A new square at the entrance to Britannia Leisure Centre in east London is to be named BRAFA Square after a fascinating, yet forgotten, part of London's African Caribbean history. The name reveals the story of the British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal (BRAFA) which became Hackney’s answer to Live Aid in 1985.
When Band Aid was set up in response to the Ethiopian famine in 1984 , Hackney resident and lead singer of The Blackstones Leon Leiffer was frustrated by the lack of African and Caribbean artists taking part. Inspired by his wife Fay Addison, Leon formed the British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal (BRAFA) with fellow musicians Courtney Carr, Ras Elroy Bailey, Tony Douglas, Raymond Dangarembizi, Jah Bunny, Ken Kendricks and Gene Rondo, who lived in Hyde Road by the site of the forthcoming square.
Two hundred reggae artists and members of the public answered a call from the BBC to help BRAFA record an alternative charity single ‘Let’s Make Africa Green Again’,which was produced in February 1985 at Hive Studios in Stoke Newington. The song was released by Island Records and performed at an open air concert in Shoreditch Park the following year in 1985 raising thousands for the Save the Children Ethiopian famine appeal.
BRAFA’s legacy was rediscovered in 2019 during the Shoreditch Park Improvement Project when historical research was conducted to find a name for the new square and a local resident recalled the story. After making the final naming shortlist overseen by the Council, the public voted BRAFA as their favourite.
The Mayor of Hackney said: “This story is a testament to Hackney’s long, but often sadly now hidden, history of activism, creativity and working together for equality and anti-racism. By uncovering and celebrating the story of BRAFA, we’re demonstrating yet another valuable contribution from Hackney’s African and Caribbean community. I look forward to opening the square in summer and hope to hear many more memories of this incredible and empowering event.”
BRAFA founder Leon Leiffer said: “As a young boy leaving the Caribbean and coming to England I would never envision something like this. Now, 35 years later, the name BRAFA is coming back alive and will be there for the rest of time, in history, in Hackney. It’s more than winning the lottery, it's a mega honour for myself, the people who coordinated and for each and every musician and singer that took part for the good and great reason of helping the famine in Ethiopia. I’m proud that Hackney has taken it upon themselves to recognise this name is worthy of making history.”