Discussion Transcript – Dash Cafe: Songs of The Migrant Worker.

Josephine Burton talks to Hannah Lowe, Zerritha Brown, Imran Ayata and  Bülent Kullukçu at January 2019 Dash Cafe.


Josephine Burton:

Good evening. Welcome to the Dash Café. I’m Josephine Burton. I’m one of the Artistic Directors of Dash Arts. Can you put your hand up if you’ve been to a Dash Café before?

So… nearly a quarter of you.

Dash Cafés are relatively informal. There is a bar over there. Please feel free to go and grab a drink whenever you want to or leave the room to use the toilets or whatever. We tend to always at our Dash Cafés have a bit of performance and a bit of conversation and on this evening we’re going to start with the UK premiere of a performance by the fantastic Imran and Bülent who created this project – The songs of the Gastarbeiter –  and they’ve come over from Berlin specially for this evening’s performance.

I will get to talk a little bit more later with them alongside Hanna Lowe and Zerritha Brown who are UK based and we’ll talk a little bit more about their work later on. In the meantime we are going to see the performance which is about just under an hour and then we’ll move into a conversation with Zerritha and Hanna and Imran and Bülent and I wish you a wonderful evening and I look forward to seeing you soon.

And I welcome to the stage Imran and Bülent. Thank you.


[Performance by Imran & Bülent] 

Josephine Burton:

Thank you so much to Imran and Bulent for an amazingly rich and textured introduction to the world of the Gastarbeiter. Thank you so much.

My wonderful colleagues Cristina and Zoi are just resetting the stage and while they’re resetting the stage I will give you a little kind of background into what’s going on at these events.

Dash Arts is an international arts organization. We put on large scale shows, small events, pop up projects, installations and the Dash Café. The Dash Cafés are an opportunity for us to investigate the world where we’re researching and we’re immersed in, at that time, in fun ways like tonight. Explore it with performance, conversation and with film. Every month, as there has been before and have already seen, we have completely different ideas and we explore different worlds.

Last June I was in Berlin and one of the reasons I was in Berlin is that we’re part of this project, EUTOPIA, which is asking what it means to be European and which is a journey that we’ll be on over the next few years which very much emerged for us out of the referendum result.

And we’ve been asking this question, as I have travelled and my colleagues have travelled across Europe and met some extraordinary artists. I was Berlin in June wanting to understand what Europe looked like to the migrants, not just in Germany but across Europe.

How come? More recently arrived migrants to Europe. How do they experience it? What stories do they tell of Europe? And I was introduced to Imran and Bülent and the songs of the Gastarbeiter. I was completely fascinated by it and thanks to the Göthe institute I wanted to bring them to London. I’m very grateful for that.

What also happened, which was totally wonderful was, as I went to Germany and I heard about these stories of the Gastarbeiter, in the news at home last year as we know so well with all these stories of the challenges for the Windrush generation of continuing to live in the UK, with all the passport issues and visa issues and threats of being returned. It seemed to me there were some parallels with this experience of the Gastarbeiter in other parts of Europe and it wasn’t just in Germany as I think Imran and Bülent mentioned. They were guest workers that came in across Europe. To Holland, to Brussels, to France and I thought it would be wonderful to be able to bring Imran and Bülent to talk about their project alongside Zerritha and Hannah who’d be able to give us a little bit more of the experience of their work in the UK, investigating and creating work inspired by the Windrush generation and the legacy of the Windrush in the UK.

So I’m going to put this mic down and come and sit down.

As I was explaining we have Imran on the far right, Zerritha Brown, Hannah Lowe and Bülent. Who you’ve just seen on stage. And I wanted to start by asking Zerritha.

We met in September when Zerritha came to one of our Dash Cafés and I heard a little bit about her. The the extraordinary work that she’s been doing on Windrush 70 in Brent.

I would love you to tell us a little bit about that work and whether some of the themes and the amazing stories that we’ve seen this evening, had some resonance for you because of the work you’ve been doing?

Zerritha Brown:

Okay so..Windrush 70 in Brent. We decided to do the project last year obviously to link it to the seventieth anniversary of Windrush. For those of you who don’t know Brent, London borough of Brent is in northwest London and has a very big Caribbean community. Around 10 years ago the council marked it. But last year with it being 70 years I really felt there was something really special that we needed to be able to capture and celebrate and tell those stories but I wanted to tell that story from the people, rather than it be a generic academic story.

So the way that we framed that story was going out into the community inviting people from the community to come and tell us their stories about what it was like to come to the UK. Why they came to Brent and what their experiences were of coming in the 50s, 60s, 70s and settling down in life in Brent and reference to the work that I have just seen, there are lots of things and parallels which we can draw around Windrush. The fact that they came as workers. They were invited to come to the UK. Once they got here feeling a sense of Britishness, because they felt they were British citizens, they were British citizens, they were called by the UK which was like sort of this empire.

Josephine Burton:

That’s quite a clear distinction isn’t it? Because the Gastarbeiter who came into Germany were not German citizens whereas many from 1948, African Caribbeans who came from the Caribbean were British citizens.

Zerritha Brown:

So they were British citizens and when they got here they weren’t treated as British citizens, they were treated as second class citizens. From their living conditions, to working, the jobs… And yes, a lot of the way that they felt… some of that came through also in some of the music that started to be created particularly through reggae in the UK. But yes, lots of similarities I can see.

Josephine Burton:

[Referencing to the images shown about Zerritha’s show]

So these are the images from the exhibition?

Zerritha Brown:

This gentleman, he is the father of one of the lead singers from Boney M  and he lives in Brent, he’s 97 years old. And we did a call out for people to come forward to tell us their Windrush stories. We got funded from the Arts Council and just as our funding was confirmed in April, it literally was a week before, it all blew up in the media about the Windrush scandal. So when we were going out and trying to get people to come forward to tell their stories they were really, really quite nervous about talking to us.

We are local government. Brent council is local government. For this community, the distinction between local government and central government… there was no distinction. They just felt that we were going to take their stories, go to the home office and find a way to get them sent back. And in particular with this gentleman, who has such a rich history and he spent over 50 years in the borough of Brent. But what was really special about him is that he actually has his passport that he travelled to the UK with, which was a British Jamaican passport.

And, I mean, I have seen one of those before because I have seen my mother’s passport but many of my team hadn’t seen a British Jamaican passport. And so we asked and we approached him to find if we could put it into the exhibition but he was really cautious. He kind of didn’t want to give us any of his paperwork because he felt that we might just give it to the Home Office. As much as we were like -“we’re not we’re not part of the council and we are not part of the central government we want you to be able to tell your story.” – he still wasn’t really very comfortable and we didn’t want to push that either. We wanted to respect that with him. But yes, I mean, he tells a beautiful story of coming to the UK, getting off the boat and going into Portsmouth. Getting on the train into London and seeing the chimneys and not understanding what the smoke was about, what the chimney smoke was about because they’d never seen that. They’d come from this island which was sunshine, sea…you know, you can go to the trees and pick mango…Coming into the UK, where it was cold, grey and just a completely different world from what they’d come from.

Josephine Burton:

Did you hear similar stories all the way through the exhibition?

Zerritha Brown:

Yes. So he came in the 50s. There was another lady in the exhibition who came in the late 60s. Service lady. We found some really interesting stories. Both Norman and also Allison. Norman is an OBE and Allison is also an OBE . Hers is for services to make her free. She came into the UK in the 60s to do nursing and did that throughout her whole career. She’s lived in Brent pretty much all of her life. And I actually found her in our library centre doing Zumba. When we heard her story we were just completely fascinated by it and really wanted her to be part of this exhibition and through this exhibition she’s done interviews with BBC Radio, she’s done interviews with local radio stations, she’s gone into schools, she’s just opened up so many avenues for her to be able to talk about her experience of coming into the UK.

Again another couple that both of them came over in the 60s. They actually met in Jamaica before they came and they were friends in Jamaica. And then when they came to the UK they ended up both coming into the same borough. How crazy is that?

Josephine Burton:

It’s amazing. So tell me about the process of getting these photos. Did you meet them and then it was a kind of portrait project?

Zerritha Brown:

Yes. So we met them. We did a session which was an open call. We asked everyone to come to a culture and conversation session that we ran. The first session was extremely hostile. As I said it was off the back of the Windrush scandal. There were lots of people that were feeling very emotional. There was lots of negativity. Again people thinking that we were going to take their stories and use it against them. Actually we came away from that session thinking – “ well that wasn’t very good…we haven’t gotten any good stories…”–  but we needed to do that session, we needed to provide a space to allow people to communicate how they were feeling. And out of that session then came people like this lady who came forward and said – “You know what? I can sit and talk to you about comes to the UK all day, every day. Actually, I’ll come back and I’ll sit with you for a few hours. Other people invited us into their homes as well. It’s really funny because the photographer, who went into all those homes, by the end of the project she said that there was lots of similarities with Caribbean homes and that tends to be lots of plastic flowers, tends to be lots of pictures of family both here and back home in the Caribbean.She came over to my parents’ house to do some photographs and she walked into the house and she was like – “ oh my god I’ve never been into houses that look the same. She’s actually Italian so it was a completely new experience for her. Coming into the Caribbean sort of like a community.

Josephine Burton:

Listening to Bülent and Imran and their projects and the extraordinary music, the thing I was so struck by was the kind of mundanity of the lyrics. And I wondered as I was going to ask you both but I’ll start with Zerritha. When I was talking to Zerritha and Hannah about this evening both of them started talking about music as being an important part, for different reasons, of their association, their cultural worlds and their relationship with Windrush communities and the legacy and I wondered if you could tell me about your dad?

Zerritha Brown:

Yes. So Reggae music came to the UK obviously before the Windrush but the defining moment would be 1968 when Trojan Records set up in Wilson Lane which is in Brent. Trojan was set up by two Jamaicans and they were the label here that were bringing in Jamaican music into the UK. The first number one hit for Trojan Records was by an artist called Dave & Ansel Collins. Is a double barrel. And my dad was part of the Dave & Ansel Collins band. He came to the UK in 1971 as part of the Trojan music dynasty.

And yes so I grew up with a lot of the Reggae legends around me. But one of the things about that was that it was a defining moment, I think in terms of,  the Windrush community coming over and celebrating and maybe giving back part of that culture because out of Trojan then you start to see different musical genres. So you had the Trojan music, which was like the reggae from the Jamaicans and then you start to see British reggae music being created by second generation. So bands like Seel Pulse coming out hands with. And then also in the 80s when you start to see some of the political things starting to come into play. A lot of riots, a lot of like the uprising. I suppose that’s the second generation saying “we’re not prepared to deal with the racism and all that stuff that is happening to us” and the music then started to reflect that as well. Then through that, you then move to another general which was lovers rock which again is British based reggae. And then again  you start moving into different forms now which are influenced by more sorts of dance music bringing us up to modern day, to some of the music that you hear now.

Josephine Burton:

I guess is way to bring in Hannah as well. I mean, I was really struck from this sense of “you brought me here and I came here and I’ve got no money and they didn’t really want me here and why did I come…” The lyrics from very early on in the 50s and the 60s from the presentation, they were already expressing some sense of discontent and frustration.

Are there parallels in the kind of British Jamaican communities and Britain Trinidad and Tobago communities here at that time?

Hannah Lowe:

Well I would say that there is a significant difference actually.


Hello everyone. I’m Hannah. It was really just so fascinating hearing you guys giving your presentation. I was just drawing on so many parallels. Also differences between the Caribbean diaspora. I guess it is worth me saying that my dad was Jamaican which is why I’m here now that I’m thinking really. In fact I used to live in Brixton and there was a Jamaican guy that was always down in the street and I used to come down and he would always shout after me – “Hey Polish” – and I would say – “No, I’m Jamaican –  my mother was English.”

So my dad was very much part of that Windrush generation as Zerritha’s  father was and that generation, having been brought up under the discourses of the empire where they were taught to admire and venerate everything that was British and believe also at the same time simultaneously in their own Britishness and to have citizenship conferred on them. It’s difficult to explain the trauma that community would have felt encountering the conditions in post-war Britain where they were actually not welcome at all and that institutional discrimination and popular racism on the street, it went from everything from housing, I’m sure you’re aware of that but also like huge deskilling in the labour market.

So actually to come to Britain from say Jamaica you actually needed a bit of money and a lot of these people from middle class families and were skilled workers but they were hugely deskilled in Britain into the factories. That was another parallel I thought with the kind of Turkish diaspora to Germany to do the work that really no one else wanted to do. And they did not talk about it and they were not asked about it either. I think that’s really crucial to understand that that there was no interest in memorializing those experiences until black community historians started perhaps that kind of inquiry in the 1980s.

And that’s the genesis of what we know about Windrush because the work of those community historians eventually was given, under Blair’s government really it was going to Blair’s promotion of multiculturalism, augmented that kind of archiving work that black historians were doing and brought Windrush into the public imagination. I think it’s important to know that windrush isn’t some kind of history that is true, given to us on a plate like we’ve always known about Windrush. Windrush becomes significant in the British historical imagination in or around 1998. That’s the 50s anniversary of its arrival and that’s when people started asking that generation to talk and then slowly that generation began to talk.

It’s very interesting to hear those anecdotes about the Windrush scandal meaning that people didn’t want to talk. And certainly my father never spoke about his upbringing in Jamaica, about the first years of his arrival. He never talked about his experience of racism although he was undoubtedly been a victim of that. He was just a very silent stoic man.

I suppose that’s why I realized another parallel that I thought between the Turkish German diaspora and the work that say I’ve done as a writer and the work that Zerritha has done as a curator, is the archiving of a first generation experience, of the second generation or third generation. We’re the ones that want to collect and memorialize and testify to the traumas of our forebears. And I think I’ve tried to do that in poetry, Zerritha through museums and it’s just fascinating hearing this kind of musical odyssey that you you too have been on in trying to archive vital cultures of diaspora.

Josephine Burton:

So before we hear your poetry because I’m really desperate to. I’m interested in this idea of the kind of complete difference of the approach and I wondered is it like a sort of stiff upper lip Britishness thing that we don’t talk about it? Is it because of the trauma? Or is it a language thing?


I mean is it partly because the British Jamaican, they didn’t have another language that they could hide the stuff behind like the Turkish communities and they were only understood by that by the Turkish community?

Zerritha Brown:

I think Hannah’s right because when we did the exhibition, we did this exercise where we went round the room and we said- “ one word that describes your experience coming to the UK” –  and the majority the words were trauma, hurt, upsetting, vulnerability. You know, there was nothing really positive and this is someone on the side but there’s this really poignant quote that came out of one of the sessions and as soon as I saw it I said – “we need to have this in the exhibition” –  In one of the conversations with one of the participants they said – “we were taught to love our mother, how do you think it feels to know that your mother doesn’t love you? “ –  And that for me kind of summed it up because they didn’t talk about this.

It was like – “we just get on. We’ve come here to see the job “-  they were very proud of and they didn’t want to show weakness. But through projects like this you get an opportunity to really give them and that was  what was so important about this project was to give a platform for a voice that hadn’t been heard to be able to speak in the backdrop of the scandal. I mean the project was not about the scandal. We’d secured funding before the scandal. Scandal just came and I turned that around and said we need to use this as something positive because Windrush is in the news now for all the right reasons but it’s overshadowing the 70 years of good work that’s happened so let’s use this as a moment to celebrate and give you a voice and a platform.

Josephine Burton:

Let’s let’s hear some poetry before and then I going to ask Imran and Bülent to respond to that point.

Hannah Lowe:

I’ll read a poem called “what I know”. I suppose it’s in a voice of my father or a man like my father travelling from the Caribbean to Britain.

And I suppose it uses a metaphor of migration as being a little bit like gambling. But I also use that because my dad, in many ways, unlike I suppose the German guest workers coming over to work in factories and we know with the Caribbean workers that came over to Britain of the NHS was often some of them were going to work on the buses. My father never did any of those things he was a professional gambler. He played poker for a living and he had a saying about that which was – “ if you can’t win it straight when it crooked… “- gives you a bit more insight into the kind of things that he did.

So this idea of gambling kind of informs and is another reason I wanted to kind of write about his life because it was such an unorthodox existence but the poem is written in four stanzas. I suppose is about the conditions back home, the push pull factors which are always kind of central to migration. There’s somewhere pulling you, a country pulling you towards it and there’s this push factors that are pushing you to go at the same time. And the poem uses four lines so I’ll just read those lines to you first.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always and is near.

I wake to sleep and keep my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.

What I know

At night, you find me at the oil-lamp, dice in hand.

I say to myself, if I throw a pair of fives

I’ll give up this life – the hot slow days

of hurricanes, sweet reek of banana rot,

black fruit on the vine. I want another hand

of chances. I grip the dice and blow

a gust of luck into my fist. I’m dreaming

of England, yes, work, yes, women, riches.

I shake these bone cubes hard, let go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

The radio fizzes news across the tenement yard –

dazed soldiers sailing home, a weekend, parade,

monsoon time coming. I pass dead horses

in the field, dead mules. Men sag like slack suits

in the square. Talk of leaving starts like rain,

slow and spare, a rattle in a can. My tears

aren’t for the ship, new places, strange people,

but the loss of my always faces – I mean,

my people, who I know, my places. My sister says

you carry them with you, don’t fear.

What falls away is always, and is near.

The ship rocks steady across the ocean.

You ever look out to sea, and on every side

is sky and water, too much too blue?

Thoughts lap at me like waves against the bow,

not where am I, but why and who?

At night, we use our hours up, ten fellows

flocked to someone’s sticky room. I roll the dice

or deal for chemmy, brag, pontoon.

We go til dawn, a huddle at the lamp turned low.

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Some fellow swore there were diamonds

on these  English streets. Look hard enough in rain

you’ll see them. I squint my eyes but what I see

is sunshine on the dock, my mother’s white gloves

waving me goodbye. There’s no diamonds here,

or if there are, they’re under this skin of snow.

Seems the whole world’s gone white. I roll my dice

in basements below these  English pavements.

I guess I’m learning what I need to know.

I learn by going where I have to go.


I’ll read a poem about music because we touched on it.

I suppose to say that my dad left Jamaica in 1947 which is before reggae became popular and actually it was the like rhythm blues. He was into American  blues and American jazz and soul. But I really fell in love with reggae music when I went to university but it wasn’t through Caribbean people. It was through kind of white middle class people with dreadlocks, if you know the sort. There’s a whole group of them at Sussex who were heavily into dub reggae and when I told them my dad was Jamaican I got a little credit for that because they probably thought he was like an old Rastafarian or something but couldn’t be further from the truth , you know.

So this poem is really about I guess those ideas about reggae. I actually went out with one of these guys for a time and he used to take me to a club. Some of you may have been to House of roots Abba shanty. Anyone in here ever been? At  Vauxhall or now is at the Scala

These kind of big, big sound systems.

A poem called Reggae story

My father liked the blues and Lady Day.

He left Jamaica way before the reggae

rocked all night in backstreet studios,

before King Tubby or Augustus Pablo.

But I used to love a boy who loved

dub reggae, loved thick lugs of ganja, loved

on Sunday nights to cross the river, take me

to The House Of Roots and Aba-shanti

in the cobbled arches under Vauxhall

where the Lion of Judah decked the walls

and stacks of speakers pumped electric bass,

a single bulb above the smoky haze

and on the stage a little dreadlocked man

like Rumplestiltskin, shouted Jah! and spun

his blistering tunes on a single turntable

and shut-eyed men called back over the vinyl

Jah, Rastafari . Next door, the old guys

were like wizened goats with yellow eyes

hunched over games of chess and ginger tea,

below the golden framed Haile Selassie,

king of kings. That boy didn’t know my father

was a white-haired godless pensioner

and reggae music never really got me

until I played it on my own: Bob Marley,

U-Roy, Johnny Clark, and even then

it came like hymns or Faure’s Requiem,

Vivaldi’s Gloria. He thought I had

a Rasta like Prince Far-I for a dad

not the silent island man who sat

beyond the bedroom door I’d listen at

to catch a woman crooning down a melody:

I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby


Josephine Burton:

That was fabulous. Thank you so much Hannah. It’s interesting to think that the other, perhaps difference, so I guess I’m glad that we’re going to ask Imran and Bülent in a minute, Is that reggae became a kind of form of assimilation because we all did fall in love with reggae and it became a way of us falling in love with the Afro Caribbean British Jamaican communities in the UK.

Hannah Lowe:

Well it was one of the things I was thinking when the presentation was going on about the guest worker music was whether it had any fan base amongst Germans you know because reggae I think was that kind of bridge in some ways in Britain. But the difference is that reggae didn’t emerge under the conditions that this guest worker music emerged. It was already functioning in Jamaica as an anti colonial, anti British rhetoric of reggae that was then transplanted here and U.K. sound system culture grew out of that. But that certainly wasn’t just black British people that were involved in that.

I mean, those sound systems attracted, well my older brother for example was deeply involved in those sound systems. Friends of his from Turkish backgrounds and all kinds of different backgrounds were really into reggae sound systems. Well a broad appeal essentially.

Zerritha Brown:

I was just going to agree and you know going back to the Trojan in the 1968 when Trojan started pumping out hits after hits after hits. So I was at an event in summer with Dave Barker, first number one hit for Trojan. And he was performing and I walked past someone, it was a white guy who was just in absolute awe that Dave was performing and he turned round to me and he said – “ this guy is absolutely amazing because this was the soundtrack of my childhood.” –  He actually brought the communities together and reggae wasn’t just for black people, it was for everybody.

And you know. I fell in love with reggae because it was so inclusive it wasn’t just about, you know, Caribbeans. I was embraced into that fold.

Josephine Burton:

Fascinating. Was there similar? Were there Germans who became quite enamoured by this Gastarbeiter music?


Well you know the main political difference is that Germany refused to be a country who accepted immigration until the last, I don’t know,  10 or 5 years. So the political mainstream and cultural mainstream was sure that they are still a national state and migration is a temporary issue and that’s why it came up with this I would say,racist term of guest workers because it tells you that they only could be workers and they are guests. So they had to leave.

That’s the thing. The guest come and go. And this changed within the last year.

So this is totally different than talking about migration and colonialism and the Empire et cetera. It is totally different so doesn’t make for me very much sense to compare this  because it’s totally different in the sense of politics and even in sense of understanding of what is culture. I would say that still in Germany there is a very, you know it’s not the funkiest place for global cultural expertise. It’s very boring in a way. I tried to give you example, you know I was grown up and I was not a Reggae guy but I loved this, as I mentioned, Corner Shop et cetera. There were no bands like that in Germany. That has to do not only because of how migration, how of the formation of migration was, it was also the mechanism of the cultural industry, of the music industry.

So the music industry basically at that time, I’m talking about uh before Spotify et cetera, it was about selling records and it was about presuming if Is there a market for such kind of music. All this stuff we showed was published by two or three Turkish music labels and they didn’t love music, they were smart guys, they had a look at Germany and said – “There’s 2 million Turkish people and they are listening to this weird music so I’m going to produce and sell it and the German didn’t see that. And the success of our project is, in a way um very… I don’t know…I wouldn’t say cynical but it’s interesting because all the media guys were like- “wow, this was music produced in Germany. I don’t believe you.”- And then you said – “ Yeah that’s your problem,  you’re ignorant” – and then it worked – “ No. Oh god, I am ignorant, I have to write about this album- “And we both we talked about the strategy like say – “OK you know what? We’re going to attack them. We’re going to tell them that you even don’t know what happened in your country” – . And later on we played this … …. this young guy singing German and then there was the TV station and they did three, four minutes about our album and it ended with the sentence – “ if there has been ever a German blues this is German blues” –

So whenever it becomes like fancy or successful it’s German, you know.  

As Fatih . when he started up as a film director in the beginning, when he didn’t win these awards in Cannes et cetera, he was the Turkish German filmmaker. And the moment he won the Berlinale, he became the German film director. So we both are working on becoming German cultural activists.

Josephine Burton:

I think you’re doing pretty well. Thanks to the Göethe institute, you’re here this evening.

The other big difference I would have thought was that you were talking earlier about, there are lots of records, but the music when it was heard live was largely at weddings and private parties. So it wasn’t a publicly consumed artform?


In the 1980s there was now a critical situation in Germany because a lot of people began to think about this guest worker concept and said – “wow they’re long staying guests, when will they leave? “ – And then you know they became with kids and they had like jobs and they build up their own businesses et cetera… And the nervousness rage… getting nervous…-”all these guests are still here. Still here.”-  

Hannah Lowe:

There is this very interesting parallel though with a British story there which is that though legally the status obviously has been different for Commonwealth migrants the Windrush scandal might suggest to

us that these people have been for three generations in Britain are still being treated like guest workers. And that’s the kind of shocking unpalatable parallel I think that I was picking up. Although the history is completely different you’re absolutely right but belonging for that commute to these communities is still a contested idea. Very much so.


In Germany in every decade you have a new definition of these people. In the beginning they were… Frent Arbeiter…foreign workers like before the first world war people from Poland et cetera, came especially West Germany and worked in the mine. As miners they were… Frent Arbeitar… And then we had this Gastarbeiter , guest workers. And then they became…”  “… and then they became Mitbürger in the 80s

Mitbürger is co citizen… foreign fellow citizen…

At that moment they started to be  – “ OK. This could be interesting…” ”and  “ Mitbürger”… What do they eat ? “

When we had the school parties, the teacher always asked my mom to bring Turkish food and once I said – “Why don’t you ask the guys to bring German food?”

They became an immigrant or migrant or something like that.

Josephine Burton:

Just to be clear this is referring to the second generation?


Yeah. And then we have the second generation. That’s very funny. Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund, , People with migration backgrounds.  So you have to look at your back – “ah ,that’s my background. Cool.”

And now we have Neuer Deutscher, new Germans. I don’t know, when I die I am something different but it changes every decade.

Josephine Burton:

And “new Germans” are anybody whose grandparents were not born in Germany?


You mean in the sense of what?

You are always different.

Hannah Lowe:

Can I just ask if , it’s a kind of blunt question but what about intercultural relationship. Do Turkish and German people get together romantically?


You mean sex?

Hannah Lowe:

Yes. Sex.


Ask Bülent..

I mean you don’t ask someone the ethnicity when you start…


What was the question?

Hannah Lowe:

I was just thinking…


Do you?

I never ask


So mixed mixed relationships.

There are a lot of…you have to imagine…


Don’t tell them that we are…


All this that we have shown tonight. Yeah. Well were are talking about our parents.

Yes, and the people who came to Germany, to Europe especially. Not only is the German a part of. Yeah, England is also a part of Europe, still.

But I think that’s the thing is how the majority of the migrants, I will call it as migrants reflected that from where they come from. So we have a privileged position to talk about this. Yes. So maybe it’s our privilege like it’s a privilege that we are artists. Yeah.

And what would it be if we were not artists?  Would we all be fabric workers or workers in the office or normal people like discriminated from the other guys? And that’s the task that we have. To change the whole community and the whole majority and to make the world a diverse world.

Yes, so of course the world is like this but this ruling it’s a mind from the past, a very conservative mind. And we’re talking especially about this. What we do is also funny. Yeah. But it’s really radical politics in Germany also that was the thing the people were so fascinated about. That they can’t believe that this music was made by Turkish people. This tells the mind…how the people are going…

-“I can’t believe that people who has a migrant background can fit with the meaning of European culture.”-  But what is European culture? And where is Europe?

Europe is everywhere and the world is everywhere. Yes. That’s a really metaphoric sentence but  

it’s like – “die zeit hat immer zeit “- “ the time has always time”.

Josephine Burton:

We haven’t answered Hannah’s question but I want to come back to that because I do want to know the answer to this intersex question but to follow up this line of conversation, the Gastarbeiter, did they considered themselves to be European? Is it even a question?


Every question about this issue is very complicated because it is never homogeneous. There is not such a thing like a Turkish diaspora in Germany because in it you have a lot of diversity in sense of politics.

I think this is a thing which in  further discussion, for me, it should be more a question of forms of resistance, of political attitudes and that coming to your question is at that point Europe is not an issue for these people because it’s about trying to build up a new life in Germany. I mean, my parents refused and for me still it’s the same, to say in a relaxed way “I’m a German”, we don’t say this in my generation because we had this racist 90s you know where we were witnessing really aggressive forms of racism and people saying “you are not part of this country”, “go home” and I said “why should I go to home? It’s a boring place.”

Josephine Burton:

And would you consider yourself a European? Was that more comfortable?



But that depends on what you understand what is European, you know.  For me a very turning point in the last year was where the so-called European Union did a sell out in Greece. And this was you know, as a political decision of a neoliberal concept to just force a government to act in a way that they think that is European and that has nothing to do with my understanding of being European. You can go to Athens these days and have a look what is European, people living on the streets…So… it’s not my Europe you know. I don’t want to be part of that.

Josephine Burton:

I mean in the UK, one would possibly blame the non-accession of Turkey to the EU as part of the reason why Brexit happened. There was a lot of talk in 2016 about these millions of people that would be coming into Europe. I’m interested in this sort of Turkish-European tension because there is a tension with Turkey as a non-European country?


Yes, there has always been. Because of historical reasons, because of also this issue we were working on because you have this… well…a decisive thing that millions of people living there and still not really a relaxed part of a society, still. And then, you know, I worked a lot for politicians and I’m still sceptical with them because, you know, I heard a lot of things like Adwan is this, Adwan is that and I do agree on this but on the same time they’re doing business with him you know… Madame Merkel is dealing with him on refugees not to come to Europe et cetera. So this is maybe not very precise but it’s always in this matter of Turkey and Europe, about interests. What it’s in the interest of countries who have power. Historically Turkey was always a like ball flipping on this side and the other side.

Josephine Burton:

I’m going to bring in some questions. I’m sure there are some questions from you all.

Cristina, I think you have a microphone.

Is there any questions for anyone here? Please ask. Anyone…

There’s a question at the front.

[Question from the audience]

I’m just interested in the question around the guest workers in Germany as in why did the country allow them to stay on then? If they were just guest workers like my background is. My parents came over but they were British citizen in that sense. So what was it that led to the state itself not just saying it? For example in Saudi Arabia there are a lot of Bengali there or  guest workers but they only get five years and they have to go back. So it’s never been a question.


This is a very interesting question and there is a lot of interesting work on this issue.  How did that happened? You know. That they did this contract as Bülent told with these countries and said –“ OK send us like two hundred thousand people and then we distribute them to these places where they are needed. I think… I think the main reason is that the people who came to Germany developed their own strategies to stay. In the 70s we had these very dramatic economic situation like increase of unemployment et cetera and everyone was like we have to push these people out of this country so we can solve this unemployment thing. A lot of migrants lost their jobs. But you know what they did? They started to do their own business in Germany so they started up their own business. And then in the 1980s the German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, said his aim is to halve the numbers of Turkish people in Germany. That was one of his political promise. It didn’t work out, they even gave people funding if they left the country.

The State said if you leave I give you like 15000 marks.


But wasn’t official so they asked them on the office. So do you want to leave? So to get this money and so and then you leave in one month like this.


And then if that happens, that people you know become kids, they start the school et cetera… I was born in 1969.


Okay but I would say something to your question.

Yeah. So when these people are coming, mostly the men come alone and the women also. Not so much women. And leave their families back in Turkey. They come to spots and places, like camps for the workers. They worked in the factory and so and at this time there was a lot of work in Germany so you can quit this work there and go to other place and so it was spreading from these spots where they come from the factories all over Germany because they changed geographically. Also the states in Germany and so…And that was the reason why the people spread all over Germany and then in the beginning of the 70s they bring their families, their daughters, sons and the women or husbands to Germany. Especially this guy …” “…. So he comes in 67 and starts to speak German and go to special school classes where they have to learn German and also especially in my time we had also extra less lessons in German. So of course we were like the Germans here but in the minds of this people though, we were not so good in the German language that we had to do this. Yes. So we went to special classes. We did nothing there. Really it was sitting there and did nothing there because everybody was speaking German ,Yeah, like a German child but obviously then we had to go there. That’s very interesting and a lot of things to buy the integration in Germany didn’t fit. Yeah…Until nowadays.

Because from the beginning of the political system when the people get specialised in their own infrastructure and it was always the topic of integration also in the political landscape in Germany. I don’t know how it was here in England so I would be interested if you both had the same problems like we had when we were young. With integration and discrimination.

Of course we live what our parents lived and that thing was also that our parents didn’t speak very well German.

So we have everything to translate and when we were kids… everything from state offices and so…we became immediately, when we were 9, 10, 11 , a German  adult. Knowledge about the system and the structure of Germany. Now it’s our task to tell this story. We are the historians from the generation in the past.


In Germany there’s an obsession in politics to think that they can regulate migration. Still today.

Josephine Burton:

It’s the same thing here.


But in Germany we are more obsessive. Like “we have this and they come, they go.”

We can pitch that.

This very interesting question you asked is, for me, a very good example that there is nothing that a state can regulate migration. They try to. I think in sociology there is this term of autonomy of migration, so people find their own ways like Bülent translating for his parents et cetera. So there’s always a new concept and new strategies to, let’s say, to stay alive and to move on.

Josephine Burton:

Hannah, do you identify with this sense of being the historian of the second generation.

Do you feel that you are often asked to perform your poetry as a sort of testimony or as a role? I mean you know you are yourself in some way some physical manifestation of an inter-British integration story.

Hannah Lowe:

Maybe. I was listening and I was thinking – “what these guys are talking about is a kind of lived and practical and very necessary and quite difficult experience but I’m sure that second generation kids in Britain have parents that don’t speak English unlike Caribbean parents have all these similar things with translation. I’ve seen in my work as education and my mom was a teacher. Pakistani parents for example leaving their kids to translate. There’s lots of parallels there.

In terms of my own sense of being a historian, I suppose the difference I’m trying to articulate is that it’s more of a luxury for me as opposed to a kind of necessity. Was not something I’ve been called upon to do. Also I’ve not had the experience because of the way I look, of being a victim of racism which is an essential difference when you cannot be the target of racism if you cannot be identified as being of that place. So that’s another difference. And I think what is linked to that I suppose is my sense without trying to sound kind of super benevolent or something. I suppose that the energies behind my work is that I’ve felt for a long time that dad was so disenfranchised. I mean being a gambler in the East End of London it might sound glamorous but it actually was really dangerous and unstable and in the end it took its toll on his mental health. His life he’d grown up in rural Jamaica with a Chinese father. Did I mentioned he was Afro Chinese? So his mother was black his father was Chinese. Very brutal, impoverished life. He left school at 8, he migrated. He was a guest worker in America during the Second World War. That’s when the term guest worker was really applied to Caribbean people when they picked crops during the Second World War. Thousands of them did. Then he travelled to Britain. He had very little agency. The institutions that he respected, the British institutions like university, he had no access to. And then he had these sort of two shiny kids. Me and my brother who had access to everything education wise I cannot tell you how completely different my life has been to that of my dad. And that came with a sense of wanting to commemorate his experience and give him a voice. Growing up in colonial Jamaica. You were taught British poetry. Even if you never seen a daffodil are you going to learn what daffodil was off by heart. And my dad was a bright man. Self-educated, a committed socialist, he loved poetry but he had no agency you know to really express those things so I suppose part of me being a poet was thinking that he might… you know…give him that voice.

Josephine burton:

Did he hear any of your poetry?

Hannah Lowe:

No, he died before. The thing is, growing up with my dad, I was constantly being asked- “ is that your dad ? “ And sometimes I just say no. You know when you’re seven, eight, nine…It wasn’t just racially we looked so different he was also way older. So it wasn’t till I was about 18 or 19 and I went to university to study postcolonial literature and I kept on doing these modules and I was doing and M.A. in refugee studies. “Why am I interested in this?”  Still couldn’t put it together to say I was interested in my dad’s story and then just as I was having these realizations he died and ,you know, that has been really the story of my work with China. I knew nothing about him either because he never told me anything. So it was a long, long journey trying to recoup his story and the Internet has been crucial in that. I should mention that. What the digital world can allow you to do in terms of connecting back to places. Yeah so.

So yeah I do feel like I’m historian but there’s no obligation for me in that, for me is privilege.

Josephine Burton:

And do you Zerritha?  Historian?

Zerritha Brown:

I didn’t but through the Winbush project yes, definitely so.

And the project I’m working on now is around celebrating Brent’s relationship with reggae. In terms of Brent a lot of reggae artists that came from Jamaica, they came and they resided in Brent. Bob Marley spent time in Brent. Dennis Brown spent time in Brent. So what I’m doing now is around collecting histories of people that lived in Brent. I’ve worked in Brent around their relationship of reggae in order to make connections wider not just not just in the UK but also actually Jamaica. I’ve had quite a few meetings with the Library of Jamaica and Jamaican government saying “actually we don’t have these stories in Jamaica and we want to work with you to take these stories back to Jamaica.”

Josephine Burton:

That’s amazing. It would be fascinating to see them going back.

Zerritha Brown:


Josephine Burton:

I think there’s a couple more questions. Yes?

[Question from the audience]

I just wanted to come back to the point about dating people because I thought there’s something interesting there maybe we could elaborate on it a little bit.

I thought it was interesting that you brought it up because I feel like there is maybe a difference and because of the history of sort of Black also on dating white people and so on… which maybe is quite different to the sort of relationship between German-German and German-Turkish people. For example I came to London to study and being German-German dated someone that was German-Turkish for a while which I think, to neither of us was a problem at all. One of my friends who’s German-Moroccan , It’s a bit complicated so bear with me,  who in Germany would probably be considered you know as somebody of a migrant background, started dating a British guy whose father was part of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. So a sort half black South African half Scottish and I know that for him it was an issue to date her because she was too white whereas in Germany she would not be necessarily considered white. It’s quite complex and I just thought it’s really interesting and whether you could maybe go into that a little bit more because even though it’s not obviously it’s sort of maybe very explicit political problem within the German-Turkish relations maybe there are sort of a bit more subtle underlying questions that do come up like they certainly do come out for religious people I think sometimes. But maybe they even come up in the more sort of like secular and It would be interested to hear more about how you’ve experienced these questions.

Hannah Lowe:

Can I just say that I brought it up because often anti-immigration rhetoric, one of the tropes of that is the fear “if they come over here and take our women”, you know that kind of fear. This was sexual invasion fear certainly in the Caribbean diaspora. But that’s why I was trying to work out if there was a similar thing in Germany.

Josephine Burton:

Tell us about the audiences who come to your events. Maybe that’s a way in. Do you have a mixed audience who come?


It depends where we are invited to. Normally we are like this Bobo German, Gutmenschen people. They come and say “ oh wow, interesting, cool”.

But if you are invited of association, of a community, so you have different people and we both played in a techno club in Munich. So there were boys and girls around 20 dancing to this. It was like quite intense. Do they understand what the songs are about? Because the guy was singing about…” “….and they were dancing to it. So it depends on the venue on the one hand.

Two things are very interesting and very typical. The one classical feedback is from German – Germans come to us and say  “ wow thank you. I learned a lot of about my country. I didn’t know that and feel like a bit touched” et cetera. And the other thing is like sometimes we have people from the first generation you know sitting in the first row and there you see it you know they’re so like – “ look at these two crazy guys they’re telling our history “ and this is very this is really touching really. It’s even more touching than this dating thing.


So you are never going to answer?


To be honest I didn’t get the question.

Josephine Burton:

Your question is do they really exist? Is there much intermingling?


Look I think this is a political question, you know.

I had I had once an affair when I lived in Frankfurt with a … …Schwarz… the name is problematic, black. So the guy was working, during the apartheid he was a staffer at the South African Airlines and I said to her – “ interesting your father working with the apartheid regime”  and she said- “ no he’s a social democrat” – I said – “ Oh wow , It could be that he’s a social democrat and so on.

And we started doing this and that et cetera and I recognized that she’s quite nervous when I come to her place she’s like constantly nervous, you know. And I knew she has the fear that the dad can come home and see her with this… At that time I had a long hair… I thought I was a cool guy but forget that. And then I said to her you know I understand him. I understand him because he thinks that I will take you to the Kurdish mountains and I will take you as a hostage. This is what he thinks. And she said- “no he’s a social democrat.”

I said” I don’t care he’s social democrat.”

And then there was a specific moment she insisted that I should visit her at the nordsee, they had a place at the seaside. I said- “I don’t come because with your father… this is going to be complicated.”  And she said- “no, you know there is this moment where you say OK I’m with you and he has to go through that.”- I said – “this is not a good idea. “but she said – “ you have to come”. I said – “OK I come” And then we come.

And he was not really relaxed and said – “ Guten tag – I said – “ hi!”  And then we had dinner et cetera. And I was so smart I put a friend with me and said – “come with me you never know and cetera.” He said – “ Come on he won’t kill you”. I said -“No. But maybe he puts me out in front of the door and then I am alone”. He said –“are you insane?”  And then we were eating and then there was this moment, you know everyone is tired but no one goes to sleep because the fear” what will this Kurdish guy do with my daughter” – and I was quite enjoying this as I said -“ okay should we have a drink?”

And he was like really tired old man tired and then he said –“OK let’s go to sleep and I said – “wow he’s really a social democrat”. And then he asked me and Marcus to sleep in the sauna and I said -” you know what? I have parents, you know, from Turkey in your sense not very modern. Maybe a bit traditional.

But I think they will never ask you to sleep in the sauna. And he said -”… …”then I said Marcus come on let’s go to the sauna. But coming to you dating question you know what I did? I slept in the sauna but two hours later I knocked on her window and so open up the window and I jumped in really.

Josephine Burton:

I think there’s one more question.

There’s one more question here.

[Question from audience]:

This is a question for Zerritha, Hanna and Imran I suppose.

Josephine Burton:

And Bülent? Not Bülent?

[Question from audience]

You probably can answer as well.

It was last year I think, I went to a wedding in Jamaica. And I was the only person who wasn’t British Jamaican or Jamaican. And I come from a very immigrant background myself. I’m half German and my father is of another migration. I’ve often been mistaken for being Turkish in Germany with my blond haired, blue eyed relatives. Very funny. So my question was about the use of the word diaspora because you just said that the Turkish diaspora doesn’t exist. And I found it really interesting, in a conversation with someone in Jamaica at this wedding trying to make small talk all the time I made myself comfortable amongst everybody, was wonderful experience but I used the word diaspora and the man he got so crossed with me. And he said to me- “I do not think it’s a word that should exist and it does not apply to the black diaspora, it does not exist.”- I was really shocked because I couldn’t…You know… we talk about it so much, we talk about so many diasporas. It is a word that we just throw around. So I just have always been asking people and I ask my friends around and you know I got cut off the same way that you said

When you were interviewing people asking for photos, people were not so forthcoming. So even amongst my friends I would ask – “why is this? I don’t understand.”-  So I just wondered…

Josephine Burton:

Is the question does it exist? Or has it become a taboo to talk about it?


A bit of both.  In relationship to him he had gone to Miami from Jamaica he’d been working in Miami and then come back to Jamaica. But he was adamant that he didn’t think diaspora was a word that should be used and he didn’t use it.

Hannah Lowe:

I’m really interested to hear this. Other people may know more about this than I do but I think what you were saying was that there’s no such thing as a homogenous Turkish diaspora. But my understanding of diaspora has always been a very broad term. For example when you talk about the African diaspora you might be talking about all different kinds of things, you might be talking about slavery or you might be talking about all the kinds of different post-colonial movements after independence but I’ve always felt that diaspora is quite an academic term and quite an academically neutral term although obviously it’s history.


He wasn’t that he wasn’t academic because he actually himself was undertaking academic studies.

Josephine Burton:

Let’s hear if anyone else has got any thoughts.

Zerritha Brown:

Yeah I mean I’ve not come across that before. I use the term diaspora because to me it kind of sums up the impact, the contribution, the different the different waves of what’s happened to the community that’s come to the UK. So you know, example my parents come from the Caribbean and I’m second generation. My children are third generation but they’re also mixed heritage as well. I would see them coming from the Caribbean Diaspora.

Hannah Lowe:

It’s a word I really like. Diaspora

I think about my own existence as being like this kind of Chinese diaspora to the Caribbean. The African diaspora to the New World which is you know the legacy of slavery is there and then the post-war diaspora from the Caribbean to Britain. Diaspora its dispersal, its movement. It’s not a loaded word.


I don’t know too much about this word diaspora but I would say that I feel like it takes away my sense of individualism so I don’t feel anyone represents me. Does that make sense? That’s how I feel now at this stage of my life so… Maybe that’s what he meant, that he doesn’t want to be thrown into a big melting pot.

Josephine Burton:

Anyone else have any thoughts on the idea of Diaspora?


Before Brexit I always saw myself as a British citizen and that was what I saw myself as.  Since then I’ve actually been much more interested in where I’m coming from. I like this German word that looks back to your ancestry and pulls it into you who you are now. So something for me about being not just a British citizen but also part of the Bengali diaspora, you could say.  In my own individual way and how varied that can be. So I actually began to like the word because it opens up the discourse.

Josephine Burton:

It brings me back, we had a Café here back in September which is the Café that I met Zerritha. That’s exactly what people said on the stage. The Romanian comic talked about having been kind of outed as a Romanian now and having to confront that in his performance.  The actress who had, I think it was a Hungarian and Czech background, Slovak background, is having to say that now and talk about it and actually is finding it very exciting and enriching for her work and it is a nice way to bring us back and I think I am I’m quite conscious of the fact that we’ve had such a wonderful show and a fantastic conversation it’s getting quite late but I want to just give a quick heads up to our next Café which is on the twenty seventh of February, I believe,  which is following this this conversation and this topic around immigration to Europe where we’re having two actresses coming over from Sweden. Bahar, she’s an actress and recently made her debut as film director and made some pretty provocative interesting short films. She herself is born in Iran and came to Sweden. It’s about her experience of being Iranian actress in Sweden. In Sweden you can’t talk about your background. It’s actually against the law to acknowledge and ask someone where they’re from and who they are and really it’s all of these kind of issues are sort of unspoken about and they’re really coming out in her films and she’s going to be on this stage talking about the experience of moving to Sweden and confronting these questions of identity and her work. So that’s that.

And then we have another one in the week that we may or may not leave the EU. We’re having a conversation on the stage about borders and how it is to live on the border.

And it’s really just down for me to say a few kind of bits of stuff. One is – when you go, please don’t go. Hang around, have a drink. Bülent and Imran have put together a playlist of some of the amazing music that we heard this evening that will play on in the bar and I’m being waved at by Cristina who’s telling me – please do,  if you do and when you go, please if you can sign questionnaires that Cristina has.

We’d love to hear your thoughts of this evening and where you’re from and what you like and what you’d like to see us discuss it at our Dash Cafés. So please fill them in. And just an enormous thank you to Zerritha for her images that we only saw a really tiny amount but what we saw was so beautiful. Thank you very much. And to Hannah for her poetry and to Bülent and Imran for coming all the way for one show.


There is one thing I didn’t say. Which is that Imran wrote the entirety of the subtitles especially for tonight. Was like a labour of love. So thank you Imran.  


Thank you all for coming and have a fantastic night.


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