My Mother Cooked for The Wailers: Leeds Shares Stories of Family and Activism in “Rebellion to Romance” Exhibit

My Mother Cooked for The Wailers- Leeds Shares Jamaican Stories of Family and Activism in Rebellion to Romance Exhibit

Khadijah Ibrahiim, a local poet and educator in Leeds whose grandparents immigrated in the 1950s, remembers her mother telling her how Jimmy Cliff used to date her godmother and how she used to cook for The Wailers, the Cimerons, and Alton Ellis. Some of the most exciting Jamaican musicians of that period were attracted to the Ibrahiim family home because of the activism of her grandparents, who were members of a group known as the Brotherhood that was linked to the philosophy of Marcus Garvey.

The lives of Windrush Generation Jamaicans and their offspring are explored in the ”Rebellion to Romance” exhibit curated by Susan Pitter. The exhibit is part of the “Out of Many Festival,” a nine-month-long celebration of Jamaican culture organized by the Jamaica Society Leeds. Pitter has been an active member of the community since she was a teenager, and she has focused on the culture of the 1970s and 1980s, a period marked by fewer saved artifacts than the 1950s, when her parents saved everything, Pitter notes.

The ”Out of Many Festival” featured more than 60 events celebrating art, theater, heritage, film, literature, and music, along with several high-profile events such as “Road to Trojan,” which was stage on August 6, 2022, with Freddie MacGregor headlining.

susan pitter

While many accounts of the Windrush Generation in the United Kingdom center on the experiences of Jamaican immigrants in London, a new exhibit at the central library in Leeds focuses on the rich history of its Jamaican community arising from the wave of immigration to the UK in the 1950s. As of 2011, the census showed that as many as 5,000 of Britain’s Jamaican-born population, which totaled 160,000 in that year, lived in Leeds, along with many more people of West Indian heritage. The community in Leeds decided to mark Jamaica’s 60th anniversary of independence with a celebration of its contribution to the culture of the city with the “Out of Many Festival.”

My Mother Cooked for The Wailers- Leeds Shares Jamaican Stories of Family and Activism in Rebellion to Romance Exhibit - 2

In the 1970s and 1980s, immigrants relied on word-of-mouth to decide on their destinations and generally followed friends and family members who had already immigrated. They gravitated to different areas in the UK, concentrating in available physical spaces and establishing close-knit communities that developed their own cultural displays. In the Leeds area of Chapeltown, house parties represented a pivotal activity, and unlicensed shebeen or “blues” gatherings were held in basements providing the musical culture of reggae and lovers rock and also represented the community’s activism, which was a response to the racism they experienced.

By 1978, the Leeds branch of Rock Against Racism allied with local groups like the Mekons and Gang of Four, who played with Black reggae performers like Bodecian for mixed, antiracist audiences. When the Specials were headliners at the Rock Against Racism Carnival in 1981, the performance occurred in Potternewton Park, an important center for activists. In 1987, Paulette and Annette Morris of Chapeltown formed the duo Royal Blood and became stars of lovers rock, performing in the community that not only had Rock Against Racism, but Black theater, dance, and Saturday schools that taught Black history.

According to Claude “Hopper” Hendrickson, who has served in a voluntary capacity as one of the three directors of the Leeds West Indian Center for several years, Leeds was the first city to fully unite costume, music, and a masquerade parade, predating the now-famous Notting Hill carnival event by a year. “Considering we’re the furthest bastion in the north of Britain of big African-Caribbean concentration, we’ve really contributed,” he noted.

Photos – Jamaica Society Leeds/Susan Pitter

Updated 9/6/2022 – Corrected titles, photo credit and event details.

About the author

Stephanie Korney