chapter  4
Babylon’s burning: Linton Kwesi Johnson, Hanif
ByKureishi and Salman Rushdie
Pages 32

In the winter of 1987, the Jamaican-born novelist Ferdinand Dennis made several visits to Brixton as part of his journey around ‘Afro-Britain’. He described the Brixton neighbourhood as a ‘Jamaica Abroad’, an ebullient and dynamic neighbourhood epitomized by the ‘highly charged atmosphere’ (1988: 188) of Brixton market on a Saturday morning. ‘Even some of the street names suggest energy’, he wrote: ‘Electric Avenue, Coldharbour Lane’ (188). Yet the exuberance of 1980s Brixton could not mask reminders of more sober and bleak times. Opposite Lambeth Town Hall stood the Tate Library, named after ‘the sugar company which for centuries ran sugar plantations in the Caribbean’ (188) and was implicated in Caribbean slavery. On taking a walk along Railton Road, known locally as the ‘frontline’ (198), Dennis surveyed the ‘numerous shabby shop-fronts’ (197) and recalled the days when ‘[t]he road used to fork, and in the triangle formed were buildings which had become a market for ganga’ (197). Although the Frontline had recently changed, it was hard to forget recent events in which Brixton had been brought to the attention of the nation.