In the basement of Nottingham Contemporary, the lights were dimming as the crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of DJ, film-maker and all round cultural icon Don Letts. With his reputation as a pioneer of reggae firmly established throughout his work, the sense of anticipation and excitement seemed to fill the room, creating an indescribable buzz of electricity.
Prior to Don’s arrival, local rappers and singers warmed up the crowd, performing a variety of genres ranging from grime to soul. Each artist unique in their own right and representing a different corner of the industry, bringing a cultural and musical collision bound together by the origins of their genre - all equally talented and equally enjoyable. As the last singer crooned on stage, Don Letts strode past and began to set up. From the second he began to play, whilst vigorously gesturing to the tech team to turn up the speakers even louder, the soothing percussions of Reggae sent the crowd into a hypnotic trance. Opening with classics, such as Toots and the Maytals’ 54-56 Was My Number and Bob Marley’s Soul Rebel, the night commenced with a relaxed atmosphere getting even the most pretentious of art folk losing sense of all inhibitions and melodically swaying from side to side. The set was a total of 2 hours throughout which Don succeeded in uniting a crowd of art lovers with the entrancing music of reggae.
Despite the focus of this article being the music, it is important to remember the context in which Don Letts played that night. The Place Is Here, the exhibition that was opening the night of said DJ set, brings together the work of over 30 different artists examining the identity, representation and legacies of black British people throughout history. With a magnitude of artistic executions such as sculpture, painting, photography, video, installations and archives all exploring issues that date from 1980s right up to the present day, the night was as much about creative empowerment and cultural provocation as it was about enjoyment. Although you won’t be able to see Don Letts play this venue, a trip to this exhibition is definitely worth your while.