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‘Who Is British Music?’ Placing Migrants in National Music History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 November 2018


In 2013, trucks and vans were driving across London, bearing the message ‘In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.’ These mobile billboards declared the number of arrests that had taken place ‘in your area’ in the previous week and provided a number to which people could text the message ‘HOME’ to initiate voluntary repatriation. In 2016, Theresa May, who had organised this scheme as home secretary, became prime minister, following the upheaval caused by the country's plebiscite to leave the European Union. One of the main strands of argument of the successful ‘Brexit’ campaign centred on the ‘deep public anxiety . . . about uncontrolled immigration’ and promised to reduce numbers of immigrants to the country. This desire to control the nation's borders continued to dominate the official soundscape of Britain's government. At the 2016 annual Tory conference, May endeavoured to draw clear lines on issues of belonging, territory, citizenship, and the fuzzy notion of British values, discursively excluding not only migrants, but also anyone with an international(ist) outlook from the national debate: ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world’, she posited, ‘you are a citizen of nowhere.’

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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The papers collated in this forum were first presented at the one-day conference ‘Who Is British Music? The Place of Immigrants in British Music History and Historiography’ at the University of Bristol on 6 June 2017. I am indebted to many helpers that supported this event and would especially like to thank Ensemble Émigré for their wonderful concert that concluded the conference.


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