Tag: London

London violence – Should we blame drill music?

There is a sub-genre of rap music known as drill currently causing controversy in the media and in government circles. This music has been blamed for the current wave of violence engulfing Britain’s inner cities, particularly in London. There has been a spike in the number of youth murders with the recent number being around 60 so far in London alone, this year. Just this week, a 23-year old drill rapper was murdered in a knife attack in Camberwell, South London. It is a sad and frightening trend as these are young lives being cut down prematurely. These deaths leave behind grieving families and friends with lifelong scars.

Drill is a sub-genre of hip-hop music which contains vivid accounts of violence and threats of violence. It is popular because it tells scary stories of life on the streets where one wrong choice could land you in jail or get you killed. Also, the wordplay can be very clever and the beat, catchy.

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The most famous UK drill group, 67 (Photo courtesy of facebook/@6ix7Official)

The London Metropolitan Police recently reached out to the social media giant, YouTube, to help in removing drill music from its platform, as the government believes it has a significant role to play in the rising number of youth murders. The Met Police believe the lyrical content in drill music glamourises knife attacks and gun violence. They believe gang members use these outlets to taunt each other which eventually spills out onto the streets.

This approach is not new, blaming art for social problems. In the early ’90s, ‘gangsta rap’, pioneered by rappers like Rakim and the group NWA, was in the spotlight for the crime wave in inner-city New York and Los Angeles. It was believed that the lyrics of gangsta rap promotes violence which played out on the streets. The police were worried and called for a ban on gangsta rap. It never happened as we live in a free society that respects all forms of art and does not allow the government to make moral choices for its citizens. If you ban gangsta rap, what about heavy metal, death metal, garage punk etc, some of which talk about drug overdoses and suicide?

This same discussion is now being had in Britain over drill music.

I think it is ludicrous to think music is the cause of the violence in London. Young people get involved in gangs and criminality not because they’ve listened to a particular genre of music, but because of their backgrounds and upbringing. These kids come from difficult backgrounds where criminality is seen as a survival tactic. Many of them grew up with no positive role models and very little positive life choices. Some have drug dependent fathers or mothers, absent fathers, from abusive households and mental health problems. It is these toxic elements that combine to create a criminal. This is where government resources need to be concentrated for a successful address of this problem.

In my opinion, the illegal drug trade sits at the core of the wave of youth deaths in the inner cities. These attacks are usually turf wars among various drug gangs for control of territory. These gangs may listen to drill music, but the music is not responsible for their actions. Did Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and all the other infamous mob figures, who ran brutal gangs controlling cocaine and heroin distribution across America listen to rap or drill? The answer is no. Did the Kray twins, the brutal East London duo who ran sadistic protection rackets that brought fear to the streets of the capital, listen to rap or drill before they unleashed mayhem in the 1960s? The answer is no. The only common theme among all these infamous figures is their backgrounds, they all grew up in abject poverty with very little positive life choices.

Poverty is at the root of most social problems. It is a fact that poorer societies experience more violence than affluent ones. Some countries in Africa have seen more people die in brutal civil wars in a decade than relatively richer countries have seen in fifty years. Value for human life is low in economically deprived societies compared to affluent ones. Why should Peckham, South London be any different? This is a very deprived area of London’s inner-city, which has its own share of the current violence. The elements of this complex equation are poor housing, high unemployment, serious mental health issues, addiction and abuse in huge areas of our inner cities. Tackle these and you begin to unpick the problem.

Instead of pointing the finger at a genre of music, why not actually do something like improving employment prospects for the inner-city youth and actively create programmes that recruit from this talent pool. Put the inner city youth at the centre of positive change and support them with the tools they need. This is the way to tackle a problem, at the source. Criminalising a form of music is the lazy way out.

 

UK Grime Music – at last a welcome to the mainstream

I was watching the Brits awards the other  night and was surprised at the many nominations given to artistes in the UK hip-hop genre (known as Grime). For the first time, we are seeing Grime music brought into mainstream recognition. As a lifelong hip-hop fan, this is welcome news. But who are these guys on the Grime scene shaking things up?

I came to the UK nearly 10 years ago from Nigeria with a head full of American hip-hop music, but was very keen to understand the UK scene too. I am used to listening to rappers like Rakim, Nas, Mobb Deep, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg etc. I also preferred the darker version of the genre, which usually involves haunting stories from the gritty and unforgiving streets of inner city America. These tales fascinate me because I believe it is a direct result of historical racial injustices which have put young black men at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American, but they make up 35% of the jail population. I believe poverty breeds criminality. So for me there is a social narrative in rap music which reflects the deep injustices, both historical and present,  in the American society. As a social observer, hip-hop music is a huge resource for me.

When I first started sampling UK hip-hop, I watched videos of London-based rappers on YouTube, and I thought they delivered their lyrics in a weird accent. I couldn’t understand some of their slangs and thought to myself, these guys need to clean up their accents before they can be taken seriously. I dropped off and continued listening to US rappers. A few years later, I stumbled by accident on a Youtube video of a guy called Devlin, who is like the UK’s Eminem, white rapper with angry and clever lyrics. While I trawled through his videos, I came upon one which featured a rapper called Giggs. This is where my fascination with UK rap began. Giggs was a deep-voiced, soft-spoken young man with very powerful lyrics that reflected the harsh life in London’s estates. Giggs is from Peckham, one of the most deprived boroughs of London.

Over the next couple of years, whenever I was catching up on hip hop videos on YouTube, I always check my favourite UK rappers, from Giggs to Joe Black, Ratlin and others.

Then in 2015 I came across at the video of a guy called Stormzy (real name Michael Omari), a tall 22 year-old black man from South London. It was on a track called Shut up. A very unusual kind of video, due to its simplicity, shot in a park with a hand held camera, a small bluetooth speaker and surrounded by his friends. In the video, Stormzy wears a red adidas tracksuit and lays out his lyrics effortlessly to a haunting tune. When I saw this video in 2015, it had around 700,000 views on YouTube, now it has over 48 million!

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Stormzy (Picture Courtesy of thisisgrimeuk.com)

Stormzy is 24 years old now and has bagged himself a couple of awards over the past 2 years. He was also nominated for the Best Breakthrough Act at the 2017 Brits Awards. He has been collaborating with many popular artistes as well and seems to be at the top of his game at the moment, with his album Gang Signs and Prayers gone straight to number one in the UK album charts this weekend!

Another name in Grime music making the headlines is Skepta (real name Joseph Adenuga). Skepta performed at the recent Brits awards and wowed crowds with his energetic track, Shut down. Skepta won the Mercury Prize in 2016 for his album Konnichiwa, the first Grime artiste to be recognised for this award. He won the BET awards for Best International Act – UK as well as many others. Grime at last, seems here to stay.

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Skepta (Picture courtesy of mixmag.net)

Many people write-off this genre of music as irrelevant and lacking in creativity. It’s only people who don’t get hip-hop that say this. These guys tell stories many don’t want to hear, I agree, but these stories are a reality for many in our society i.e. gang violence, drug trafficking and teenage murders. I consider these guys the messengers of a dark reality that we would rather sweep under the carpet. Drugs and gang warfare are a reality in many estates across London and all over the country, why pretend it’s not happening?

Many of these Grime artistes are surviving against all the odds, releasing albums independently of major record labels, using the power of social media (particularly YouTube and Twitter) to drive their audience. I am glad the UK society is finally giving these guys the recognition they deserve.

Kweku Adoboli -How a bright young man with a glistening career ended up being the UK’s worst rogue trader

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Kweku Adoboli – Picture courtesy of www. ibtimes.co.uk

I was on my way to work this morning and in the car I was listening to Radio 4’s Today programme (a news analysis programme). One of the slots was an interview with Kweku Adoboli, the 36year old young man who racked up a loss of $2.3billion while a Trader at UBS London in 2012. The biggest single loss by a UK bank in modern times.

Adoboli was on the radio after serving half his jail sentence of 7years, admitting his mistakes, warning that bad practise is still prevalent in UK banks and appealing to people to help him fight deportation from the UK so he can turn his bad experience into good for others.

Adoboli was born in Ghana and travelled the world with his family as his father was a United Nations official. He went to some of the best academic institutions in the UK and was identified as a star student. He studied computer science and business management at Nottingham University and went on to become one of the most valuable traders at UBS London operations.

In 2012, a 2-minute phone call from one of UBS’s accountants asking Adoboli to clarify some of his trading positions set the ball rolling for one of the most fascinating cases in modern times about the dark arts of stock market trading.

He was sentenced to 7 years in prison after a detailed trial that put the microscope on what goes on at trading floors across some of Britain’s biggest banks. Adoboli highlighted the immense pressures put on traders by banks to make profit, hence making them take increasingly dangerous risks that eventually spiralled out of control in his own case. Unsurprisingly though, none of the top ‘brass’ in UBS were convicted of any wrongdoing.

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Adoboli after arrest – picture courtesy of http://www.thetimes.co.uk

Now Kweku Adoboli is out of prison after serving half his sentence and has said he is sorry for what he has done and takes full responsibility but believes what happened to him is still happening to traders across London, bank bosses pushing traders to the very limit, goading them on to take dangerous risks with investors’ cash, then disowning them when it all goes burst.

Adoboli led a chaotic life when working at UBS, often working very long hours and spending most of those hours trying to cover up his track of deceit and lies. He would create fake trading positions to mask losses and took huge gambles with investors money. He was also alleged to have harboured a gambling habit that saw him lose vast sums of his salary, that he resorted to borrowing money from pay-day lenders to make ends meet.

Adoboli’s biggest worry at the moment is now his own fate, he now faces deportation from the UK back to his home country Ghana as a result of being a convicted foreign criminal. Though Adoboli has lived in the UK since he was 12 years old, he never applied for British citizenship. He recently lost an appeal of the Home Office’s decision to deport him. Now unemployed, broke, living with friends and surviving through money sent to him by his retired father in Ghana, Adoboli is in a bit of a mess to put it lightly. This was a man who earned over £130,000 (around 5 times average UK salary) at the peak of his career at UBS, lived in an expensive London apartment, threw parties with friends at weekends, life was good. He has gone from grace to grass, from 100miles/hr to zero in the twinkle of an eye. He has been banned by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) meaning he can no longer work in the financial services anywhere in the UK (and I’m sure no financial institutions in Europe will welcome him either).

The lesson I have learnt from this story is how quickly life can turn upside down when you make the wrong choices. Adoboli was under immense pressure from his bosses, but to meet those pressures he broke the law and paid a heavy price. The company he broke the law for continues to exist and he is now an outcast from that circle. There is no job worth ‘dying’ for.

 

‘Fantastically Corrupt’ Nigeria – A personal experience (Part 1)

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People have condemned David Cameron’s unguided utterances last week where he referred to Nigeria and Afghanistan as ‘fantastically corrupt’ countries. I condemn him too as I don’t think such careless talk does any favours to both the speaker of it nor the receiver(s) of it. It achieves nothing but fractured diplomatic relations.

However, as a Nigerian, I completely relate to what David Cameron said. I grew up in Nigeria and it is true corruption has become a way of life for many years in the country. Corruption is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”. From my translation of this definition, ‘those in power’ does not only refer to politicians but everyone who provides a service for which you rely on. For example your electricity company, water company, the local community leader and even the receptionists.

I made a brief visit to Nigeria in 2015 after 8 years of living in the UK. Not much has changed in terms of infrastructure and development. The roads are still bad (in fact has got worse in many places), there is still intermittent power supply, there are still fuel shortages and generally life is still very hard for the average man on the street. The noise, the colour, the dust, the garbage on the streets, all still the same.

I landed at Muritala Muhammed International airport to a hot, rancid air with the arrival lounges looking very bland in contrast to other international airports I’ve been. There was water from the air conditioners running across the floors and it all felt a little bit grotty. Though I felt it unfair to compare Nigeria’s main international airport to Heathrow in London or Schipol in Amsterdam, after all it is a developing country trying its best everyday to make things better in very difficult circumstances. I progressed with my journey towards passport control trying not to be judgemental. I should be glad I landed safely and excited to see my family. I heard one of the passengers with whom I exited the plane, walking behind me, chuckle and whisper, ‘welcome to Nigeria’.

The first check point was manned by a loud talking gentleman checking our landing cards. One of the arriving passengers who was not Nigerian was trying to communicate with the man on the desk in a foreign language (sounded Lebanese). The man on the desk simply shouted at him to speak English or he will spend a long time in the queue. I thought to myself again ‘welcome to Nigeria’ where magic happens. If this ‘Lebanese’ man was able to speak English, wouldn’t he have done so in the first place I thought, or maybe I’m wrong. I made it past this desk and into passport control and met a long line of people waiting for their passports to be checked. I quickly took my spot and waited for my turn. It was around 9pm by this time, about 30minutes after I exited the plane. I kept looking at the decor in this part of the airport and all looked very old fashioned and outdated. I thought it could be worse and I should not be judgmental. It was very hot in there though. I looked round for anything (digital) that could give a hint of the outside temperature, couldn’t find any, but never mind, that was the least of my worries.

As we all waited in the queue I suddenly heard a commotion of some sorts and quickly looked to see what was going on. Two women were making their way past everyone on the queue clutching shopping bags from duty free shops in London and everyone was wondering where they were going. You are right they were making their way to the top of the queue, ignoring shouts from people waiting not do so. They shuffled past me as well and the look on their faces was indifference as if ‘what are you going to do, stop me?’. They got to the top of the line, right in front of the desks. The airport staff did not stop these women, rather they appealed to the people waiting in line to not create more problem by creating a scene. The women were attended to after being questioned by one of the staff. I don’t know what they discussed, but they must have been allowed to jump the queue for some reason. I thought to myself again, don’t be judgemental, maybe one of them is ill and can’t queue or they have some serious medical condition.

I finally made it past passport control after about 30 minutes of standing in line. Then we made our way to the baggage section to pick up our bags. I thought I am nearly done now, just pick up my bags and get out into Lagos! Home of the brave! How wrong was I. I spent nearly 2 hours waiting for my bags, in fact I thought at some point they were lost and I started to panic. In the meantime I looked around for a baggage trolley (as you would in any airport) to load my bags on if or when they eventually came out, but couldn’t find any in sight. Eventually, I saw my bags coming down the escalator and was pleased. As I pulled them off the escalator and onto the floor, a young man approached me and said do you need a baggage trolley, I looked up and said excitedly, yes please! He said wait here. He went off and got me a trolley and I wondered where that had suddenly appeared from. I had looked everywhere before then and didn’t find one. Anyway it wasn’t the time to be Sherlock Holmes, I quickly thanked him and he said he would help me to load my bags as well. I told him he didn’t have to, but he did and loaded by 3 heavy bags onto the carrier for me. I thanked him profusely and thought to myself Nigerians are really nice people aren’t they. I noticed though, as I thanked this man, he wasn’t that chuffed, he just had a stern look. And then he broke his silence, he said ‘what have you brought for us from London’. I said, ‘ah…sorry i don’t have anything on me at the moment, just a couple of pound coins’ left over from having coffee at Heathrow. He replied ‘that would do’. To my shock, I quickly ransacked my pockets and brought out a handful of British coins totalling about £3.00 (about N750 or N800 in Nigerian money), probably enough for a meal in Nigeria.He thanked me and moved on very quickly lending a hand to another passenger and having a chat with them too. At this point I was tired and can’t wait to get out of the airport. Moved my baggage trolley out of the front door into the hot Lagos air, almost hotter than when I was inside the airport. ‘Welcome to Nigeria’ said a big banner on one of the metal rails outside.

Corruption in Nigeria is not just in the high places, it is present in everyday life and perpetrated by everyday people. My next article (Part 2) will tell you of the experiences I had of these low-level everyday corruption in Nigeria during my short stay there in 2015. But overall, it is a country I admire for its tenacity and ability to thrive in very difficult circumstances. Nigerians endure everyday struggles that will dwarf any hardship you can refer to in western societies.