Respect yourself

Respect (2021) is a biographical musical drama about the life of the African-American singer and civil rights campaigner Aretha Franklin, which features Jennifer Hudson.

“Respect,” Aretha’s signature song, was released in April 1967 and reached number 1 in the music charts and was later hailed as a civil rights and feminist anthem.

This film reminded me of the African-American soul music tour of Britain in 1967 with Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, and Booker T. Jones, which played to both white and black teenage audiences. This must have been a culture shock for the black entertainers arriving from 1960s America, with its segregated clubs and dance halls.

In 1968 I went to see Eddie Floyd (Knock on Wood) at the Mecca Ballroom, Southampton. Other concerts followed, including Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, and Sam and Dave, renowned as one of the best live acts ever. Many of these artists were politically active in the struggle for black pride, which was obvious from the lyrics of their songs.

Soul music was adopted by working-class teenagers known as Mods, who frequented the soul clubs—a melting-pot in cities and towns. Unfortunately the ugly face of racism wasn’t too far away, which would mutate into the right-wing National Front. It was obvious to me, therefore, that only through political and socialist activity could a multicultural society ever be achieved.

With the arrival of migrants in Ireland too in recent years, many of them are making their presence felt in sport, the professions and music while adding a new dimension to Irish culture. They include Denise Chaila, the Irish-Zambian winner of the RTE Choice Music Award, 2020, for the album Go Bravely, which covers everything from feminism to racial identity. Denise declares that “to reject Irishness is to reject myself, because if I’m not going to say that this country had a hand in making me, what am I going to say?”