Cultural Identity in the Black British Diaspora: Navigating Dual Heritage Through Music

04 July 2024 | Inclusive Journalism Cymru

“What even is a black Brit anyway?” 

I frequently encountered this question during a visit to the US last year. After the initial curiosity sparked by my accent, questions about my heritage, nationality and identity would follow. These interactions ranged from interesting cultural exchanges to unpleasant experiences where my identity was interrogated or dismissed. 

When asked this, I would feel offended and annoyed, not just because I had already explained who Black British people are and how we settled in the UK, but also due to the condescending tone. This triggered negative emotions, reminding me of my earlier struggles with identity as a young African immigrant in the UK. 

Upon arriving in Cardiff at six years old, I was initially comforted by seeing other children who looked like me. But I soon realised that despite our similar appearances, our behaviours and accents were different, making it hard to fit in with any group of children – be it Black, white or Asian. I questioned who I was. Was I Cameroonian, British, Welsh or black British? Over time, my accent, behaviour, and mannerisms adapted to my new environment, leading to an evolving sense of identity. Despite past struggles, I believed I had come to terms with my identity, making such questions particularly jarring. 

However, this question led to me reflecting on the black british identity and black british culture as a whole. Although the question was annoying, I found myself asking what it actually means to be a black Brit. What is our culture? What are our customs? As a collective of first, second and third generation African and Caribbean people who come from different cultures and customs, is it even possible for us all to have a shared identity here in the UK? Thinking about these questions also took me a few years back to my early adolescence when I began to possess an understanding of what black British culture is. 

Navigating my dual identity became more manageable through music. Music is the cornerstone of every culture and that became clear to me through my explorations of grime music channels such as Channel AKA and KISS FM.

"I found myself asking what it actually means to be a black Brit. What is our culture? What are our customs? As a collective of first, second and third generation African and Caribbean people who come from different cultures and customs, is it even possible for us all to have a shared identity here in the UK?"

Sheryl Njini


I remember being exposed to the raw and authentic sounds of grime, a genre born from the streets of East London, reflecting the struggles, triumphs, and daily realities of young black Britons. Grime artists like Skepta, Kano and Wiley were not just making music; they were narrating our collective stories, frustrations, and hopes. The beats and lyrics resonated deeply, helping me to find a sense of belonging and pride in my dual heritage. 

Grime music, with its powerful baselines and sharp lyrics, became a vehicle for expressing the complex identities of black British youth. It was a genre that embraced our African and Caribbean roots while also reflecting our British upbringing. This hybrid of sounds and experiences mirrored my own journey of navigating multiple identities. Through grime, I found a community that understood my struggles and celebrated my uniqueness. 

Saying this, it definitely wasn’t just grime that shaped my understanding of black British culture. The broader spectrum of black music in the UK, from reggae and dancehall to UK hip-hop and afrobeats, played a crucial role in defining our collective identity. Reggae and dancehall, with their roots in Jamaican culture, brought the vibrant and rebellious spirit of the Caribbean to the British Isles. Artists like Smiley Culture and Tippa Irie blended Jamaican patois with London slang, creating a sound that spoke to the black British experience. 

Similarly, UK hip-hop, influenced by American rap but infused with local tastes, provided another avenue for black British youth to articulate their experiences. Acts like Ms. Dynamite and Little Simz gained popularity by addressing social issues and personal struggles, reflecting the realities of growing up as a black Brit. These genres, along with afrobeats which celebrate African heritage, contributed to a rich tapestry of black British music that underscored our diverse yet unified identity.  

Beyond music, black British culture is also defined by our contributions to fashion, language and social activism. The fusion of African prints and Caribbean styles with British fashion has created unique trends that are now globally celebrated. Our slang, a blend of influences from various cultures, has permeated mainstream British vocabulary. Black British activists have been at the forefront of movements for racial equality and social justice, from the Brixton riots in the 1980s to the Black Lives Matter protests in recent years. 

In navigating dual heritage, it’s crucial to recognise that the black British identity is not monolithic. It is a dynamic and evolving construct shaped by our individual and collective experiences. While we may come from different backgrounds and hold diverse perspectives, our shared history and cultural expressions unite us. Music has been a powerful force in bridging our differences and forging a common identity. 

So what even is a black Brit? We are a testament to the resilience and creativity of the African and Caribbean diaspora in the UK. We are a vibrant mix of cultures and histories, continuously shaping and redefining what it means to be British. Our identity is multifaceted, just like the music that tells our story. Through grime, reggae, afrobeats and beyond, we find our voice, our community and our place in the world.

You can follow Sheryl on X, LinkedIn and Instagram.