The Amnesty International UK Student Conference is an annual event, led by students at the UK Amnesty headquarters in London. Featuring a program human rights activities, workshops and entertainment, one of the organisers, Poppy Sheward Skelton invited our friend, musician and sometime collaborator Polina Shepherd and myself to speak about our work in music and activism.
The conversation is fairly short, as we decided it would be important to make space for a musical performance from Polina (the first of its kind at the conference). She sang folk songs in Yiddish, and her native Russian, including an anti war song and songs with allegorical themes of forced migration, as well as some celebratory songs Yiddish songs. The music, brilliant as always was fantastically received, the audience clearly engaged with the songs and information on their wider context, which Polina gave about each piece.
As part of our work at Best Foot Music we aim to encourage discussion that migration, the movement of people, sharing of ideas and cultures are and always have been a normal part of human history. Much of our cultural landscape in the UK is shaped by it, including day to day activities like shampooing our hair, drinking coffee, the numbers we use, the music we listen to and much of our diet, even the 'typical British' dish of Fish and Chips has its history tied to migration, the idea of fried fish in batter came to the UK via Jewish migrants in the 16th Century.
It is also important to recognise the impact of the British empire and the transatlantic slave trade has had and continues to have on the shaping of the World today. Not only did many of our institutions benefit financially, but racism and discrimination based on skin colour and wider xenophobic attitudes are something that evolved during the time of the empire and the slave trade and those legacies are still felt today.
For a history of the British Empire in India, we highly recommend the excellent podcast Empire with William Dalrymple and Anita Anand.
Also well worth a read is 'Hostile Environment: How Immigrants became Scapegoats" by Maya Goodfellow.
Thanks to Poppy Sheward Skelton for inviting us to take part in this excellent conference.