One of the things I really like about London is not only that it is very culturally diverse, but it goes out of its way to show it and make everyone feel welcome. Trafalgar Square hosts all kinds of festivals, New Year, Chinese New Year, and on this occasion, Eid. Trafalgar Square has always been home to both riots and celebrations, and indeed was specifically designed to accommodate them. The lovely fountains are there to limit the space available to the crowds to make them more manageable. If you know where to look you’ll find the world’s smallest police station unobtrusively located in a pillar, where the police used to keep a beady eye on the crowds.
This was not in the slightest bit necessary to manage the crowds there for Eid. As I arrived, I was in a truly foul mood, and my spirits did not lift particularly at the sight of primary school children singing on stage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of children singing, but I don’t actually want to listen to it. I always used to think childrens’ singing sounded well dodgy when I was eight, and I think the same now thirty years later. Nevertheless, I cheered suitably enthusiastically and clapped along to the suspiciously bontempi sounding keyboard which accompanied them. Our host told us we had not applauded the primary school loudly enough, so we gave them another determined cheer.
Then, banter. Our hosts selected two children from the audience and made polite conversation with them. From this we learned that Yasmin, 10, wants to be a star, had fasted all 18 fasts of Ramadan and said firmly that she had enjoyed all of them. She wanted to thank her family for being the best family in the world and loving her, and not asking too much where she was. Z (not like Zee TV, she told us), was a rather more somber soul than Yasmin was, having reached the grand old age of 15. Z liked studying business, wanted to go into business and was looking forward to celebrating Eid with her family in a restaurant in Edgware Road. She too wanted to thank her family for looking after her. No questions were asked about her fasting habits. We applauded both of them heavily for putting up with these daft questions.
Then our host asked if we wanted to listen to hip-hop. Now if I’m honest, I don’t really understand the hippety hoppety, but the crowd was apparently very keen to hear hip-hop. “Have you heard of Quest Rah?” bellowed our host. There was an awkward pause. “Not really,” replied the crowd. “Well, you’re GOING to hear him!” rallied our host. This was met with great enthusiasm by the crowd. Out strode Mr Rah, and he rapped like billy oh. I’m not very good at music post 1985 and my strong preference is for fairly cheesy pop, but I could really see why they’d got Quest-Rah in. It took a while for my ear to acclimatise to the speed of his rap, but he rapped about issues as diverse as dedication (great souls have nothing to fear from dedication), how unacceptable domestic violence is, and a story about Allah. It was as far from what I was expecting from hip-hop as could be, and in its fashion, it was great. Quest finished his set, and was interviewed by our host. Quest had a CD out, and threw a copy out into the crowd (the girl in front of me caught it).
Our host then asked us if we had heard of some other hip-hop artist. Answer: no we had not. Our host asked us to say we had heard of the acts from now on before introducing a woman who was the world record holder for doing henna tattoos, and was capable of doing one every 12 seconds. Sadly, she was not doing them quite that fast today: the queue went around the block. As she left the stage, the second rapper came on. He apologised that he only rapped in Arabic. He assured us that music was the most powerful language of all, which I’m sure is true, but to be honest I’ve got quite a strong brand loyalty to English, and I must confess Arabic rapping lost me altogether. The girls to my left whooped so loudly I thought my ear might bleed. I took this as my cue to explore the stalls. They were pretty diverse. From the police trying to recruit special constables, to the olympic stall where they reminded us to book our paralympic tickets to the solicitors specialising in supporting the Muslim community, it was all slightly worthy, but amiable enough. I debated the delights of the halal kebabs. I was still following the Dukan Diet (no fat, no carbs, as much protein as you can shake a stick at). I concluded what with the pitta and the long queue, I couldn’t quite face it. I looked at the henna tattoo stand, whose queue was insanely long. I took it as my calling card to leave.
All that said though, I’m glad I went, and I’m glad they held the Eid celebration in such a prestigious place. I had had a ridiculously bad journey over to Trafalgar Square. Yet through the power of Muslim rap, banter and singing, I had cheered right up. The event had reminded me of the Eurovision Song Contest with its determined enthusiasm, but the fact is I love the Eurovision Song Contest. And anyway, I strongly suspect the acts cheered up no end by the time they reached the grand finale at six.
For details of other free events being held in Trafalgar Square, check out the following link: http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/art-culture/trafalgar-square/events