You might know Tottenham best for its riots in 1985. Or maybe you remember the riot in 2011, that started as peaceful protest, then suddenly all hell broke loose. Or maybe your just heard of the Spurs Football Club.
In any case, I recommend you to watch “Once Upon a Time in North London”, the recent documentary short from Noisey, VICE’s music channel. It is a timely investigation into the “rich creative history, difficulties, successes, and individuals that are giving back to the area and making a positive impact on Tottenham’s next generation”.
Even more importantly, it is a glimpse into the way one community has turned strife and hardship into a burgeoning culture and community that is feeding its own growth.
As Tottenham activist Stafford Scott puts it, Tottenham residents long felt that the “system had failed them”, and “as a result of that they have become very resistant and resilient, and so they have come together as a community to support and help each other”.
“The community experience is second to none,” adds Wretch 32. “Like, we literally go through each other’s pain and each other’s joy”.
Wretch 32 is a rapper and hip-hop musician from Tottenham, just one of the featured Tottenham natives with a successful career in music and the arts, along with musiciansSkepta and Avelino, broadcasterJulie Adenuga, and others.
The film also shows us institutions like The Selby Centre, a community facility for artistic projects, and heat.fm, a pioneering pirate radio station for Tottenham’s rap and hip-hop music scene. These are “the hubs that cherish and nurture talent, in ways that the education system and local authorities certainly don’t”.
“It was important that these institutions were there, because who knows what we would have been doing if it wasn’t”, says Julie Adenuga.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of oppressed people in Tottenham, but people in Tottenham also know how to turn pain into triumph… make the best use of pain… pain’s a good catalyst for creativity”, describes Skepta.
“Inspiration comes from struggle, and something that we all share, and all relate to, and all draw from”, says Avelino.
Tottenham residents are seeking outlets for their frustrations and difficulties and then are then able to excel when they finf these creative conduits for expressing themselves. And even after they find success, they keep coming back to their home community.
“It’s important for anybody who finds success to show other people where to find it”, says Skepta.
“Our pillars in the community have to stay being pillars and doing the right thing. That’s what’s going to… nurture everyone, that’s what’s going to continue the cycle”, says Wretch 32.
“Keep on doing what you’re doing, but keep on coming back”, Scott asks, taking the idea further. “Keep on talking to those young ones, and keep on giving them inspiration. You’ve done it because you’re part of us, share it with others, and make this place be known for other things than just rioting and violence.”
This is really the central thesis of “Once Upon a Time in North London”, that there are inherent connections between these three essential threads: our shared experiences and struggles, our creative endeavours, and the strengthening of our communities.
“Where there is adversity, there’s also positivity. Where there is negativity, there is also creativity”, says Scott. “We have here something in Tottenham that isn’t felt in many other places in London. You won’t find community in Chelsea, you won’t find community in Knightsbridge. But here, you’ll find a community.”
“You walk around, you’ll see it.”