Black Audio Film Collective
Handsworth Songs - Rewire
In October 1985 Britain witnessed a spate of civil disturbances in the Birmingham district of Handsworth and in urban centres of London. These were violent, tragic events, marked by the death of an elderly Black woman, Joy Gardner and a white policeman, Keith Blakelock. Handsworth Songs takes as its point of departure these events and the inability of the British media to go beyond its fixation on demonising or rationalising the rioters and their motives, to break the anxiety-driven loop of morbid responses to the presence of Black people in Britain.
Evoking a broad range of voices, tones, and registers, Handsworth Songs approaches the riots and expresses its central idea: that it is not the riots in their dramatic unfolding, nor even in the wake of their violent eruption, which provide us with a route into the drama. Instead, the film contends that the meaning in the malaise is to be found in events outside the frame of contemporary reportage, in moments which seemed to have little affective relation to the expressions of discontent which characterised the riots – i.e., in the annals of post-war news reportage around race in Britain, which is transformed in the film into an archive of Black (un)belonging, or in the expression of hopes of belonging that were brutally deferred.
Handsworth Songs is presented as part of a focus programme on the work by sound composer and artist Trevor Mathison, who is part of the Black Audio Film Collective, a pioneering arts initiative founded in 1982 whose ground-breaking experimental works engaged with Black popular and political culture in Britain and Black and Asian diasporas.