Richard Sudan meets the performers seeking justice for Grenfell in music and poetry
One year on from the Grenfell Tower fire, and not an ounce of justice has been afforded to the families, victims, and those directly affected by the disaster.
At least 72 victims, and possibly more, died in the avoidable tragedy. Most of the victims came from working class black and brown immigrant communities. 41 of those 72 people were Muslim. Many have argued in the subsequent year which has passed, that those who died perished precisely because they were from such communities. Had they been from privileged communities, or even from the richer end of their own neighbourhood in Kensington, they would not have been left to live in unsafe conditions in the first place.
The conditions lived in by communities like those at Grenfell reflect the wider lived experience for many of Britain’s immigrant communities. And efforts to gentrify areas like Grenfell, which led to the dangerous flammable cladding being fitted to the tower to make it look pretty, have been well documented. The politics of class, as well as race in this sense, are impossible to remove from discussions around Grenfell.
While people have wrestled with these dynamics and demanded accountability, the inquiry into the fire is only just underway, with questions being raised about the level of community representation and consultation in the process. Alarm bells are understandably ringing in people’s minds with the long drawn out Inquiry into the infamous Hillsborough disaster, offering a stark reminder as to just how long a government-led inquiry can take before any justice is reached.
And to be clear; the aftermath of Grenfell there have been no criminal arrests. What we have seen are the resignations at the RBKC Council.
Indeed, while local government and central government have sought to pass the buck of responsibility back and forth, life on the ground for those affected continues, dealing with the trauma and impact of the fire often without the support they need. Families remain un-housed and in hotels, many of them having been offered inadequate housing.
Compensation running into millions of pounds, donated in good faith by the public, has been swallowed up by the London Emergency Trust. Only a fraction of it has reached the people that need it.
In addition, there have been serious concerns about the mental health of those suffering severe trauma following the fire. More than 500 children have needed mental health treatment. The sharp number of suicide attempts from those witnessing extremely harrowing scenes made national news, with 24 known survivors having attempted suicide since the fire. The trauma for those affected at Grenfell remains, while those having to grieve, go about their lives, with the Tower still looming in the background.
This is the backdrop as we mark exactly one year since the fire. The more time that passes following Grenfell, the more the story and the important points surrounding it, fade from newspaper headlines. The indifference from all but a few politicians is obvious.
This climate makes the role of community journalists, and artists necessary. From day one, music has provided an unfiltered, and scathing analysis of the reality at Grenfell.
Musicians and poets like Nino Cartel Shareefa Energy, Yousra and Johara and ATLAS who are from the area, and who live and have links there, call the situation as they see it, unfiltered.
The widespread gentrification taking place for example, which led to the cheap cladding being plastered onto Grenfell Tower to make it less of an eye sore for richer residents is a familiar point made.
“Took the culture away from Brixton, now they are trying to shut down their markets, so they are trying to do the same in Grove (Ladbroke Grove) and they are trying to do the same in Harlesden” ATLAS references such gentrification of the local areas in London, and describes the white-washing of these communities as “took the culture away”. The Youtube video has resonated with many, with the track gaining thousands of views in the first few hours of being released 2 days prior to the one year anniversary of the fire.
Many feel that gentrification and its relevance to Grenfell has often been neglected and sidelined in the media and political class, while these artists reflect on the topic from the community’s perspective. Many locals in Ladbroke Grove agree that they feel more represented as a community through these artists’ music, than in comparison to the mainstream media who have often betrayed them.
On a collaboration song with ATLAS (ATLAS – Manslaughter, gentrification) Nino Cartel who witnessed the disastrous fire at first hand, reflects on how out-of-touch the government is with the same community: “They don’t care about none of these kids, they don’t care about none of us”.
Nino also reflects in ‘Grenfell Tower’s Burning’ the horrific scene during the fire at Grenfell, and again gentrification is a recurring theme in a later line: “And I see Grenfell burning, want to know what’s going down..because I hear women screaming loud and I saw them throw babies out…Government want us out cos they wanna make way for the rich”
Both Nino & ATLAS lost friends and loved ones in the deadly Grenfell disaster, similar to Yousra and Johara, two young artists whose beautiful voices roam the area of Grenfell, carrying dreams and giving hope to the community. Yousra and Johara have also dedicated a song to the victims, marking the first year since the fire. The song is full of innocence, but also asks tough questions;
“Why did they care about money before my best friend’s life?” They ask pointing to the cheaper flammable cladding which was used in the refurbishment of the tower two years prior to the disaster. Strong points made by young girls remind us that the children in the area, as well as the adults, understand the causes behind the tragedy.
“She is still getting taxi cabs back to the hotel and not her flat” Shareefa Energy, another powerful artist stresses in ‘Perseverance Personified’ raising the issue of how two thirds of Grenfell residents are still not in permanent accommodation. These issues are constantly raised by these artists. They are raised because they remain unaddressed.
The failure of the mainstream media in highlighting issues at Grenfell one year on, and shining a light where needed, explains the rising popularity and signficance of artists like these, and also why many in the community feel they are represented by these artists more than media commentators. The Political class have also failed the community. As the fight for justice continues, artists like these remain will crucial in educating others in keep pressure on the powers that be and to provide a voice to those that need it the most.
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Richard Sudan is a London based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published by the Independent, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and Washington Spectator, in addition to other newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University and maintains the power of the spoken and written word can massively effect change in today’s world.
Nazar Atlas is a journalist, musician and television producer. Atlas was born in Baghdad, Iraq and came to the UK at 15 as a refugee, to become a political and human rights activist.
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