New square in Hackney commemorates story of famine appeal run by local reggae artists

Brafa musicians Tony Douglas, Trevor Walters, Dennis Brown and Winston Reedy at Hive Studios in 1985. Photograph: David Corio / courtesy Hackney Council

Visitors to a new square in Hackney which celebrates how a group of local musicians raised thousands for famine relief in Africa will be reminded that “unity is strength”.

Brafa Square, at the entrance to the new Britannia Leisure Centre, commemorates the British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal Team (Brafa) who recorded a charity song, ‘Let’s Make Africa Green Again’, in 1985 to fundraise for famine-hit Ethiopia.

It was followed by a benefit concert in Shoreditch Park in 1986 which was attended by 10,000 people.

Brafa secretary Raymond Dangarembizi told people at the square’s opening ceremony: “Unity is strength – what people can do when they work together.”

He was one of the team who worked with Leon Leiffer of the reggae band the Blackstones who came up with the idea for a fundraiser.

Leon Leiffer brought the original copy of Brafa’s charity single to the square’s opening.
Photograph: Wayne Crichlow

Leiffer first thought of staging a concert in 1984 at a venue like the Royal Albert Hall but it proved difficult to find backers.

He said: “I thought if Africa was having a problem with famine we should do something. It is for humanity to help prevent people from starving to death.”

The following year, Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure staged the Live Aid concert in Wembley.

Gene Rondo came on board with Brafa after meeting Leiffer at the Roots Pool Community Centre on Sandringham Road in early 1985.

The Brafa team soon included fellow musicians, including Courtney Carr, Raymond Dangarembizi, Ras Elroy Bailey, Jah Bunny, Tony Douglas, Ken Kendricks and Fay Addison.

They were frustrated by the lack of African and Caribbean heritage artists on the Band Aid charity song and registered Brafabrita at Gene Rondo’s home on Hyde Road, close to the new square.

Tony Douglas, Leon Leiffer, Geno Rand and Fay Addison Leiffer put pen to paper and wrote the lyrics for ‘Let’s Make Africa Green Again’.

Brafa Square is outside the new Britannia Leisure Centre in Hoxton. Photograph: Wayne Crichlow

More than 300 singers, musicians, Hackney residents and school children performed on the charity song, which was recorded at Eddy Grant’s Hive Studios in Stoke Newington.

It featured leading artists Aswad, Dennis Brown, Janet Kay and Trevor Walters and was released by Island Records. The money raised went to the Save the Children Fund for long-term development projects in famine-affected areas of Africa.

Leiffer said: “Everybody knew that people were starving and we needed to do this thing.”

He brought his original and unplayed copy of the record to a special ceremony to mark the opening of the square.

Brafa’s achievements are reaching a new generation after local residents suggested the name for the square when Hackney Council asked for suggestions to put to a vote.

Hackney Museum and Archives also put a call out for memorabilia and now plans to exhibit the BRAFA story.

Leiffer is delighted the story is reaching a wider audience: “I think history should be history. We should not identify white history and Black history. History is history.”

Broadcaster Terry Jervis, who helped spread the word about the original record, has pledged to remake the record for a new generation, focusing on the challenges facing the planet.