OPINION: Simmer Down – Peace and Unity in the Community
It was a long week.
A week of negative comments written by a leading politician against women from a certain ethnic and religious background. These abusive comments were later defended by a leading comedian under the guise of comedy and the ‘freedom of speech’ mantra. The week continued with the media adding weight to these arguments and counter-arguments.
In this parched and bleak landscape, with the heat and anger baking the nation, it was with relief that the weekend arrived like an oasis with some rain to cool the nation.
And with the rain came the sound of music on Sunday afternoon in Handsworth Park as the annual Simmer Down Festival welcomed the people of Birmingham to the tunes of Reggae.
The overcast skies and rain could not dampen the spirit of the audience. The hatred and anger of the past week drained away to be replaced with musical vibes that brought the community together. Black, White, Asian, Muslim and Rasta, families and couples, everyone connected and responded to the spirit of Simmer Down.
Birmingham City Council missed a golden opportunity by not having a summer of music festivals. Three major festivals were all crammed into a single day rather than having them spread out over three weekends and thus giving people a chance to attend all three.
Big John’s Birmingham Mela (Cannon Hill Park), Simmer Down Festival (Handsworth Park), and the Ward End Park Mega Mela all took place on the same afternoon. This resulted in heavy traffic in various parts of the city, several streets and roads were sealed off, and the rain kept some people away. I hope next year the Council plan the dates without any of these events clashing.
Funding to the Arts is being cut across the country and community halls are closing down. Many communities have become fractured and the media and politicians fuel the division. One way of dealing with this corrosive poison is to bring people together through a music festival where people eat, drink, and dance together under the umbrella of a shared humanity.
In these times of suspicion and paranoia the power of music brings dialogue and unity between the various sections of the community. Politicians cannot be trusted to deliver peace and reconciliation when they make speeches and comments which are designed to provoke intolerance.
As the final bars of music echoed across the vast arena of Handsworth Park the people cheered, smiled, held high their hands and clapped. Regardless of colour, race, or gender, the people of Birmingham were all united. Music has a healing quality, and Simmer Down was proof that no matter what our leaders do to divide us, we can still share and agree on something as we dance to tunes that break down the barriers of ignorance and intolerance.