180991: The Culture Tunnelists
The future is right there. Its many patterns hidden inside the past. You can’t see it because it’s ignored, atrophied or hidden in plain site. It suits them.
How is the tragic death of George Floyd absorbed witnessing the brutal beatings of Rodney King? In the UK, how would Herman Ouseley (now Lord Ouseley) overhaul race relations in becoming the first Black CEO of the CRE? How did a music researcher end up looking to remortgage her house to launch an event which focused on Music of Black Origin (MOBO)? And how did a small UK band D-Influence become the support act for Michael Jackson?
In the early 1990s London’s BBC station GLR appointed two graduates as freelance producers and presenters, Sherly Sims and I. We were the generation of black Brits, born in the UK, following Windrush and other mass movements. The station wanted to launch a new speech-based show catering for a new audience.
Black London became the focal point for social issues and a stopover for Black British and US Celebs, such as: Eartha Kitt, Alice Walker, Fela Kuti, Norman Beaton and Spike Lee. The Voice Newspaper called the show “informative, interesting and lively”.
GLR never kept any recordings of the show but thirty years later during lockdown, I stumbled upon recordings which, with archive producer Jose, we submitted to global archive body FIAT/ IFTA.
Black London, United States of Africa, and the history of one of Ghana’s eminent secondary schools, Prempeh College, were deemed of historical importance and digitised. The collection was competing against national archives from Albania and Cuba, to name a few.
Amongst the potential for Black London, I’ve labelled 180991 (the date of our first transmission), is an opportunity, not unlike BBC Radio 4’s “Rewinder”, to trace echoes of the past affecting Black people that threads the future.
It’s a pedagogical and forecasting project. Where were you at the time? Can you remember what you were thinking? And how does 180991 help you understand the past to see the future. It’s an auditory, sensory and image bath, which you have to experience. There’s no archive like it. Last year, I wrote about the prospect of the find in our new media journal Representology. Representology is a co-production between Cardiff University and the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity at Birmingham City University.
When I played recordings of D-influence to Kwaten, whose career now includes producing for Jay-z, he was overwhelmed. “Wow, wow, wow! It’s amazing”, is all Kwaten could say before adding 180991 has huge importance for reflecting what it was like, and context for the progress, or lack off, for Black Brits.
For me 180991 also embraces an autobiographical story within media representation, identity and its value. I grew up partly in care homes and foster parents, before my father took all of us ( four siblings) to Ghana.
Coming back to the UK, I’d never considered a career in media and pursued Chemistry and Maths to become a pharmacist for my father. Making the switch was a long and continual struggle and would cost me a 15-year rift with my father.
But anywhere I did land I would make sure I was involved in training the next generation, and it’s something I continue to do.
I’m a senior lecturer at Cardiff University and a former freelance correspondent in South Africa covering President Mandela’s inauguration and presenting my BBC Radio 4 documentary First Time Voters. I’ve produced for Channel 4 News and BBC Newsnight. I’ve received several awards including the Knight Batten Innovation for in Journalism. In 2020, I was chair of Committee of Cardiff’s flagship Future of Journalism conferences. I co-founded the journal Representology with the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, and am an advisory editorial member for the British Library’s (2022) 500 years of News conference. I’m a reviewer for Google’s Digital Innovation Fund.