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CELEBRATING WINDRUSH DAY WITH DJ FLIGHT

Every year we celebrate Windrush Day, honouring the migration of people from the West Indies to the UK during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. After a call-out from the British government in need of workers to help re-build the ‘Mother Country’, thousands fled from the Caribbean in hope of a better life for themselves and their families. 

Today, we recognise the legacy of the Windrush generation, which is those who uprooted to the UK, their children, grandchildren and so on. These generations have had an astronomical impact and contribution to British culture and society, shaping the country we live in today through music, food and art. 

However, the UK has not always stood in solidarity and gratitude to the Windrush generations. In 2017 the Windrush Scandal arose after it was discovered that many commonwealth citizens from the Windrush generations were wrongly being denied legal rights, or far worse, deported.

In light of this, the government announced a grant scheme for charities, community groups and other organisations looking to ‘commemorate, celebrate and educate’ others on Windrush. For Windrush Day 2022, Create London and Hackney Council came together and commissioned the third series of a very topical podcast: Windrush Stories

Founded by DJ Flight, the co-founder of the women’s collective EQ50 and the forefront of Drum & Bass music. The podcast sees Flight sit down with members of the Windrush generation and chat about their lives and legacies. Each episode features a unique story, with individuals ranging from the spheres of art, music, sport, poetry, politics and food. Wholeheartedly relaxed, the podcast gives “people space to speak” and asks “open-ended questions” as described by Natalie Wright, otherwise known as DJ Flight. 

We invited Natalie to have a chat with us about the Windrush Stories, how it came about, the production process, how she scouts guests for the show and so forth, in commemoration of this year’s Windrush Day. As a topic still so widespread in society, it’s important to hear the stories and ventures of the people that made our country what it is today. The UK would be a very different place if not for Windrush, and this podcast really pays homage to that.

Throughout the series, Flight asks a number of her guests what the Windrush legacy means to them. When asked what the Windrush legacy means to her, she laughs, pausing to say ‘it’s funny because I ask everybody this”. After a brief moment of reflection, she continues: ‘the legacy is everything and I owe my life to the Windrush gen”. She talks about the families that uprooted, her own family, music and sound system culture, encapsulating the influence that the Windrush generation has had on her life, and that the legacy, to her is “being grateful for life and everything that they went through to make life better for themselves, their families and other people”. A beautiful synopsis for life, if ever we have heard one. This narrative of appreciation and respect shines throughout the series, hinting toward how the podcast has, in fact, turned out to be one of  “ the best things [she’s] ever been involved in ”. 

Flight grew up in South East London, spending time in areas such as Norbury, Streatham, Croydon, Wimbledon and Brixton. She spent her youth visiting her paternal grandmother in Croydon, or going to the Samuel Coleridge Taylor Centre in South Norwood with her dad. The centre was named after a famous violinist who was of mixed heritage and known for playing classical music around the 1970s and 80s: “It was great going there and playing snooker and pool, there was an art teacher called Pablo who was a Rasta and he really inspired me”. 

Exposed to music of all cultures and sounds from a young age, it’s no wonder Flight went down the path of music and broadcasting. But, how she got into it, may not be what you expect. Nine years ago, she applied for a job offering at the Prison Radio Association, a station working to rehabilitate prisoners through radio. Nine years on and Flight’s still going strong, helping others and spreading her knowledge through the power of radio and her easy-going persona. 

Each year the commissioning rounds would come around, opening up the room to independent platforms, companies and producers to pitch ideas worthy of funding. 

“I’d applied for a couple before and then on one of our training days, I had an idea and I called it ‘Granny Ackee and Me’. The idea was to have people in the kitchen, cooking with an older relative and having a chat. Whether it’s a grandmother, an auntie or an older cousin, while they are preparing the older person’s favourite meal from home, they learn about the older person’s history and backstory”. ‘Granny Ackee and Me’ soon developed into the Windrush Stories, after applying for some funding in 2020 and receiving the go-ahead. And, so it began! 

Windrush Stories started during the pandemic and due to this was recorded remotely, ​​using software such as IPTDL and later, Zoom. Although Flight comments that she would have loved to have conducted the interviews in person, “Sometimes it can be a bit tricky carrying a load of equipment across London or wherever you’re going”. All but one of the episodes was recorded in person, and that was the episode with her dad, ‘Mr Wright’, available on series one. Flight speaks honestly, saying she felt “nervous” about this recording because it was the “the first one recorded”, but at the same time she knew it would “kind of be the easiest”, that she would be able to “work out any tech problems” if needed. Using equipment at home, she set up a recording station with a “Rhode mic set up on a stand in front of him sitting on my armchair” and recorded herself on a handheld microphone. 

During the episode, Mr Wright shares tales from his youth that he had never told his daughter before, including an incident when the police came looking for him one day when he was getting ready for work: “They took him down the police station and tried to fit him for a murder when he was nowhere in the vicinity”. Shockingly, “he told me he remembers being in the office and there being all these folders behind him and the officer blatantly says to him ‘see all these, your name’s going to end up on one of them’… But this was a regular occurrence, this was happening all the time and I guess still does up to a point”. Sadly, Mr Wright passed away in November, but his legacy lives on forevermore and is captured in this very episode. Flight comments with a smile that “it feels quite special to have that as part of all of the other stories recorded”. 

Originally, she “was a little apprehensive about it being released and just wondering what the reception would be for the public”, but now that it’s out there and has received rave reviews from the public, she feels very heart-warmed that it has “resonated with the people it has”. With the Windrush scandal still ongoing, deportation still happening, and Caribbean countries “slowly but surely saying they are going to get rid of the Queen as their head of state”, regaining their independence, it’s always in the public eye and “Caribbean people’s consciousness”. As a prevalent topic in our society, Flight comments on the experience of asking the guests to come on the show: “I think people have felt really grateful to be asked to share their stories and really enjoyed and relished the opportunity, which I was really grateful for as well”.

In the third series, some of which are out now, you can expect to hear long-form interviews with Cleveland Watkins MBE, Mr Gee, Michelle Dornelly and Doctor Arthur McMillian. Cleveland Watkins MBE was a Jazz sensation, famous for hosting the Metalheadz Sunday Sessions which took place at the iconic Blue Note club in Hoxton Square, owned by none other than Goldie. During the episode, they chat about this seminal club night, his Jazz background and co-founding Jazz warriors, an all-Black African-Caribbean heritage band. At the age of seventeen, Flight started going to this club so “the influence that this particular club at the time had on me as an artist and DJ in my own right, was everything, and I still try and carry that through as well as my influences from Kemistry, Storm and Fabio”. 

Her guests are an amalgamation of all kinds of people across all ventures of life, particularly from the arts as “a lot of the main visible influence on the UK [from Windrush] comes from the arts, media, music and also sport”, Flight highlights. Her process for finding guests involved the crafting of a big list, nice and simple. “I would just write a list of names of people from different backgrounds and industries”, ticking them off as she goes along: “Thanks to everyone who said yes!” she adds politely. 

The responses to the podcast have been tremendously positive, with many commenting on how the podcast has been insightful for them: “I had a lot of responses from people saying that they really learnt what the experience of West Indies coming to the UK is really like”. After resonating with the public, it was nominated for the British Podcast Awards (2021) and a few days ago, it was announced that Windrush Stories is up for nomination for the second year in a row. 

The UK is a wonderfully vibrant place, rich in culture and community thanks to all the incredible people who migrated from countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Kitts, British Guiana, Barbados, Antigua and other countries owned by the British Empire. 

You brought delicious cooking, food rich in flavour and comfort, filling our bellies with joy. As well as music of good spirit, for the mind, body and soul. But most of all, kindness, virtue and community. 

To hear more from DJ Flight, listen back to the show here.

If you haven’t already checked out Windrush Stories, you can stream all episodes here.  

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