demand is what it’s all about, however there are some longstanding and trusted traders still there with their feet on the ground serving the community. An abundance of barber shops, a great meeting place where as we know men share jokes, resolve the problems of the world and wait patiently for their turn whilst youngsters wait, listen and watch not daring to speak out of turn. Winston’s Barber shop – a little further away from the High Street has been there since the 1960’s and his son in turn has yet another close to Willesden Junction.
Traditionally, as in 50 years ago, Harlesden was a conclave of migrants predominantly Irish and West Indian living side by side although worlds apart. The surrounding estates that sprang up in the 1970s housed many a young family, including the growing population of young single mothers and their babies. This smart new style of housing was of great appeal, though many have since been demolished as they deteriorated quite quickly relative to traditional British buildings and families were rehoused further afield. Those who could afford it moved down the road to suburbia-like Monks Park and Wembley whilst others were rehoused in yet another new “desirable” estate – Chalk Hill which is very close to the affluent side of Wembley Park.
Harlesden for Black outsiders was spectacularly interesting. The young had their own individual sense of fashion which at the time, to the outsider, was entirely different from mainstream fashion. Young women on a Saturday paraded, babies with family in tow, dressed in what seemed a concoction of carefully chosen attire, mixed vibrant colours which today are considered masterpieces of fashion. Lorna Holder captures the essence of Black fashion in her acclaimed book Style in My DNA
Award winning hairdressing salon Style which was one of the many hairdressers on the high street was at one time the local place to go, run by Windrush Generation pioneer hairdresser Iris Guy – now long retired – and her 3 daughters.
The pulse of Harlesden lies in the music scene, creating atmosphere and a sense of “home.” Like Brixton, many an acclaimed musician has come from Harlesden including Carrol Thompson – queen of lovers rock – and Janet Kay. Daddy Ernie see feature was a lead Choice FM DJ for many years.
One of the leading record distributors Jetstar, formerly Pama Records, was founded in Harlesden in 1967 and they produced world renowned artists such as Beenie Man and Freddie McGregor. Trojan Records, another well-known label credited with popularising reggae music, was just down the road in Willesden.
Long established “record shops” from the days when competition was key as to who had the first release of any given song in stock continue to add to the atmosphere. They still turn up the volume to unprecedented levels attracting age old groovers on the street outside, unashamedly and wonderfully so, rocking to the beats of “reggae tunes” in much the same way as they did 50 years ago. My inkling is that they are the same people – the Harlesden youths of yesterday.
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