Ben Downing Street
A TEN! Not just a five out of five. Not just four or five stars, but
Benjamin Zephaniah is presently considering the fact that his stupendously
brilliant current album Naked has achieved the first 10
rating Ive given an album this year. The great man reggae
artist, musician, poet and civil rights campaigner turned down
an OBE early last year on the grounds of the British Empire being something
of a hark back to the dark ages of slavery. I dont blame him.
Anyway, now Ive got him in a good mood, lets hear what he
has to say:
AD: First of all, is there anything youd like to get off your
BZ: Yes! Prince Charles and bloody Camilla! At last, theyre
getting married! Oooh Im so excited! Theyre doing it on
the M6 hooray, we can all run over them!
Seriously though, theres been nothing else on the news since they
announced it and does anybody really care? Ugh
I can just see the
Roral baby now
Also, I want to have a moan about our Foreign Affairs people
I cant believe were here and just carrying on as always.
Walking around Oxford Street you dont even feel like anyones
come back (from war). If you close your eyes you might just as well
be in Burma or Kenya.
You see, I lived through the Cold War and we were forever being told
Protect and serve, and that the Russians would eventually
come over here and kill us. We were told that we were going to have
more freedom, what with the Internet and mobile phones. If you just
stop and think about where we are though, we are actually communicating
less than we ever were, and we are more insecure now than we ever were,
and THAT makes me mad. This
seems to have found
its way over here from America now, and its getting worse.
AD: A lot of that paranoia seems to have stemmed from the hysterical
right wing press over the Asylum Seeker issue. Why do you think our
society is so xenophobic today, and how do you think well ever
be able to change that?
BZ: Thats a very big question, and a very difficult one to
answer. My response though would be that this country NEEDS immigrants
You can tell the public that too, because its the only way people
are going to learn to understand and overcome their prejudices.
I remember doing a TV programme a talk show where I was
on with a member of the Department of Education, and I suggested that
it would be a good idea if we made sure that every child in Britain
went to another place where they had to eat differently and go to the
toilet differently for a while, just so they could get another perspective
of living and be aware of their own advantages from an early age; and
do you know what the reply was? They said Do you know how much
that would COST? without even considering the idea! I hate ignorance
I always like to use the Ghandi quote that Tony Benn always used to
bring up: when asked what he thought of Western civilization, he said
I think it would be a good idea.
Another answer to your question is that politics should be done by more
people part time, because power does corrupt, and once it becomes a
career it seems that people become less trustworthy.
AD: It makes me laugh that many of the people who COMPLAIN about
Asylum Seekers were actually in favour of the war with Iraq! How do
they think these problems were created in the first place?
BZ: Exactly. Youve summed it up. I dont think I need
to add anything there
AD: So, is there anything the government or the monarchy
could have done to have made you consider accepting that OBE?
BZ: Yes: abolish themselves! I wrote in my last book about the honours
system being corrupt. I know full well that Tony Blair wanted a picture
of me, Mick Jagger and David Beckham all collecting our OBEs that day,
fresh and ready for the tabloids to print the following morning. He
wanted to appeal to the rock crowd, the sports fraternity and to the
black community. Its all about votes.
Now, I know there are several members of the black community that believe
we ought to big ourselves up at every opportunity, but I
wont at least not in that way.
I DID accept a Black Achievement award not so long ago though,
as well as a Portsmouth Book Award after some kids voted my book, The
Refugee Boy, as the best childrens story, so if I believe
in something and think its worthwhile, Im happy to accept
AD: I remember a quite over hysterical headline in the Daily
Mail I think that read After all weve done for him!
after you refused it
BZ: Yeah, I remember being really upset about that at the time.
They took everything I said completely out of context. What exactly
did they think theyd done for me? I didnt come
here as an immigrant I was born here; Im more British than
white Australians! Im one of the biggest ambassadors for multi-national,
multi-cultural societies, so I was very hurt at first. Then Martin Bell
(politician and ex-news reporter) said to me Dont worry
about it Benjamin the day the Daily Mail starts saying GOOD things
about you, THATS when youve got to worry!
Did you see that thing on TV about the House of Commons the other day?
AD: What was that?
BZ: Oh, I was appalled! All the workers from the House of Commons
had gone on strike, and when you saw them, they were all black! I mean,
I knew the BBCs cleaners were all black, but the House of Commons?
Maybe we havent come as far from slavery as wed like to
AD: Thats a pretty shocking revelation admittedly, and even
more shocking was the fatal plight of your cousin Michael, and I think
everyone should be made aware of the atrocity of his situation (NB
neither we nor Benjamin can say much about this, but what it boils down
to is that Michael died whilst in police custody, under highly suspicious
circumstances), so Id like to know what we, and the readers of
our website can do to help.
BZ: Well, first of all you can put a link through your website to
the campaign (see below). Then, every now and again we have demonstrations
and marches. Its not just for friends and family ANYONE
can come and support us, and it gets bigger and bigger every year. My
advice to you and your readers is this: Dont wait until this happens
to one of your own family act now, because it could happen to
AD: Thanks Benjamin, and good luck with everything.
So go on, act now. Benjamin should be a role model for us all, if you
ask me. Heres that link http www.mikeypowell-campaign.org.uk
oh, and dont forget, Benjamins superb album, Naked
is out right now.
Interview - Tone E