An encounter with gift economy on the street of Thornton Heath: a review of ‘Portraits of a Player’
Thornton Heath obviously does not have the extreme cruelty and oppression of apartheid – different cultures happily swim together in the same pool and share the same schools. That can feel good. But the cultural groups of The Heath still mostly lead separate lives; meeting fleetingly in school drop-offs and children’s parties. So it was refreshing when a older white man like me, trudging up the hill from shopping, was approached by a young black man with an offer to gift me a copy of his latest CD. I get approached to embrace Jesus often enough, but this is a rarer and realer opportunity. The man introduced himself as Art Daley. I got home and put it straight on. He describes it as having a Seventies soul vibe, to me it’s articulate and often lyrical urban rap. ‘Portraits of a Player’ is nicely presented with ten well-produced tracks from the local Crook Street Gang.
A long sample from the namesake Arthur Daley bridges the b/w and generational cultural gap and reminds me of our shared cultural experience. At the same time corny rap words add to the gulf between us that still prickles out of this beautiful package of creativity. “RU a fag or summat?” and plentiful use of ‘Bitch’ means, I hate to say so bluntly but, it won’t get played easily to my young daughter or some of my friends. It’s these thorny taboo words can mark out the territory of our separation. How can we represent our whole multi-cultural community when such simple jags of difference and markers of oppression, can get in the way so easily? How are we going to get through this abrasive surface and get down to sharing culture and our different experiences as human beings?
The final track ‘Setting Sun’ to me seems to say it all for Thornton Heath and many other poor suburbs: “Guns don’t kill, people do”; “I wanna face up to my fears”; “I’m a mountain”; “Your raps worth more, than the waiting crack”. Listen to this track above all.
This is why Thornton Heath older folks like me should get behind the creative force of their sons and daughters – Art Daley, lead us into the future man!
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The writer of this review has recently published ‘Agit Disco’ with Mute Books: